Anyone heard of the name Bapa’ Banana? Bapa’ Banana was a swimmer for the Philippines from Siasi, Sulu. He came from the small village of Sisangat. The Sama from Sisangat are known by many as Badjao. He is a role model that Sama children can look up to. Like many Sama, Bapa’ Banana had a natural ability for swimming and grew up in an environment that could nurture that talent. He did not have wealth or political connections that afforded him the chance to compete on the national level but he worked hard to develop his talent. Eventually he competed for the Philippines against other nations receiving 5 bronze medals and 1 silver in the ASEAN Games. He competed in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He was voted the 1953 Filipino Athlete of the Year and the 1954 & 1958 Filipino Swimmer of the Year. He went on to coach swimming in Manila and was long time swim instructor at the Makati Sports Club.
(Learn more about Bapa’ Banana, who’s real name was Bana Sailani in the PhilStar’s article, “Alligator in the Swimming Pool“)
If you haven’t heard of Bapa’ Banana, I hope that maybe you have heard of Estino Taniyu. He’s a member of the Royal Malaysian Navy. Not many of the write-ups are reporting that he is a Bajau. Bajau is the term that the Sama are known by in Sabah. In recent years Sabah has been able to provide for the Sama greater opportunity than their homelands on the Philippine side of their territory. A trip to Semporna feels like you are in Sulu or Tawi-Tawi without the danger of bandits looming in the air. Semporna was an ideal place to foster an athlete like Estino who was able to swim the English Channel in 13 hours, 45 minutes and 45 seconds. It took the relay team of 6 swimmers also from the Navy 14 hours and 30 minutes to accomplish the same task. All of Malaysia is proud of this feat.
Imagine what it means for the Sama. Some Sama parents are setting an example for their children of being needy and pitiful. They beg. The family’s dreams are so nearsighted that they can’t make the sacrifice that persevering in school or persevering in livelihood requires. But that is only some. Many Sama have developed much larger dreams. They are putting their kids through college, even though they never made it through grade one. There are captains and chief of police that are Sama. Counselors in public high schools. Judges. Officials in the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Even the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines can trace her roots back to Siasi, Sulu.
Athletics is an area where the Sama have reason to dream. May the accomplishments of Bapa’ Banana and Estino Taniyu instill hope in the Sama. One day it could be a Sama that brings back Malaysia’s or the Philippine’s first gold medal.