You are on page 1of 18

Sama-Bajau peoples

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Bajau)

"Sama-Bajau" redirects here. For the languages, see Sama-Bajaw languages.

Not to be confused with Samma, an unrelated ethnic group in Pakistan and India.

Sama-Bajau people

Total population

At least 470,000 in the Philippines; At least 436,672 in Sabah,

Malaysia;[1] 175,000 in Indonesia;[2] 12,000 in Brunei.[3]

Regions with significant populations

(Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao del Sur, Mindanao)


(Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Lesser Sunda Islands,Maluku Islands, Bird's Head

Peninsula, Kangean Islands)


Sinama,[4] Bajau, Tausg, Zambaongueo
Chavacano, Cebuano, Tagalog, Bugis, Malay,Indonesian and English
Sunni Islam (majority),
Folk Islam, Animism, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Yakan, Iranun,
Tausg, other Moros,
Malays, Bugis, and other Austronesian peoples

The Sama-Bajau refers to several Austronesian ethnic groups of Maritime Southeast Asia. The
name collectively refers to related people who usually call themselves the Sama or Samah; or
are known by theexonyms Bajau (/bda, b-/, also
spelledBadjao, Bajaw, Badjau, Badjaw, Bajo or Bayao) andSamal 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, andvinta (or lepalepa).[5] Some Sama-Bajau groups native to Sabah are also known for their traditionalhorse
culture.Banguingui, also known as Sama Banguingui, Sama Bangingi, Bangingi, and Samal
Banguingui, is a distinct ethno-linguistic group,and are generally considered as a muslim
tribe,unlike the sama-bajau most are still pagan,some already converted to other religions. They
are dispersed throughout the Greater Sulu Archipelago and southern and western coastal
regions of the Zamboanga Peninsula in Mindanao, Philippines. They are one of the ethnic groups
usually collectively known as the Sama-Bajau people, even though they are now land dwellers
unlike their counterpart in malaysia,Indonesia and other group who literally lives on sailing
vessels,they still belong to the same ethnic group.
The Sama-Bajau are traditionally from the many islands of the Sulu Archipelago in
the Philippines, coastal areas of Mindanao, northern and easternBorneo, the Celebes, and
throughout easternIndonesian islands.[6] In the Philippines, they are grouped together with the
religiously-similar Moro people. Within the last 50 years, many of the Filipino Sama-Bajau have
migrated to neighbouring Malaysiaand the northern islands of the Philippines, due to theconflict
in Mindanao.[7][8] As of 2010, they were the second-largest ethnic group in the Malaysian
state ofSabah.[1][9]
Sama-Bajau have sometimes been called the "Sea Gypsies" or "Sea Nomads", terms that have
also been used for non-related ethnic groups with similar traditional lifestyles, such as
the Moken of the Burmese-Thai Mergui Archipelago and the Orang Lautof southeastern Sumatra
and the Riau Islands of Indonesia. The modern outward spread of the Sama-Bajau from older

inhabited areas seems to have been associated with the development of sea trade in sea
cucumber (trepang).


2History and origins


2.1Oral traditions

2.2Modern research on origins

2.3Historical records

3Modern Sama-Bajau






6.3Music, dance, and arts

6.4Horse culture


7Depictions in popular culture

8Notable Sama-Bajau




9See also



12Further reading



Like the term Kadazan-Dusun, Sama-Bajau is a collective term, used to describe several closely
related indigenous peoples who consider themselves a single distinct bangsa ("ethnic group" or
"nation").[5][10] It is generally accepted that these groups of people can be termed Sama or Bajau,
though they never call themselves "Bajau" in the Philippines. Instead, they call themselves with
the names of their tribes, usually the place they live or place of origin. For example, the seagoing Sama-Bajau prefer to call themselves the Sama Dilaut or Sama Mandilaut (literally "sea
Sama" or "ocean Sama") in the Philippines; while in Malaysia, they identify as Bajau Laut. [11][12]

A Sama-Bajau flotilla in Lahad Datu,Sabah, Malaysia.

Historically in the Philippines, the term "Sama" was used to describe the more land-oriented and
settled SamaBajau groups, while "Bajau" was used to describe the more sea-oriented, boatdwelling, nomadic groups.[13] Even these distinctions are fading as the majority of Sama-Bajau
have long since abandoned boat living, most for Samastyle piling houses in the coastal
"Sama" is believed to have originated from the Austronesian root word sama meaning "together",
"same", or "we".[14][15][16][17] The exact origin of the exonym "Bajau" is unclear. Some authors have
proposed that it is derived from a corruption of the Malay word berjauh("getting further apart" or
"the state of being away").[17][18] Other possible origins include the Brunei Malay word bajaul, which
means "to fish".[18] The term "Bajau" has pejorative connotations in the Philippines, indicating
poverty in comparison to the term "Sama". Especially since it is used most commonly to refer to
poverty-stricken Sama-Bajau who make a living through begging. [12]
British administrators in Sabah classified the Sama-Bajau as "Bajau" and labelled them as such
in their birth certificates. Thus the Sama-Bajau in Malaysia may sometimes self-identify as
"Bajau" or even "Malay" (though the preferred term is "Sama"), for political reasons. This is due
to the government recognition of the Sama-Bajau as legally Bumiputera (indigenous native)
under the name "Bajau".[12] This ensures easy access to the special privileges granted to ethnic
Malays. This is especially true for recent Moro Filipino migrants. The indigenous Sama-Bajau in
Malaysia have also started labelling themselves as their ancestors called themselves, such as

