In 2014 I photographed my cousin’s wedding in Australia and after a few months of traveling I decided to extend my trip. Ben Phillips, my longtime friend from Nantucket had been inviting me to visit him on Mabul Island in Malaysia, so I called him again and we made a plan.
He was working on the island as a dive instructor at Uncle Chang’s Dive Lodge. He said that I would love it….he was right.
After three flights, a night in Tawau and a bus ride I boarded the boat in Semporna for a 45 minute ride to the island. I was almost there. All of a sudden I could see this tiny island, of sand, funky wooden buildings on stilts and a few palm trees…..we had reached Mabul and Ben was on the end of the dock waving. As soon as I arrived Ben instantly took me walking around the entire island which only takes about 20 minutes….the island is less than 50 acres. Ben knew everyone, fellow dive instructors, fisherman and many of the local people in the villages.
We spent a lot of time under the sea scuba diving and exploring the amazing reef and marine life but when I was above water I spent time in the villages and photographing the daily life, culture and people that occupy this very unique island. There are two main fishing villages the “Kampung Mabul” and “Kampung Musu.” There are approximately 2,000 villagers living in Mabul and half of them are children below the age of 14 years old. This comes as no surprise as you walk around the island you are constantly surrounded by children. They are playing games, collecting sea food at low tide, helping their parents fish and playing marbles or drawing pictures in the sand. Many of the families have immigrated from the islands of the Southern Philippines and many of them are living a nomadic lifestyle as they travel from one island to the next.
Fisherman selling their catch, men building and painting boats, kids running around playing, cats, chickens and many portraits. This is a very small glimpse into the culture of Mabul Island’s villages during the slice of time that I was there.