People of the Seas – Orang Laut

The Orang Laut are several seafaring ethnic groups and tribes living around Singapore, peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian Riau Islands.

The Orang Laut are commonly identified as the Orang Seletar from the Straits of Johor, but the term may also refer to any Malayic-speaking people living on coastal islands, including those of Mergui Archipelago islands of Myanmar and Thailand, commonly known as Moken.

The Malay term orang laut literally means “sea peoples”. The Orang Laut live and travel in their boats on the sea. They made their living from fishing and collecting sea products. Another Malay term for them, Orang Selat (literally “Straits people”), was brought into European languages as Celates.

Broadly speaking, the term encompasses the numerous tribes and groups inhabiting the islands and estuaries in the Riau-Lingga archipelagos, the Pulau Tujuh Islands, the Batam Archipelago, and the coasts and offshore islands of eastern Sumatra, southern Malaysia Peninsula and Singapore.


Historically, the Orang Laut played major roles in Srivijaya, the Sultanate of Malacca, and the Sultanate of Johor.

They patrolled the adjacent sea areas, repelling real pirates, directing traders to their employers’ ports and maintaining those ports’ dominance in the area. In return, the ruler gave Orang Laut leaders prestigious titles and gifts. The earliest description of the Orang Laut may have been by the 14th century Chinese traveler Wang Dayuan who described the inhabitants of Temasek (present day Singapore) in his work Daoyi Zhilüe.

Thank you to Wikipedia® as one of the main sources of information of this page as well as the researchers of our team.
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