History and origins[edit]

Regions inhabited by peoples usually known as "Sea Nomads". [19]

Orang Laut

For most of their history, the Sama-Bajau have been a nomadic, seafaring people, living off the
sea by trading and subsistence fishing.[20] The boat-dwelling Sama-Bajau see themselves as nonaggressive people. They kept close to the shore by erecting houses on stilts, and travelled
using lepa, handmade boats which many lived in.[20]

Oral traditions[edit]
Most of the various oral traditions and tarsila(royal genealogies) among the Sama-Bajau have a
common theme which claims that they were originally a land-dwelling people who were the
subjects of a king who had a daughter. After she is lost by either being swept away to the sea (by
a storm or a flood) or being taken captive by a neighbouring kingdom, they were then supposedly
ordered to find her. After failing to do so they decided to remain nomadic for fear of facing the
wrath of the king.[5][19][21][22]
One such version widely told among the Sama-Bajau of Borneo claims that they descended
fromJohorean royal guards who were escorting a princess named Dayang Ayesha for marriage
to aruler in Sulu. However, the Sultan of Brunei (allegedly Muhammad Shah of Brunei) also fell in
love with the princess. On the way to Sulu, they were attacked by Bruneians in the high seas.
The princess was taken captive and married to the Sultan of Brunei instead. The escorts, having
lost the princess, elected to settle in Borneo and Sulu rather than return to Johor.[23][24]
Among the Indonesian Sama-Bajau, on the other hand, their oral histories place more
importance on the relationship of the Sama-Bajau with the Sultanate of Gowa rather than Johor.
The various versions of their origin myth tell about a royal princess who was washed away by a
flood. She was found and eventually married a king or a prince of Gowa. Their offspring then
allegedly became the ancestors of the Indonesian Sama-Bajau. [21][25]
However, there are other versions which are also more mythological and do not mention a
princess. Among the Philippine Sama-Bajau, for example, there is a myth that claims that the
Sama-Bajau were accidentally towed into what is now Zamboanga by a giant stingray.[5]

Modern research on origins[edit]

Residents of a Bajau kampung inTernate, North Maluku, Indonesia circa 1925.

The origin myths claiming descent from Johor or Gowa have been largely rejected by modern
scholars, mostly because these kingdoms were established too recently to explain the ethnic
divergence.[22][24] Though whether the Sama-Bajau are indigenous to their current territories or
settled from elsewhere is still contentious.[12] Linguistically, they are distinct from neighbouring
populations, especially from theTausg who are more closely related to the northern Philippine
ethnic groups like the Visayans.[5]

Sama-Bajau children in Basilan,Philippines

In 1965, the anthropologist David E. Sopher claimed that the Sama-Bajau, along with theOrang
Laut, descended from ancient "Veddoid" (Australoid)[note 1] hunter-gatherers from the Riau
Archipelago who intermarried with Austronesians. They retained their hunter-gatherer lifestyle,
though they became more maritime-oriented as Southeast Asia became more populated by later
Austronesian settlers like the Malays.[5]
In 1968, the anthropologist Harry Arlo Nimmo, on the other hand, believed that the Sama-Bajau
are indigenous to the Sulu Archipelago, Sulawesi, and/or Borneo, and do not share a common
origin with the Orang Laut. Nimmo proposed that the boat-dwelling lifestyle developed among the
ancestors of the Sama-Bajau independently from the Orang Laut.[5]
A more recent study in 1985 by the anthropologist Alfred Kemp Pallasen compares the oral
traditions with historical facts and linguistic evidence. He puts the date of the ethnogenesis of
Sama-Bajau as 800 AD and also rejects a historical connection between the Sama-Bajau and the
Orang Laut. He hypothesises that the Sama-Bajau originated from a proto-Sama-Bajau people
inhabiting the Zamboanga Peninsula who practised both fishing and slash-and-burn agriculture.
They were the original inhabitants of Zamboanga and the Sulu archipelago, [26] and were wellestablished in the region long before the first arrival of the Tausg people at around the 13th
century from their homelands along the northern coast of eastern Mindanao. Along with the
Tausg, they were heavily influenced by the Malay kingdoms both culturally and linguistically,
becoming Indianised by the 15th century and Islamised by the 16th century.[27] They also engaged
in extensive trade with China for "luxury" sea products like trepang, pearls, and shark fin.[10][27][28]

A Sama-Bajau village in Omadal Island, Sabah

From Zamboanga, some members this people adopted an exclusively seaborne culture and
spread outwards in the 10th century towards Basilan, Sulu, Borneo, and Sulawesi. [27][29] They
arrived in Borneo in the 11th century.[24] This hypothesis is currently the most widely accepted
among specialists studying the Austronesian peoples. This would also explain why even boatdwelling Sama-Bajau still practice agricultural rituals, despite being exclusively fishermen.
Linguistic evidence further points to Borneo as the ultimate origin of the proto-Sama-Bajau

Historical records[edit]

A Bajau chieftain in traditional attire from Kampung Menkabong, Tuaran,Sabah, circa 1948.

