Introduction / History Scattered throughout the Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines live the Sama Badjao, a people nobody wants. Badjao means "man of the seas." By tradition, the people are sea nomads, traveling by boat from one island to the next in search of a fishing harvest. But the Sama Badjao are known to other tribes living in the same area as 'palau' or 'lumaan,' both meaning "godforsaken."
The origin of the Sama Badjao is not clear. The Sama originally inhabited the islands and coastal areas between the island of Mindanao and the Sulu Islands. Evidence suggests that they began to leave their homeland during the first millennium AD. Most moved south and westward, establishing themselves along the main Sulu Archipelago, the Cagayan Sulu Islands, and the eastern Borneo coast. Many believe they came from either Sumatra or the South Sea Islands. Some think their migration in the first millennium A.D. resulted from expanding Chinese trade. Originally, the Sama Badjao may have been a land-based tribe pushed into the seas by population pressures and by more dominant tribes. Historically, they held no land or other property ashore, except for small burial islands. Through years of oppression, the Sama Badjao have found solace on the seas.
The Sama are a highly fragmented people with no overall political unity. Specific Sama groups can be distinguished by dialect. However, most identify themselves with a particular island or island cluster.
The Central Sama of the Philippines live on several islands in the Sulu Archipelago, near the island of Borneo. Their language, Siasi Sama, is similar to Tausug and other Sama languages. In general, the term Sama refers to a diverse group of Sama-Bajau speaking peoples who are scattered from the central Philippines to the eastern shore of Borneo, and throughout the Indonesian islands.
What are their lives like? The lives of the Central Sama revolve around fishing, seafaring, and trade, with some farming along the coastal strips. Throughout much of Sulu and eastern Sabah, copra (the meat of the coconut from which coconut oil is derived) is the major cash crop. Copra holdings are small, and few families own enough palms to support themselves entirely from copra sales.
Trade has also long occupied a central place in Central Sama society. Since long ago, seafarers were valued as suppliers of trepang (sea cucumbers), dried fish, pearls, pearl shells, and other marine commodities. Among the Central Sama, both men and women share in agricultural labor and engage in trade. Fishing, building boats, and working with iron are primarily male occupations. Women generally weave mats and market pottery.
The people now live in one of three types of dwellings: stilt houses on the coast, ordinary land houses clustered along protected shorelines or houseboats. Houses, which are raised one to three meters above the ground or highest water mark, usually consist of a single rectangular room with an attached kitchen. Houses built over the water are connected by small bridges or planks. Houseboats are often double dugout canoes. Typically each boat shelters five or six people - a family and maybe one or two other relatives. Two to six families anchor their boats in a cluster while fishing, sharing food and pooling labor and resources.
Households are grouped in larger units called tumpuk, which means "clusters." The Central Sama live near their families and maintain close ties with their relatives. One household head is selected by the cluster members to act as the tumpuk spokesman. A parish consists of local groups whose members are affiliated with a single mosque. Sometimes, clusters and parishes are one and the same.
What are their beliefs? All Central Sama are Shafiite Sunni Muslims. Those who are well versed in religious matters, including the imams (religious leaders) and other mosque officials are called paki or pakil. The paki preside over all major rites, act as religious counselors, and conduct minor rites of thanksgiving.
Friday prayers are performed in the parish mosque and are the climax of a weekly cycle of daily prayers. An annual religious calendar includes Ramadan (the ninth month in which all Muslims fast) and the prophet Mohammed's birthday.
Some of the Central Sama are animists (believe that non-living objects have spirits). Spirits of the dead are thought to remain in the vicinity of their graves. These spirits require offerings for appeasement. Some graves have reportedly become the sources of miracle working power.
During the month of Shaaban, it is said that Allah permits the souls of the dead (roh) to return to this world. To honor their return, the people offer special prayers to the dead and clean the grave areas.
What are their needs? Since the early 1970's, the fight for independence has resulted in massive relocation of the islanders to other parts of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Muslim extremists are still very active and there have been numerous murders, kidnappings, and battles with the Philippine military forces. These fiercely independent people need to find their identity and future in Jesus in order to know peace.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth Christian laborers to work among the Central Sama of the Philippines.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Central Sama.
* Pray that God will give the few Central Sama believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
* Ask the Lord to save key leaders in the Philippines who will boldly declare the Gospel.