Mattia Panunzio

Words by Mattia Panunzio.


The Bajau people, also known as Sea Gypsies, are a Southeast Asian ethnic group known for their incredible diving skills and strong connection to the sea. They traditionally live on boats or stilted villages along the coast, relying on fishing for their livelihood. Their culture is deeply tied to the ocean, and they’ve adapted to a life on the water for generations.


Two centuries ago, a group of Bajau people arrived in Sumbawa, Indonesia, coming from the southern Philippines and Vietnam. At that time, Bungin Island, was just a sandbank located along the northern coast. The term “Bungin” means “a mound of white sand.” They built very simple houses on this sandy area.


However, as their population increased, they expanded the island by gathering coral to create foundations for houses on the lower parts of the nearby coral reef. The Bajau people are skilled fishermen and free-divers who can hold their breath and remain underwater for as long as eight minutes. Some children even have their eardrums pierced to prevent them from bursting due to water pressure while diving.


With 3,500 residents on just 8.5 hectares (21 acres) of land, Bungin Island also stands out as the most densely populated of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands and one of the most densely populated islands of the world. Sea levels are steadily rising due to the increasing impacts of climate change, posing a growing threat to coastal communities and ecosystems worldwide.


The Bajau tribe of Bungin Island could soon be in serious danger.

Mattia Panunzio

Mattia Panunzio (1992, Rome, Italy) started studying photography at 14 years old at the “Professional Institute of Cinematography R.Rossellini” in Rome. In 2015 he graduated from the European Institute of Design in Rome showcasing a project about the Agro Pontino (41°17’59”N 13°01’30”E). It was exhibited at MAP in 2016. Throughout his studies he has participated to different masterclasses and artistic residences where two of his personal projects come from. Retroscena is a documentation of The National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome and it was exhibited at the Gallery in 2019. Dal Verde is Bellosguardo’s story and it was part of “Archivio Bellosguardo” a project lead by Italian photographer Alessandro Imbriaco in collaboration with ICCD. In 2019 he embarked on a journey to Australia in search of landscapes and realities dramatically diverse from the ones he had encountered in his home country. He’s working on a long-term project about the Australian mining industry and one of its chapters (Coober Pedy) has been published on M Le Magazine du Monde in January 2023. He currently resides in Sydney, Australia.