Nitesh Kumar Sahoo

For how long can humans hold their breath underwater? Normally, average healthy humans can hold their breath for 3-4 minutes. Some gifted persons can hold their breath a little longer. However, it will be hard to believe if someone claims to stop breathing for over 10 minutes. How about an entire tribe?

Yes, though surprising, a tribal community exists on earth of which all members can hold their breath for a longer time. The people of Sama-Bajau community can stay under the water for 13 minutes at a depth of 230 feet (70 meters).

Logically, humans hold their breath and go underwater. Soon the body reacts to this action and slows down the heartbeat constricting the blood vessels. However, after a few minutes, humans would get deprived of oxygen if there is no alternate source. This eventually can damage the organs. While water enters the lungs and stomach after not finding an alternate source of oxygen, this process particularly damages the brain. This also leads to cardio-respiratory arrest. In worse situations, this can prove fatal. 

Swimmers and divers undergo special training to control their breath so that they can stay for a longer time inside the water.

But, the people of this tribal community are quite different from normal humans. Sama-Bajau is a collective term referring to multiple closely related indigenous people. People of this community consider themselves as a single distinct ethnic group or nation. 

As per a report published by Beauty of Planet, people of this tribe not only possess the capability of controlling their breath deep underwater for an extended time but they also live on the waters. This tribal community can be found in Southeast Asia and they have earned a distinguished identity for living off the sea and fishing. 

People of this community in Indonesia reside on long houseboats known as lepas or wooden cabins. They construct their houses on the sea but close to the shore. They only move to the land either for trading or to seek shelter during sea storms. For this reason, they are often referred to as Sea Gypsies or Sea Nomads. 

Bajao in IndonesiaBajao in Indonesia

People of this community primarily make their living from fishing and they are expert free divers. They spend more than 5 hours on daily basis deep underwater. Certain reports claim that Bajau divers have the longest daily diving time without breathing. Even the children of this community master swimming and diving skills at a very early age. They also learn the skills of fishing and hunting at the early age of 8 years. 

Even though Bajau people hone their skills since childhood, some rupture their own eardrums to acquire more efficient diving capabilities. This helps them to withstand the current and water pressure in the deep ocean. For this reason, many older divers face difficulty in hearing. 

Bajao in IndonesiaBajao in Indonesia

It is believed that the tribe for their persistent diving skills and proximity to the ocean, they have scientifically distinct from others. As per a research published in a scientific journal cell, these people possess such extraordinary characteristics due to genetic mutation. According to the study, their abdominal organs are one and a half times the size of land-dwelling humans. The spleen (abdominal organ) supports the immune system and generates as well as stores red blood cells. When they go underwater, the spleen contracts and releases oxygenated RBC into the bloodstream. The large-sized spleen makes it possible for them to hold their breath for a longer time. Moreover, they have also developed an excellent underwater vision which aids them in fishing and hunting. This adaptation helps them to carry out their way of life on and in the water. 

Though other groups living so closely with the sea have been heard in history, the Bajau may be the last seafaring people still in existence today as the community is in danger as it is threatened by large-scale fishing. The community is facing increasing difficulties and making a living relying on fishing alone. Moreover, they are looked down upon and also considered inferior by people in the surrounding areas. This has become a prime reason why more and more people are leaving the seas.