The epic poem Darangan of the Maranao people record that among the ancestors of the hero
Bantugan is a Maranao prince who married a Sama-Bajau princess. Estimated to have
happened in 840 AD, it is the oldest account of the Sama-Bajau. It further corroborates the fact
that they predate the arrival of the Tausg settlers and are indigenous to the Sulu archipelago
and parts of Mindanao.[22]
Sama-Bajau were first recorded by European explorers in 1521 by Antonio Pigafetta of
the Magellan-Elcano expeditionin what is now the present-day Zamboanga Peninsula. Pigafetta
writes that the "people of that island make their dwellings in boats and do not live otherwise".
They have also been present in the written records of other Europeans henceforth; including
in Sulawesi by the Dutch colonies in 1675, in Sulawesi and eastern Borneo by Thomas Forrest in
the 1770s,[5] and in the west coast of Borneo by Spenser St. John in the 1850s and 1860s.[23]
Sama-Bajau were often widely mentioned in connection to sea raids (mangahat), piracy and
theslave trade in Southeast Asia during the European colonial period, indicating that at least
some Sama-Bajau groups from northern Sulu (e.g. the Banguingui) were involved, along with
non-Sama-Bajau groups like the Iranun. The scope of their pirate activities was extensive,
commonly sailing from Sulu to as far as Moluccas and back again. Aside from early European
colonial records, they may have also been the pirates described by Chinese and Arab sources in
the Straits of Singaporein the 12th and 13th centuries.[27] Sama-Bajau usually served as lowranking crewmembers of warboats, directly under the command of Iranun squadron leaders, who
in turn answered to the Tausg datu of the Sultanate of Sulu.[10]

A Sama woman making a traditional mat in Semporna, Malaysia

The Bajoe harbour in Sulawesi was the site of a small settlement of Sama-Bajau under
the Bugis Sultanate of Bone. They were significantly involved in First and Second Bone
Wars (18241825), when the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army sent a punitive expedition in
retaliation for Bugis and Makassar attacks on local Dutch garrisons. After the fall of Bone, most
Sama-Bajau resettled in other areas of Sulawesi.[16][21]

During the British colonial rule of Sabah, the Sama-Bajau were involved in two uprisings against
the North Borneo Chartered Company: the Mat Salleh Rebellion from 1894 to 1905, and
the Pandasan Affair of 1915.[23]

Modern Sama-Bajau[edit]
Modern Sama-Bajau are generally regarded as peaceful, hospitable, and cheerful people,
despite their humble circumstances. However, a significant number are also illiterate,
uneducated, and impoverished, due to their nomadic lifestyle. [18]
The number of modern Sama-Bajau who are born and live primarily at sea is diminishing.
Cultural assimilation and modernisation are regarded as the main causes. [5] Particularly after the
dissolution of the Sultanate of Sulu, who were the traditional patrons of the Sama-Bajau for
bartering fish for farm goods. The money-based fish markets which replaced the seasonal trade
around mooring points necessitates a more land-based lifestyle for greater market penetration.
In Malaysia, some hotly debated government programs have also resettled Bajau to the
The Sama-Bajau in the Sulu Archipelago were historically discriminated against by the
dominantTausg people, who viewed boat-dwelling Sama-Bajau as 'inferior' and as outsiders
(the traditional Tausg term for them is the highly offensive Luwaan, meaning "spat out" or
"outcast"). They were also marginalised by other Moro peoples because they still
practised animist folk religions either exclusively or alongside Islam, and thus were viewed as
"uncivilised pagans".[30] Boat-dwelling and shoreline Sama-Bajau had a very low status in the
caste-based Tausg Sultanate of Sulu.[24][26][31]This survived into the modern Philippines where the
Sama-Bajau are still subjected to strong cultural prejudice from the Tausg. The Sama-Bajau
have also been frequent victims of theft, extortion, kidnapping, and violence from the
predominantly Tausg Abu Sayyaf insurgents as well as pirates.[10][32][33]

A Sama-Bajau child in Tagbilaran City, Bohol, Philippines, diving for coins thrown by tourists into the water.

