The "Sea Nomads" Purposefully Puncture Their Ear Drums For Diving

Scuba diving isn't for the faint of heart, but try diving 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) down without any equipment for five minutes or longer to spearfish for a living. The Sama-Bajau, or "sea nomads" of Southeast Asia do this more than 10,000 times a year.

Get to Know the Sama-Bajau

According to The Guardian, the Bajau ethnic group is made up of Malay people with centuries of history in the sea, who live among the islands of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Some of the last marine nomads, their deep knowledge of the water was even relied upon by Malay sultans to establish trade routes. The Bajau mostly live in houseboats and embrace their seafaring destinies, but government programs have forced many of them to settle in stilt villages far from shore.

All that history in the sea has given the Bajau some impressive characteristics. Anna Gislen of Sweden's Lund University tells the BBC that because of all the exposure to water in childhood when their eyes were still developing, the Bajau's underwater eyesight is twice as strong as average. The BBC also reports that the Bajau tend to feel "landsick" when they stay too long on dry land. But one water-adapted characteristic is self inflicted: these sea nomads also puncture their eardrums to ease their 10,000 yearly dives. (Ouch!)

Why on Earth Do They Puncture Their Eardrums?

Have you ever been so dedicated to a sport that you'd purposefully damage a part of your body to improve your performance? The Bajau actually perforate their eardrums at a young age to make their dives less painful. Sounds counterintuitive, right? Imran Lahassan, a member of Torosiaje, explains the process to The Guardian: "You bleed from your ears and nose, and you have to spend a week lying down because of the dizziness. After that you can dive without pain." A young fisherman from the Sama Community in Matina Aplaya, Davao City, Philippines echoes this notion to The Aquatic Ape: "If you rupture it once, you will have no problem diving throughout your life." I guess we'll take their word for it. As The Guardian notes, however, older Bajau often develop hearing problems — they get infections from years of water entering their middle ears.

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Written by Anna Todd January 17, 2017

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