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Bajau fisherman hunting fish at 20 metres depth.

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Published By

Dr. Dick van der Wateren


Human Physiology, Cultural Anthropology, Borneo, Fishing, Diving

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Neuroanthropology blog: 'Amphibious' Humans offshore Borneo

06.03.2011, Age: 3854 days

In his PLOS blog Neuroanthropology, cultural anthropologist Greg Downey investigates the stunning physiological and cultural adaptations of fishermen who inhabit floating villages anchored offshore.

The blog is a thorough review of the (neuro)physiological and psychological aspects of holding one's breath while diving. The article was inspired by the BBC series, Human Planet episode, Oceans, starring the Bujau fisherman Sulbin, one of a group of people who permanently live on rafts off the coast of Borneo, Indonesia. Sulbin is able to hold his breath for an incredibly long time, dive to depths of more than 20 metres, walk the sea bottom (as a result of negative buoyancy), while spearing a meal of fish for his family, without any diving equipment.

Greg Downey investigates the question of human adaptation to different environments, bot physically and culturally:

"What I hope to suggest is that amphibious humans point to the most basic fact of human nature: that we seem particularly adept at finding ways to adapt ourselves - biologically, psychologically, behaviourally, technologically - to a host of niches that then rebound back upon us and shape how we develop. We are a peculiar self-made species."

Thinking about the way humans adapt to their environment Downey ponders:

"The Bajau fisherman Sulbin shows us how biology and culture are inseparable because what he does ends up shaping his body, but only because he grew up around people who knew how to manage becoming human in this distinctive amphibious way and because his adaptations play upon how his nervous system works, including some intriguing quirks."

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