This discrimination and the continuing violence in Muslim Mindanao have driven many SamaBajau to emigrate. They usually resettle in Malaysia and Indonesia, where they have more
employment opportunities.[34][35][36] But even in Malaysia their presence is still controversial as most
of them are illegal immigrants. Most illegal Sama-Bajau immigrants enter Malaysia through
offshore islands. From there, they enter mainland Sabah to find work as manual labourers. [7][10]
Others migrate to the northern islands of the Philippines, particularly to the Visayas, Palawan,
the northern coast of Mindanao, and even as far as southernLuzon.[15][17][18] Though these are
relatively safer regions, they are also more economically disadvantaged and socially excluded,
leading to Christian Filipinossometimes stereotyping the boat-dwelling Sama-Bajau as beggars
and squatters.[10][12][18][38]

Bokori, a Sama-Bajau village in southwest Sulawesi, Indonesia

The ancestral roaming and fishing grounds of the Sama-Bajau straddled the borders of the
Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. And they have sometimes voyaged as far as
the Timor and Arafura Seas.[39] In modern times, they have lost access to most of these sites.
There have been efforts to grant Sama-Bajau some measures of rights to fish in traditional areas,
but most Sama-Bajau still suffer from legal persecution. For example, under a 1974
Memorandum of Understanding, "Indonesian traditional fishermen" are allowed to fish within
the Exclusive Economic Zone of Australia, which includes traditional fishing grounds of SamaBajau fishermen. However, illegal fishing encroachment of Corporate Sea Trawlers in these
areas has led to concern about overfishing,[40] and the destruction of Sama-Bajau vessels.[39] In
2014, Indonesian authorities destroyed six Filipino Sama-Bajau boats caught fishing in
Indonesian waters. This is particularly serious for the Sama-Bajau, whose boats are also
oftentimes their homes.[41]
Sama-Bajau fishermen are often associated with illegal and destructive practices, like blast
fishing,cyanide fishing, coral mining, and cutting down mangrove trees.[25][42] It is believed that the
Sama-Bajau resort to these activities mainly due to sedentarisation brought about by the
restrictions imposed on their nomadic culture by modern nation states. With their now limited
territories, they have little alternative means of competing with better-equipped land-based and
commercial fishermen, and earn enough to feed their families.[10][42] The Indonesian government
and certainnon-governmental organisations, have launched several programs for providing
alternative sustainable livelihood projects for Sama-Bajau to discourage these practices (such as
the use offish aggregating devices instead of explosives).[25] Medical health centres (puskesmas)
and schools have also been built even for stilt-house Sama-Bajau communities. [10] Similar
programs have also been implemented in the Philippines.[43]
With the loss of their traditional fishing grounds, some refugee groups of Sama-Bajau in the
Philippines are forced to resort to begging (agpangamu in Sinama), particularly diving for coins
thrown by inter-island ferry passengers (angedjo). Other traditional sources of income include
selling grated cassava (magliis), mat-weaving (ag-tepoh), and jewellery-making (especially
frompearls). Recently, there have been more efforts by local governments in the Philippines to
rehabilitate Sama-Bajau refugees and teach them livelihood skills.[18][30][44] In 2016, the
PhilippineBureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources started a project for distributing fishing
boats, gear, and other livelihood materials among Sama-Bajau communities in Luzon. This was
largely the result of raised awareness and an outpouring of support after a photo of a SamaBajau beggar, Rita Gaviola (dubbed the "Badjao Girl"), went viral in the Philippines.[45][46][47]

The Sama-Bajau are fragmented into highly diverse subgroups. They have never been politically
united and are usually subject to the land-based political groups of the areas they settle, such as
the Sultanate of Brunei and the former Sultanate of Sulu.[29]

Sama-Bajau woman and children from Omadal Island, Sabah, Malaysia

Most subgroups of Sama-Bajau name themselves after the place they originated from (usually
an island).[24][26][29] Each subgroup speaks a distinct language or dialect that are usually mutually
intelligible with their immediate neighbouring subgroup in a continuous linguistic chain. [29] In the
Philippines, the Sama-Bajau can be divided into three general groups based on where they

Sama Bihing or Sama Lipid - The "shoreline Sama" or "littoral Sama". These are the
Sama-Bajau which traditionally lived in stilt houses in shallows and coastal areas. An
example is the Sama Simunul. They are originally from the larger islands of Tawi-Tawi.[17]
They have a more flexible lifestyle than the Sama-Gimba (Dilaut Origin), and will farm
when there is available land. They usually act as middlemen in trade between the Sama
Dilaut and other land-based peoples.[27]

Sama Dea, Sama Deya, or Sama Darat - The "land Sama". These are the Sama-Bajau
which traditionally lived in island interiors. Some examples are the Sama Sibutu and the
Sama Sanga-Sanga. They are usually farmers who cultivate rice, sweet potato, cassava,
and coconuts forcopra through traditional slash-and-burn agriculture (in contrast to the plow
agriculturetechnology brought by the Tausg). They are originally from the larger islands of
Tawi-Tawi andPangutaran.[17][24][27] In the Philippines, the Sama Dea will often completely
differentiate themselves from the Sama Dilaut.[48]

Sama Dilaut, Sama Mandilaut or Bajau Laut - The "sea Sama" or "ocean Sama". In the
Philippines, the preferred ethnonym is Sama Dilaut; [11] while in Malaysia, they usually identify
as Bajau Laut. This subgroup originally lived exclusively on elaborately crafted houseboats
calledlepa, but almost all have taken to living on land in the Philippines. Their home islands
includeSitangkai and Bongao.[49] They are the Sama-Bajau subgroup most commonly called
"Bajau", though Filipino Sama Dilaut consider it offensive. [48] They sometimes call themselves
the "Sama To'ongan" (literally "true Sama" or "real Sama"), to distinguish themselves from
the land-dwelling Sama-Bajau subgroups.[14]

