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Ang pangkat na Badjao ay naninirahan sa Sulu, sa mga bayan ng Maubu, Bus-bus,

Tanjung, Pata, Tapul, Lugus, Bangas, Parang, Maimbung, Karungdung at Talipaw.

Tinatawag din silang Luaan, Lutaos, Bajau, Orang Laut, Samal Pal'u at Pala'u. Samal
ang kanilang wika.
Kahawig ng mga Samal ang kanilang kultura. May haka-hakang sila at ang mga Samal
ay isang pangkat na nagmula sa Johore sa dakong timog ng pinensulang Malaya.
Nakatira sila sa mga bangkang-bahay. Isang pamilya na may miyembrong 2-13
miyembro ang maaaring tumira sa bangkang-bahay.

Pangingisda ang pangunahin nilang hanapbuhay. Gumagawa rin sila ng mga vinta at
mga gamit sa pangingisda tulad ng lambat at bitag. Ang mga kababaihan ay naghahabi
ng mga banig na may iba't-ibang uri ng makukulay na disenyo. Magaling din silang
sumisid ng perlas.

Dahil malapit sa Tausug, karamihan sa kanila ay Muslim. Gayunpaman, naniniwala pa

rin sila sa umboh o kaluluwa ng kanilang mga ninuno.
Widely known as the “Sea Gypsies” of the Sulu and
Celebes Seas, the Badjao are scattered along the coastal
areas of Tawi Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, and some coastal
municipalities of Zamboanga del Sur in the ARMM.
Amongst themselves, they're known as Sama Laus (Sea
Sama) and are found living on houseboats where they
make their livelihood solely on the sea as expert
fishermen, deep sea divers, and navigators. They come to
shore to barter their harvests for farmed produce such as
fruits and cassava, as well as, replenish their supplies
and/or make repairs to their houseboats. Unique to their
cultural rituals is the concept of life and their relationship
to the sea: For example, as a childbirth ritual, a newly
born infant is thrown into the sea and members of the clan
dive to save the newborn. Other traditions such as
marriages are prearranged by the parents for their sons
and daughters; the process similar to other ethnic groups,
in that, a dowry is often presented to the parents of the
woman a man wishes to marry. And, only the Badjao
leader can consecrate a marriage. Therefore a leader is
chosen based on individual inherent virtues, wisdom, and
“charisma”...an inate ability to attract followers.
Sadly, due to the ongoing conflict in the region between
revolutionary Muslim groups and the government, many
Badjao have migrated to Sabah in Malaysia and Sulawesi
and Kalimantan in Indonesia. As a result, they now
comprise the second-largest ethnic group in Sabah,
despite the fact that many of them are illegal immigrants.
There, the Badjao speak nearly (10) languages of the
Sama-Bajau subgroup of the Western Malayo-polynesian
language family.
Sama-Bajau refers to several Austronesian ethnic groups of Maritime Southeast
Asia with their origins from the southern Philippines. The name collectively refers to
related people who usually call themselves the Sama or Samah; or are known by
the exonyms Bajau (/ˈbɑːdʒaʊ, ˈbæ-/, also
spelled Badjao, Bajaw, Badjau, Badjaw, Bajoor Bayao) and Samal or Siyamal (the
latter being considered offensive). They usually live a seaborne lifestyle, and use small
wooden sailing vessels such as
the perahu (layag in Meranau), djenging, balutu, lepa, pilang, and vinta (or lepa-
lepa).[5] Some Sama-Bajau groups native to Sabah are also known for their
traditional horse culture.
The Bajau, the Badjao, the Samals, and the Sama People

The Sama people can be quite hard to classify. Due to the nomadic nature of the
Sama they can be found in several countries (especially the Philippines, Malaysia,
and Indonesia). In Malaysia they are called Bajau by the Malaysians. In the
Philippines, other Filipinos call them Badjaos or Samals, depending on which
subgroup of the Sama they belong to. To complicate things further Sinama/Sama
is the name for at least four language groups of the Philippines which are then
subdivided into numerous dialects depending on what island a person is
from. Speakers of Northern Sinama, Central Sinama, and Southern Sama are
unaware of these language names given them by the linguists, because they
identify themselves by island and region instead of closeness in language. (For a
better understanding of the Sinama languages and dialects please refer to an
academic paper presented at the 2018 ICONBajau Conference under the
title: Language Features and Simple Methods to Help the Non-Linguist Navigate
the Sinama Languages and Dialects.) The Sama Dilaut have a tendency to answer
questions about their identity based on what they believe the asker will respond
most positively to. Sama Deya on the other hand will sometimes classify the
Sama Dilaut as being completely different from themselves.
With all this in mind, it has been quite confusing for outsiders to understand the
Sama and to find reliable information about them. As far as we can tell, this
article will be the most reliable information that you can find on the Sama, the
Samals, the Bajau, and the Badjao. It is an important starting point for any
research you might undertake on the Sama or their subgroups. It will only feed
your curiosity about this fantastic people group from Southeast Asia.

Who are the Bangsa Sama?

