Case Study for Social Workers: Some Sama would rather die than be called Badjao

Badjao have become famous internationally for their unique culture and capabilities, even though Badjao is not even the term the Sama Dilaut use for themselves. The complications this has caused will teach you a unique lesson that is important for city governments, community health workers, NGOs, hospitals and other aid workers when interacting with indigenous people of their nation.

After decades of study about the Badjao of Tawi-Tawi, Arlo Nimmo concluded in his ethnography Magosaha, that Badjao should no longer be used. Instead of Badjao, Arlo encourages that the term Sama Dilaut be adopted.  It includes them as a part of a larger tribe, the Sama, and honors them by calling them with their name they most frequently call themselves.
Of course, not many people have bothered to get as involved with the Sama as Nimmo. Many couldn’t care less about understanding the differences between Sama Dilaut, Sama Banguingi, Sama Sibutu, Sama Siasi or Sama from multiple other subgroups. They either know them as Badjao or they are Samals.
I agree that for your everyday Filipino this is an FYI only, but for city governments, community health workers, NGOs, hospitals and other aid workers, even festival organizers it is important for your work that you know the difference.
Here is one example why:
I heard that my friend Babu’ had been hospitalized so I visited her. She was discussing with her daughter what to do. They couldn’t afford the labs and Babu’ was told she didn’t qualify for any of the aid.
Surprised I asked, “Not even the indigent aid?”
A friend had assured me that the Sama were eligible to receive government aid for indigent people groups.  Babu’ however had been unable to convince Social Services of her need.
She is a widow living with her daughter, a single mother with many kids, making a living off of selling kwek-kwek eggs in the market.  They don’t read or write.  Babu’ doesn’t know her age.  It takes confidence to tell the workers your need and it takes persistence to convince them of it.  Both personality traits are rare among the uneducated.
In fact, most of the Sama I’ve visited in the hospital seem quite bewildered. Maybe its the long lines they wait through to get aid or the multiple step processes required to get medicines.  Indeed it takes quite a confident individual to take care of their loved one in the hospital.  In this specific community one lady, a high school graduate is the go to woman.  She tries her best to get whatever help she can for even her distant relatives.
My friend Babu’, doesn’t even have this lady to help.  I followed up with social services on my friends behalf.
“Hello Mam, my name is Luke. I would like to follow-up on my friend, Babu’.  I’ve been told by a medical missionary friend, that Babu’ is eligible as an indigent for government aid, but my experience is the Sama from her community are continually getting rejected.”
The aid worker was unaware of who the Sama were.  I explained that they share the same language as the Sama Dilaut, whom most Filipinos recognize as the Badjao. The social worker, chuckled a bit, commenting that they would often get a group of applicants who would immediately identify themselves as “Not Badjao”. Ironically if they identified themselves as Badjao they could get most or even all of their bills paid.  The mayor’s office has a heart to help the “Badjao”.
It would take little effort for the other Sama to pass themselves off as Badjao.  Both groups build their houses over the ocean, share similar customs, draw their livelihood from the sea, speak the same language and often share the same plight of poverty.  Yet the Sama Deya’, for lack of a better term, refuse to be called Badjao. They do not wish to be included in the stereotypes given: beggars, unkempt, outcasts.
So instead the Sama identifies himself to the social worker, “I’m Muslim and I speak Muslim.”
The Social worker still confused will ask “Which Muslim tribe?”
To most non-Muslim Filipinos,  speaking Muslim is speaking Arabic.  The social workers, I’m assuming must know though that there are 13 Muslim ethnic groups in the Philippines.
When the Sama finally says, “I’m a Sama”, the social worker can’t find it on his list.
He says, “Oh, you’re a Samal.  Does that mean you come from Samal?”
The answer is no.  Once again, the Sama falls prey to being misidentified.  Outsiders have for centuries called him Samal.  Most likely Samal island was named after the Sama there when the Spanish first passed through, but the largest communities are not on Samal but in Davao.  If the Sama makes the mistake of saying he’s from Sulu, he can immediately become ineligible.  After all they are searching for help in Davao, but just admitted they are from Sulu.
Babu’ who is in her 80’s, does remember Sulu.  She grew up there, but has lived almost her entire married life in Davao.  Why did Babu’s family come here over half a century ago?  Davao has always been fishing spot for Sama from Sulu.  Some Sama would be there on long fishing trips and some had compelling enough reason to bring their whole families.
In the end, Babu’ did end up receiving help from social services, though it took a great deal of explaining.  I’ve had to do this explaining in the same office 3 different times and it still hasn’t sunk in.  I know that this aid is charity bu, I also understand that the money set aside for such charity is intended for people like Babu’, to help ethnic groups such as the Sama, those that have been suffering in modern day Filipino Society.
Babu’ got help.  However, many Sama have left in the midst of medical problems, seeing no hope of being able to pay for their treatment.  Others arrive too late, thinking they won’t be helped anyways.  Issues like this need to be addressed.  Filipino social workers need to be educated.  It’s not just the Sama that are experiencing the issue of being mistakenly identified.  Let this case study serve as a reminder of the need for social workers, governments and NGOs to be in tune with anthropological research in order for them to serve well.

1 thought on “Case Study for Social Workers: Some Sama would rather die than be called Badjao

  1. I heard a speech about a badjao. His speech is entitled, “I am a Badjao” where he took pride of his pagkabadjao. I’m not very particular of that speech but I think it was composed for speech computation somewhere in Tawi-tawi.

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