Other minor Sama-Bajau groups named after islands of origin include the Sama Bannaran,
Sama Davao, Sama Zamboanga Sikubung, Sama Tuaran, Sama Semporna, Sama Sulawesi,
Sama Simunul, Sama Tabawan, Sama Tandubas (or Sama Tando' Bas), and Sama Ungus
Matata.[24]Mixed-heritage Sama-Bajau and Tausg communities are sometimes known as "Bajau
Suluk" in Malaysia.[7][50] People of multiple ethnic parentage may further identify with a three-part
self-description, such as "Bajau Suluk Dusun".[51] The following are the major subgroups usually
recognised as distinct:

Bajo (Indonesia) - Also known as "Same'" (or simply "Sama") by the Bugis; and
"Turijene" or "Taurije'n" (literally "people of the water"), "Bayo", or "Bayao" by the Makassar.
They are Sama-Bajau groups who settled in Sulawesi and Kalimantan, Indonesia
through the Makassar Strait from as early as the 16th century.[5][53][54] They have spread further
into nearby islands, including the Lesser Sunda Islands, Maluku Islands, and Raja Ampat

The Regatta Lepa festival inSemporna, Sabah, Malaysia. Leparefers to the houseboat in the dialect of east
coast Bajau. In this festival, Bajau people decorate their boats with colourful flags.

Banguingui (Philippines, Malaysia) - Also known as "Sama Balangingi" or "Sama

Bangingi". Native to the Philippines. Some have recently migrated to Sabah. They are
sometimes considered distinct from other Sama-Bajau. They have a more martial-oriented
society, and were once part of regular sea raids and piracyagainst coastal communities and
passing ships.[29][55]Main article: Banguingui people

East Coast Bajau (Philippines, Malaysia) - are Sama Dilaut who settled in the eastern
coast of Sabah, particularly around Semporna. They still identify themselves as Bajau Laut
or Sama Laut. Though they are called East Coast Bajau to distinguish them from the Sama
Kota Belud of western Sabah.[56] They are also known by the exonym "Pala'u" ("boatdwelling" in Sinama), but it is sometimes considered derogatory. Some have retained their
original boat-dwelling lifestyle, but many others have built homes on land. They are known
for the colourful annual Regatta Lepa festival, which occurs from 24 to 26 April. [57]

Jama Mapun (Philippines) - Also known as "Sama Kagayan". They are from the island
ofMapun, Tawi-Tawi (formerly known as Cagayan de Sulu). Their culture is heavily influenced
by the Sulu Sultanate.[58]

Samal (Philippines, Malaysia) - "Samal" (also spelled "Siamal" or "Siyamal") is a Tausg

andCebuano term and is sometimes considered offensive. Their preferred endonym is
simply "Sama", and they are more accurately a general subgroup of Sama Dea ("land
Sama") native to the Philippines.[14][48] A large number are now residing around the coasts of
northern Sabah, though many have also migrated north to the Visayas and southern Luzon.
They are predominantly land-dwelling.[5][36][48] They are the largest single group of Sama-Bajau.
In Davao del Norte, the Island Garden City of Samal was possibly named after them.[48][60]

Ubian (Philippines, Malaysia) - Originated from the island of South Ubian in Tawi-Tawi,
Philippines and make up the largest Sama-Bajau subgroup in Sabah. They reside in sizeable
minorities living around the towns of Kudat and Semporna in Sabah, Malaysia.

The West Coast Bajau horsemen in their hometown of Kota Belud, with a background of Mount
Kinabalu behind.

West Coast Bajau (Malaysia) - Also known as "Sama Kota Belud". Native to the western
coast of Sabah, particularly around Kota Belud. They prefer to call themselves by the general
ethnonym "Sama", not "Bajau"; and their neighbours, the Dusuns also call them "Sama".
British administrators originally defined them as "Bajau". They are referred to as West Coast
Bajau in Malaysia to distinguish them from the Sama Dilaut of eastern Sabah and the Sulu
Archipelago.[56] They are known for having a traditional horse culture.[48]

Yakan (Philippines) - Found in the traditional Sama-Bajau homelands of Zamboanga and

surrounding islands (including Basilan). Though they may have been the ancestors of the
Sama-Bajau, they have become linguistically and culturally distinct and are usually regarded
as a separate ethnic group. They are exclusively land-based and are usually farmers. [29] Main
article: Yakan people

Main article: Sama-Bajaw languages
The SamaBajau peoples speak some ten languages of the SamaBajau subgroup of the
WesternMalayo-Polynesian language family.[61] Sinama is the most common name for these
languages, but they are also called Bajau, especially in Malaysia. The Tausg people refer to
these languages as Siamal.[11] Most Sama-Bajau can speak multiple languages.[10]
The Sama-Bajau languages were once classified under the Central Philippine languages of
theMalayo-Polynesian geographic group of the Austronesian language family. But due to marked
differences with neighbouring languages, they were moved to a separate branch altogether from
all other Philippine languages.[62] For example, Sinama pronunciation is quite distinct from other
nearby Central Philippine languages like Tausg and Tagalog. Instead of the primary stress being
usually on the final syllable; the primary stress occurs on the second-to-the-last syllable of the
word in Sinama.[27] This placement of the primary stress is similar to Manobo and other languages
of the predominantly animistic ethnic groups of Mindanao, the Lumad peoples.[63]
In 2006, the linguist Robert Blust, proposed that the Sama-Bajaw languages derived from
the Barito lexical region, though not from any established group. It is thus a sister group to other
Barito languages like Dayak and Malagasy. It is classified under the Bornean geographic group.