Sama is the all encompassing term for this people group. This includes the tribes
the Filipinos call Samals and the Badjao. This includes the seafaring Bajau of
Sabah, who are only known to Malaysians as Bajau. According to the Ethnologue
there are 84,000 Northern Sama (sse), 90,000 Central Sama (sml), 34,000 Sama
Pangutaran (slm), 319,000 Southern Sama (ssb), and 42,470 Sama Mapun
(sjm). That totals 569,470 Sama people. We suspect that this number to be more
realistically over 1,000,000 but politics as well as the difficulty of obtaining
reliable data make the Sama people impossible to count.

The Sama are native to the Sulu archipelago, including Tawi-Tawi and the
coastlines of Sabah, Malaysia

Who are the Bajau?

It is important to remember that political boundaries in Southeast Asia are no

more than a century old. Malaysia formed in 1963. The first Philippine Republic
formed in 1899. Before that the Sulu Sultanate claimed sovereignty over Sulu
and Sabah Malaysia. The Sama have existed in their current territories since
before the formation of the Sulu Sultanate. They are related linguistically to the
West Coast Bajau of Malaysia and have become known in modern day Malaysia
as Bajaus as well. Even the West Coast Bajau among themselves use the term
Sama to describe their people. 2nd and 3rd generation Sama living in Malaysia
may very well be more familiar with the term Bajau then they are with
Sama. They still identify themselves with their home island (Bajau Ubian, Bajau
Simunul, Bajau Tabawan), though some have little understanding about their
homelands located in the Philippines. The Sama Ubian especially have been in
Sabah since before Malaysia became a nation. Those Sama that have been living
in Malaysia for many years as lawful citizens are called Bajau Penduduk which in
Bahasa Melayu means they are citizens or lawful residents of Malaysia. The
Sama right to residence in Malaysia must be upheld as there is written accounts
of their presence there since at least 1770 (Thomas Forrest)

There has been a high migration of Sama from Sulu towards Sabah over the last
50 years. Most of the migrants are joining family ties that already exist over the
national borders. They are more aware of their identity as Sama but readily
adopt the term Bajau because of the political benefits that it provides them.

An important distinction to understand is that the Bajau with a sea based culture
are indeed Sama and are different from the Bajau with a horse culture, the West
Coast Bajau.

Who are the Badjao?

One of these distinctions that is often confused is the distinction between the
Sama Dilaut (Badjao) and other Sama of the Sulu seas. The term “dilaut” refers
to the ocean. They are the ocean going Sama. The Sama Dilaut are traditionally
sea gypsies and houseboat dwellers. Recently they have been semi-nomadic,
often living out at sea for days, weeks or months, but gradually adopting the
lifestyle of their Sama brothers and building their homes on the coastlines of the
Philippines and Malaysia.

The term Badjao has become the famous term for the Sama Dilaut in the
Philippines. Badjao are often depicted as beggars. They are described by the
government as depressed, deprived, and underdeveloped.

Among themselves the Badjao primarily identify themselves as Sama and this
should be the term used to identify them. This has been our personal experience
as well as the conclusion that Harry Arlo Nimo makes in his book, Magosaha: An
Ethnography of the Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut, after decades of researching the

When asked about their identity a Badjao might readily describe himself as
Badjao. For indeed this is what is better known. Some Sama might embrace this
description desiring to be viewed as worthy of pity. It offers him a higher chance
of receiving the welfare of the person he is approaching. This is true in both
begging on the street as well as in regards to government programs.
Sama Dilaut identify all other Sama groups as Sama Deya. “Deya” is the Sama
term for “inland”. In modern times this name can be somewhat laughable as it is
not uncommon to find the Sama Deya building homes out on stilts over the ocean
while many Sama Dilaut have built homes on the land right next to the ocean.

The other Sama refer to the Sama Dilaut as either Sama Dilaut or Sama Palaˈu,
meaning the Sama that live on boats (see myth on meaning of Pala’u).
Sama Dilaut tend to identify themselves more with traditional belief and the
religion of offering to their ancestors (Mag’mbo’) over Islam. You can find
Muslim, Animist, and Christian Sama Dilaut.

Linguistically all Sama Dilaut that we have met, whether in Luzon, Mindanao,
Sulu, or the Malaysian Sama Dilaut who trace their roots back to Tawi-Tawi are
part of the Central Sinama language. Badjao may refer to the Central Sinama
language (sml) as speaking “Bajau”.

Who are the Samals?

Neighboring tribes and conquering world powers have historically identified the
Sama as Samals or Siyamals. The Maguindanaon account as recorded by Najeeb
Saleeby mentions the Samals as the boat people who brought Sharif Kabungswan
to Cotabato. The term Samal Dilaut can be found in various writings, but it is
most common for the Sama Dilaut to be called Badjao and the other Sama, the
more land based Sama to be called Samals. One of the distinctions is that
“Samals” are considered more Islamicized than the “Badjao”. Also their culture
discourages begging out of shame.

