By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The world’s land is limited, and the Earth’s surface is 70% water, so finding a way to live on the sea is a very attractive proposition, but truth be told it is actually very hard to do.

There a few ways to do it – you can island hop, live in a big ship and dock occasionally, or you can build a floating village. This week we’re looking at how floating villages can work, to go with last Thursday’s freebie.


Floating Villages

There a few of these around the world, Ha-Long Bay: in Vietnam Lake,  Stilt Village: in Ganvie in Africa, Tonle Sap: in a lake in Cambodia, Floating Islands of Uros: Titicaca Lake in Peru and Sama-Bajau which are found in the sea around the Philippine.

Most of these places are in stationary water, and are built on stilts which support the house. Despite all being called “floating villages” few of them are actually floating on the water unsupported – but although it’s rare it is possible. Two places where this unusual feat has been managed for centuries are the Uros whose homes are made completely from reeds which are found growing in the shallows of the lake and Ha-Long Bay where they live in house made of wood on top of either bamboo rafts or (in more modern times) empty metal or plastic barrels.

People living in these villages will generally eat mostly fish, seaweed and seafood like clams and crap, this mean they get a lot of water from their food means they have to find less clean water to drink. Drinking water can be made by boiling the lake water which will kill of most of the harmful bacteria, but more often it, along with vegetables, flowers and clothing will traded for from the mainland in exchange for the fish.

People that live in such places tend to have long lean bodies, can swim before they can walk and have deeply tanned skin since they are out fishing most days and there no shade from trees that far out in the water.  

Why Do They Live There?

There are a few different reason why people choose to live like this, but in most cases it seems that people have set up homes on the water out of necessity rather than choice at first, but over years they have become comfortable in those homes, and now remain out of tradition, for the fishing and/or because they have never learnt another way of life.

The people of Stilt Village in Ganvie in Africa set their village up on the water to escape the slave trade in the sixteenth century.

The people of Ha-Long Bay first did so because they didn’t have any land to live on or the money to buy it, although in recent years the communities have managed to make quite a bit of money from tourists that come and look at their homes.

Sama-Bajau are refugees from the Philippines that weren’t allowed to live on land, they have many little stories that they use to tell why, most of which are connected to a lost princess in some way or another: one says they are the descendants of people that were sent to find her that failed so they will not step foot on land again in fear of the king’s wrath, while another common version tells how they are the offspring of that princess when she married a prince from Gowa, but there are many others.

The people of Uros have a slightly unique reason for their choice of habitat; the totora reeds in the area make it far easier to build floating islands that they can not only easily defend but can move around on the water to avoid any form of attack – indeed they have to sink anchors to hold their settlements in place.

As the same type of reeds were found on Easter Island it has been speculated that large reed boats may have been used to colonise the island – possibly even floating islands like those the Uros use.


Use in Fantasy Stories

What Races Would Live There

If you send your party into one of these villages you will most likely find elves or some kind of semi-aquatic race, since elves are lean looking and beings like selkie who are naturally semi-aquatic will always be good in water – but this shouldn’t limit you. Almost any common fantasy race could live in a floating village, given the right incentives. As seen above, most floating villages were built due to some form of exile from land, so Tieflings or Orcs might well be found in such a village, just off the coast from a major town in which they are unwelcome.

Fantastical Flotation

In our Floating City we chose to have the people living on giant jellyfish, but there are numerous other ways to add a fantasy touch to a floating village. A traditional option is to have a village built on a giant turtle (or dragonturtle) but that loses much of the charm of needing to use boats to get around, as the whole village is forever linked – if you’re looking at that option consider using a whole bale1)I swear the people who come up with these group nouns are sillier than me – Ste of turtles, or perhaps a pod of whales.

If you’re working at epic levels, a village floating upon the clouds could make a nice twist, where the homes can never be tethered to the ground but only (loosely) to one another. Alternatively, a village of Cyclopes living on a lake of lava would make for a distinctly dangerous obstacle.

What have you done with Floating Villages? Share your ideas below.

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References   [ + ]

1. I swear the people who come up with these group nouns are sillier than me – Ste

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