Sama-Bajau languages are usually written in the Jawi alphabet.[15]

Religions of Sama-Bajau (Malaysian population only)[65]

Folk religion / Other
No religion /





Religion can vary among the different Sama-Bajau subgroups; from a strict adherence to Sunni
Islam, forms of folk Islam (itself influenced by Sufi traditions of early Muslim missionaries), to
animistic beliefs in spirits and ancestor worship. There is a small minority
of Catholics andProtestants, particularly from Davao del Sur in the Philippines.[22][30]
Among the modern coastal Sama-Bajau of Malaysia, claims to religious piety and learning are an
important source of individual prestige. Some of the Sama-Bajau lack mosques and must rely on
the shore-based communities such as those of the more Islamised or Malay peoples. Some of
the more nomadic Sama-Bajau, like the Ubian Bajau, are much less adherent to orthodox Islam.
They practice a syncretic form of folk Islam, also revering local sea spirits, known in Islamic
terminology as Jinn.[29]

A Sama-Bajau village in Omadal Island, Sabah, Malaysia

The ancient Sama-Bajau were animistic, and this is retained wholly or partially in some SamaBajau groups. The supreme deities in Sama-Bajau mythology are Umboh Tuhan (also known
as Umboh Dilaut, the "Lord of the Sea") and his consort, Dayang Dayang Mangilai ("Lady of the
Forest").[66] Umboh Tuhan is regarded as the creator deity who made humans equal with animals
and plants. Like other animistic religions, they also fundamentally divide the world into the
physical and spiritual realms which coexist together.[11][67] In modern Muslim Sama-Bajau, Umboh
Tuhan (or simply Tuhan or Tuan) is usually equated withAllah.[24][67][note 2]
Other objects of reverence are spirits known as umboh (also spelled omboh or m'boh),
Traditionally, the umboh referred more specifically to ancestral spirits, different from
the saitan(nature spirits) and the jinn (familiar spirits); though some literature refer to all of them
as umboh.[68]These include Umboh Baliyu (the spirits of wind and storms), and Umboh
Payi or Umboh Gandum(the spirits of the first rice harvest). They also include totemic spirits of
various animals and plants, including Umboh Summut (totem of ants) and Umboh Kamun (totem
of mantis shrimp).[67] The construction and launch of sailing vessels are also ritualised, and the
vessels are believed to have a spirit known as Sumang ("guardian", literally "one who deflects
attacks").[39] The umboh are believed to influence fishing activities, rewarding the Sama-Bajau by
granting good luck favours known as padalleang and occasionally punishing by causing serious
incidents called busong.[42][66]

Sama-Bajau woman from Maiga Island, Semporna, Malaysia, with traditional sun protection called burak

Traditional Sama-Bajau communities may have shamans(dukun) traditionally known as

the kalamat. The kalamat are also known in Muslim Sama-Bajau as the wali jinn (literally
"custodian of jinn") and may adhere to taboos concerning the treatment of the sea and other
cultural aspects. Thekalamat preside over Sama-Bajau community events along with mediums
known as igal jinn.[26][66] The kalamat and theigal jinn are said to be "spirit-bearers", and are

actually believed to be hosts of familiar spirits. It is not, however, regarded as a spirit possession,
since the igal jinn never lose control of their bodies. Instead, the igal jinn are believed to have
acquired their familiar spirit (jinn) after surviving a serious or near-fatal illness. For the rest of
their lives, the igal jinn are believed to share their bodies with the particular jinn who saved them.