Recently the term Samals has caused quite a bit of confusion in terms of
identifying the Sama people due to the fame of the Island Garden of Samal. It is
very possible that this island was named after the Sama people who have visited
Davao for centuries, however currently there are only small populations of Sama
(Samals) existing on the island. The name for this island may be over 400 years
old as Pigafetta makes mention of passing an island that natives identified as
Zamal. The Najeeb Saleeby account mentions the Samals that took Sharif
Kabungswan continuing on to Davao.

What is the appropriate term to call the Sama?

The term Siyamal is taken by many Sama as an offensive term, only used by the
Tausug to degrade them. The term Samal is also only used by outsiders. If you
call a Sama Deya, Badjao in the Philippines you may very likely offend them in
this distinction. If they migrate to Malaysia they may very likely adopt the term
Bajau for themselves. Still, the most respectful and accurate term that can be
used is Sama. For the Badjao, Sama Dilaut. For other Sama: Sama Siasi, Sama
Banguingi, Sama Tawi-Tawi, Sama Pangutaran, Sama Sambuwangan etc.

Badjao or Bajau means man of the seas, this tribal group is known as the Sea Gypsies
because they move with the wind and the tide on their small houseboats called vintas,
they can be found in many coastal settlements and inhabit the waters and shores of the
Sulu archipelago.
A legend tells that these boat dwellers came from the shores of Johore in Indonesia,
Princess Ayesha of Johore was betrothed to a Sulu Sultan but she really wanted to
marry the Sultan from Brunei. One day, a large fleet of war boats escorted the Princess
to Sulu, the fleet was intercepted by the man she really loved, the Sultan from Brunei,
who kidnapped her and set sail back to Brunei. The escorting fleet could not return
without the Princess and kept on sailing the seas, only mooring at uninhabited islands;
some of them turned to piracy and roamed the seas to search for fortune and glory.
Others only searched for food and became fishermen, the Sulu Sea had an abundance
of fish that helped to sustain their livelihood, most of the daily catch was bartered with
other tribes that lived along the shores and beaches. The Badjao still live in houseboats,
clustered near the coastline of Southern Mindanao. But they also built stilt houses near
fertile fishing grounds; these houses are a temporary refuge during times that these
boathouses needed repairs. These wanderers of the Southern seas are born on the
water, live on their boats and say they will only set foot on land only to die.
Although that their ancestors were once feared by many in the Mindanao region, the
Badjao are primitive and friendly, they are believed to be world's most peace-loving
people and consider themselves as a non-aggressive tribal community. Conflict with
other tribes is often dealt with by fleeing to other places like the sea. Other tribes looked
down on these fisher folk and did refer to them as palao or lumaan (God forsaken), the
Badjao were influenced by Islam, but the continuous pressure put on by other Muslim
tribes forced them to move to the sea, which gave them greater chances of escape in
the case of an attack by hostile tribes. Eventually the sea molded the attitude and
appearance of the Badjao, this rough environment and way of living shaped their typical
physical features, the bronze coloured hair and dark brown skin clearly distinct them
from other tribes.
The native religion from these water people is a form of ancestor worship, spirits,
deceased ancestors and other relatives are asked for favours during frequent cemetery
visits. They offer cigarettes and food and sweet smelling tonic is used for sprinkling the
corners of the graves. These spirits are still part of the family; the seafarers of the
Philippine South want these sprits to be as happy as the living and will therefore comfort
them as much as they can. Some of the traditional pre-Islamic beliefs are offerings
made to the God of the Sea, the Omboh Dilaut, whenever a large catch of fish is
brought in and by setting a "spirit boat" adrift in the open sea, , mediums are also called
upon to remove illness causing spirits from this boat-dwellers community in times of
By tradition, the hardworking and proud Badjao people are sea nomads, travelling by
boat from one island to the other in search of fishing harvest. This pagan tribe have
sailed the seas for more than a thousand years, but because of over fishing by other
groups using everything from high-tech fishing trawlers and even dynamite fishing,
threatened by soaring costs for fuel and repairs, their life in the open waters is drying
up. These Bedouin of the sea no longer live on boats, they live in thatch-roofed houses
on bamboo stilts on a small strip of land that nobody else wanted, somewhere along
the coastline of Sarangani. With small, family owned bancas they continue to roam the
waters, fighting the current to follow schools of fish, hunting for the bounty of the ocean,
trying to make a living and find refuge in the vastness of the deep blue sea.
Despite the romantic portrayals of the tribe, the Badjao never really had an easy live,
when they were still living at sea, they were at least free from the everyday rejection and
hardship brought upon by other tribes that live on land. These guardians of the sea
have experienced themselves that times are tough on the water, but worse on land. At
present the Badjao are the most marginalized ethnic group and one of the poorest tribes
in the Philippines, a Muslim tribe that is shunned by almost everyone, still gypsies, but
also named tramps and thieves. Their vibrant nomadic lifestyle, the way of life
bequeathed to them by their ancestors has vanished in most parts of Mindanao.
For centuries the Badjao have been a resilient tribal group, they firmly pushed away
modernity with both hands, but tossed by modern winds they will have to find ways to
maintain their unique lifestyle and culture, otherwise they will remain Godforsaken.