Sulu is not listed on most Filipinos favorite vacationing spots and due to their perceived “mysterious” nature there aren’t too many people seeking conversation partners among the Sama Dilaut (Bajau) they come across. For this reason and many more we have felt the need at Sinama.org to address common misconceptions about the Sama people. Are you a Sama? What things have you heard people saying that are exaggerated or just plain false?
Here’s our list:
When a Bajau baby is born, they are immediately thrown into the ocean and then the Bajau men dive to rescue the baby?
We have never had this practice confirmed by a Sama Dilaut (Bajau) or any other Sama for that matter. Some Sama wonder, “How come when college students come by our village they always ask about us throwing our babies into the ocean?” We can only guess where this myth originated. The Sama, especially Sama Dilaut (Bajau), have lives that are forever connected to the sea. For a land dweller, especially a foreigner, it seems it would be easy to joke about how a Bajau is practically thrown into the water upon birth. Others hearing such jokes may have taken them to be truth and hence we get our legend about the Sama.
It is true that many Sama can swim at quite younger ages than other Filipinos due to their proximity to the ocean. Also many Sama men and women have had to dive into the ocean to rescue the 1-3 year old who managed to fall off from a house on stilts into the ocean.
The word “Palaˈu” used by other Sama and Tausug to refer to the Bajau means god forsaken.
This myth is posted all over the internet. “Pala’u” in Sinama simply means to live on a boat. It is quite a fitting term for the lifestyle of the Sama Dilaut (Bajau).
The word “luwa’an” is often tied to this discussion as well. “Luwa’an” means “outcast” or “outsider.” It does not have any connection to the word “spit”. Tausug may call Sama Dilaut (Badjao) luwa’an as a way of saying they are not a part of their ummat, they even have stories of God cursing the Sama Dilaut, but though unkind, the term “luwa’an” cannot be considered synonymous with god forsaken.
Sama is derived from the word “Sama-Sama” which means togetherness.
Indeed Sama-Sama does mean togetherness in Tagalog, but there is no reason to believe that Sama is derived from this language from Luzon. A little over 100 years ago, Tagalog was of no regional significance to the Sama in their heartlands. The Sinama language has been around for hundreds of years before the Spanish and even before Islam’s arrival in the Philippines.
Sama, Samals, and Bajau are three different peoples.
All three of these references are referring to the Sama people. “Samals” are how the Spanish and other Filipino tribes have referred to the Sama. “Bajau” is the name given to Malaysian and Indonesian tribes who are also sea oriented. The Sama from the Philippines that live in Malaysia use the term “Bajau” about themselves for political reasons. In the Philippines “Bajau” refers to the boat dwelling Sama. These are a subgroup of the Sama people. They are referred to as: Sama Palaˈu (Sama that live on boats) and Sama Dilaut (Sama of the deep sea). This follows the common patter of identification among the Sama people where you say “Sama ____” and fill in the blank with the location you are from (i.e. Sama Siasi, Sama Silumpak, Sama Laminusa, Sama Pangutaran).
Giving money to a Bajau beggar supports terrorism in the southern Philippines.
This is a cruel accusation with no basis. The violence that terrorizes the seas in Sulu is the very reason why many Sama have left for other safer regions of the Philippines. The livelihood obtained from the ocean has been dangerous enough for the Sama without the added threats of war and terrorism that have been happening there. Loss of the Sama traditional livelihood has driven some to beg.
This article is incomplete without your input. It is a work in progress. Has Sinama.org portrayed the Sama people correctly? What other myths would you like to have listed on this page?