One important religious event among the Sama-Bajau is the annual feast known as pagumboh or magpaay-bahaw, an offering of thanks to Umboh Tuhan.[24][26][29] In this ceremony, newly
harvested rice (paay-bahaw) are dehusked (magtaparahu) while Islamic prayers (duaa) are
recited. They are dried (magpatanak) and are then laid out in small conical piles symbolic of
mountains (bud) on the living room floor (a process known as the "sleeping of rice"). After two or
three nights, two-thirds are set aside for making sweet rice meals (panyalam), while one-third is
set aside for making sweet rice cakes (durul).[26][29] Additional prayers (zikir), which includes calling
the names of ancestors out loud, are offered to the Umboh after the rice meals have been
prepared. Pag-umboh is a solemn and formal affair.[26]
Another annual religious ceremony among the boat-dwelling Sama Dilaut is
the pagkanduli (literally "festive gathering").[68] It involves ritual dancing to Umboh Tuhan, Dayang
Dayang Mangilai, and ancestral ghosts called bansa. The ritual is first celebrated under a
sacred dangkan tree (strangler figs, known elsewhere in the Philippines as balete) symbolising
the male spirit Umboh Tuhan; and afterwards in the centre of a grove
of kama'toolang trees (pandan trees) symbolising the female spirit Dayang Dayang Mangilai.[66]
The trance dancing is called mag-igal and involves female and male and igal jinn, called the jinn
denda and jinn lella respectively. The jinn denda perform the first dance known as igal
limbayanunder the dangkan tree, with the eldest leading. They are performed with intricate
movements of the hands, usually also with metal fingernail extensions called sulingkengkeng. If
the dance and music are pleasing, the bansa are believed to take actual possession of the
dancers, whereupon the wali jinn will assist in releasing them at the end of the dance.
The bansa are not feared, however, as they are regarded as actual spirits of ancestors.
Temporarily serving as hosts for thebansa while dancing to music is regarded as a "gift" by the
living Sama Dilaut to their ancestors. After the igal limbayan, the wali jinn will invite the audience
to participate, to celebrate and to give their thanks. The last dance is the igal lellang, with
four jinn lella performing a warrior dance, whereupon the participants will proceed to
the kama'toolang grove. There they will also perform rituals and dance (this time with both male
and female dancers together), symbolically "inviting"Dayang Dayang Mangilai to come with them
back to the dangkan tree. Further games and celebrations are held under the
original dangkan tree before the celebrants finally say their farewells to the spirits. Unlike pagumboh, pagkanduli is a joyous celebration, involving singing, dancing, and joking among all
participants. It is the largest festive event among the Sama Dilaut communities. [26]
Aside from pagkanduli and magpaay-bahaw, public dances called magigal jinn may also occur at
various times of the year. During these celebrations, the igal jinn may be consulted for a
publicsance and for nightly trance dancing.[68] In times of epidemics, the igal jinn are also called
upon to remove illness causing spirits from the community. They do this by setting a "spirit boat"
adrift in the open sea beyond the village or anchorage.


A Sama-Bajau family on a vinta boat

A few Sama-Bajau still live traditionally. They live in houseboats which generally accommodates
a single nuclear family (usually five people). The houseboats travel together in flotillas with
houseboats of immediate relatives (a family alliance) and co-operate during fishing expeditions
and in ceremonies. A married couple may choose to sail with the relatives of the husband or the
wife. They anchor at common mooring points (called sambuangan) with other flotillas (usually
also belonging to extended relatives) at certain times of the year.[23][29]
These mooring points are usually presided over by an elder or headsman. The mooring points
are close to sources of water or culturally significant locations like island cemeteries. There are
periodic gatherings of Sama-Bajau clans usually for various ceremonies like weddings or
festivals. They generally do not sail more than 40 km (24.85 mi) from their "home" moorage.[5]
They periodically trade goods with the land-based communities of other Sama-Bajau and other
ethnic groups.[23]Sama-Bajau groups may routinely cross the borders of the Philippines, Malaysia,
and Indonesia for fishing, trading, or visiting relatives.[12][18][24][69]
Sama-Bajau are also noted for their exceptional abilities in free-diving, with physical adaptations
that enable them to see better and dive longer underwater.[70] Divers work long days with the
"greatest daily apnea diving time reported in humans" of greater than 5 hours per day
submerged.[71] Some Bajau intentionally rupture their eardrums at an early age to facilitate diving
and hunting at sea. Many older Sama-Bajau are therefore hard of hearing. [20][70] Sama-Bajau
women also use a traditional sun-protecting powder called burak or borak, made from water
weeds, rice and spices.[72]

Music, dance, and arts[edit]

A Bajau girl clad in her traditional dress.

Sama-Bajau traditional songs are handed down orally through generations. The songs are
usually sung during marriage celebrations (kanduli pagkawin), accompanied by dance (pangigal) and musical instruments like pulau (flute),gabbang (xylophone), tagunggo' (kulintang
gongs), and in modern times, electronic keyboards.[26] There are several types of Sama-Bajau
traditional songs, they include: isun-isun, runsai, najat, syair, nasid, bua-bua anak, andtinggayun.

Among the more specific examples of Sama-Bajau songs are three love songs collectively
referred to as Sangbayan. These are Dalling Dalling, Duldang Duldang, and Pakiring Pakiring.
The most well-known of these three is Pakiring Pakiring (literally "moving the hips"), which is
more familiar to the Tausg in its commercialised and modernised form Dayang Dayang. The
Tausg claim that the song is native to their culture, and whether the song is originally Tausg or
Sama-Bajau remain controversial.[26] Most Sama-Bajau folk songs are becoming extinct, largely
due to the waning interest of the younger generations.[14]
Sama-Bajau people are also well known for weaving and needlework skills.

Horse culture[edit]
The more settled land-based West Coast Bajau are expert equestrians which makes them
remarkable in Malaysia, where horse riding has never been widespread anywhere else. The

traditional costume of Sama-Bajau horsemen consists of a black or white long-sleeved shirt

(badu sampit) with gold buttons (betawi) on the front and decorated with silver floral designs
(intiras), black or white trousers (seluar sampit) with gold lace trimmings, and a headpiece
(podong). They carry a spear (bujak), a riding crop (pasut), and a silver-hilted keris dagger. The
horse is alsocaparisoned with a colourful outfit called kain kuda that also have brass bells
(seriau) attached. The saddle (sila sila) is made from water buffalo hide, and padded with cloth
(lapik) underneath.[74]


The rehabilitation of a traditional Sama-Bajau house in the Heritage Village of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah,

Though some Sama-Bajau headsmen have been given honorific titles like "datu", "maharaja" or
"panglima" by governments (like under the Sultanate of Brunei), they usually only had little
authority over the Sama-Bajau community. Sama-Bajau society is traditionally highly
individualistic,[23] and the largest political unit is the clan cluster around mooring points, rarely
more. Unlike most neighbouring peoples, Sama-Bajau society is also more or less egalitarian,
and they did not practice a caste system. The individualism is probably due to the generally
fragile nature of their relationships with land-based peoples for access to essentials like wood or
water. When the relationship sours or if there is too much pressure from land-based rulers, the
Sama-Bajau prefer to simply move on elsewhere.[27] Greater importance is placed on kinship and
reciprocal labour rather than formal authority for maintaining social cohesion. [18] There are a few
exceptions, however, like the Jama Mapun and the Sama Pangutaran of the Philippines, who
follow the traditional pre-Hispanic Philippine feudal society with a caste system consisting
of nobles, notables, and commoners and serfs. Likely introduced by the Sultanate of Sulu.[23]

Depictions in popular culture[edit]

The 1982 to 1988 Sabah coat of arms depicts a kingfisher, adopted primarily to symbolize the large SamaBajau population in Sabah[75]

It has been suggested by some researchers that Sama-Bajau people's visits to Arnhem
Land gave rise to the accounts of the mysterious Baijini people in the myths of
Australia's Yolngu Aboriginals.[76]
The Sama-Bajau have also been the subject of several films. They include:

Badjao (1957) - A Filipino film directed by Lamberto V. Avellan

Bajau Laut: Nomads of the Sea (2008) - A SingaporeanTV documentary produced by
Matthew Malpelli.

The Mirror Never Lies (2011) Indonesian film directed byKamila Andini

Thy Womb (2012) - A Filipino drama film directed byBrillante Mendoza

Bohe': Sons of the Waves (2013) - A Filipino short film produced by Nadjoua and Linda

Anak ng Badjao (1987) - A Filipino Film directed by Jose Antonio Alonzo and Jerry O.

Notable Sama-Bajau[edit]

Mat Salleh (Datu Muhammad Salleh) - Sabah warrior from Inanam, Kota Kinabalu during
the British administration of North Borneo.

Tun Datu Mustapha (Tun Datu Mustapha bin Datu Harun) - The first Yang di-Pertua
Negeri(Governor) of Sabah and the third Chief Minister of Sabah from Kudat.

Tun Said Keruak (Tun Muhammad Said Keruak) - The seventh Governor of Sabah and
the fourth Chief Minister of Sabah from Kota Belud.

Tun Sakaran Dandai - The eighth Governor of Sabah and also the eighth Chief Minister
of Sabah from Semporna.

Ahmadshah Abdullah - The ninth Governor of Sabah from Inanam, Kota Kinabalu.

Salleh Said Keruak (Datuk Seri Panglima Mohd Salleh bin Tun Mohd Said Keruak) - The
ninth Chief Minister of Sabah from Kota Belud and currently a federal minister with the rank
ofSenator in the Dewan Negara.

Osu Sukam (Datuk Seri Panglima Osu bin Sukam) - The twelfth Chief Minister of Sabah

Mohd Nasir Tun Sakaran (Dato' Mohd Nasir bin Tun Sakaran Dandai) - Sabah politician

Shafie Apdal (Dato' Seri Hj Mohd Shafie Bin Apdal) - Former Malaysian minister

Pandikar Amin Mulia - Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Member of Parliament of Malaysia
fromKota Belud.

Askalani Abdul Rahim (Datuk Askalani Bin Abdul Rahim) - Former Minister of Culture,
Youth and Sports Semporna.


Adam AF2 (Aizam Mat Saman) - Malaysian singer and actor, nephew of Tun Ahmadshah
Sitti - Filipino singer.
Yanie (Mentor) (the late Siti Suriane Julkarim) - Malaysian singer in the popular TV shows
ofMentor on TV3 from Kota Kinabalu.

Wawa Zainal Abidin - Malaysian actress.

Azwan Kombos - Malaysian actor.


Bana Sailani - A Filipino Olympic swimmer who represented the Philippines in the 1956
Summer Olympics, the 1958 Asian Games (where he won 5 bronze medals, and 1 silver),
and the 1960 Summer Olympics. He was more popularly known as Bapa' Banana.[77]

Estino Taniyu - A Malaysian swimmer from the Royal Malaysian Navy who swam across
theEnglish Channel in 13 hours, 45 minutes, and 45 seconds on 21 September 2012.[78]

Matlan Marjan - Former Malaysian football player and the former Sabah FA captain.

Related Interests