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.

18 thoughts on “Sama and Bajau Athleticism

  1. Hi. Half a century ago, when I was in high school at the Siasi Academy, we had a hero named Bana Sailani. He was also called Banana. He was an Olympic swimmer. He swam for the Philippines at the Rome Olympics in 1960. One sportnews account referred to him as "the ageless Bana Sailani" because he was in a number of Olympic games. After he retired from swimming, he became a soldier, and he had the rank of a sergeant. It is possible, like you said, that he migrated to the United States.

    1. Thank you for this invaluable information that you provided on Bana Sailani. My contacts couldn't remember his real name. I have updated the article now. The migration to the United States was a mistake. I have now corrected that.

  2. Legend has it that when he was a student at the Lapak Agricultural High School in Pandami Island, he would swim to school. Sisangat to Hampilan (Hampilan is the coastal town before you could reach the hinterland of Lapak on foot) is quite far. It was possible to swim from Siasi/Muddas to Hambilan, but Sisangat is twice as far. And, of course, the currents on the channel between Siasi and Pandami are very strong. This legend came about as a way of explaining how Bana made it to the Rome Olympics. I don't know if he won any medal.

  3. There was another Olympic swimmer. He was Parson Nabiulla. He was from South Laud, a tall, handsome man. He also became a military man, attaining the rank of captain, or colonel (sorry, my memory on this point is rather vague).
    The other Olympic swimmer (I am not sure if he really made it eventually to the Olympics) was Tony Asamli. I had a chance to race against Tony one time when he swam at the wharf in Siasi. We raced from the wharf of the former Siasi mayor, Konghen Teo, to the main wharf. He beat me by a mile. He had strong, powerful strokes, and his legs were like the propeller of the 90-horsepower Yanmar engine of M/L Sisabros, so I was swallowing bubbles behind his feet. When I reached the cement ledge on the side of the wharf, gasping for air, he gave me a benign smile, a smile I interpreted as saying that I swam like a "jungkak," or an"ebis." I asked him where he had been practicing. He said in the cold spring pool of Tigbau in Jolo, Sulu.
    I wonder where he is now after half a century. Me, I still swim in the Olympic-size, cold spring pool of Taytay, Buru-un, Iligan City, so far away from Siasi in space and in time, teaching my students in literature the two kinds of swimming styles: the frog-matic style and the dog-matic style.

    1. We should perpetuate the "championship" memories of these Tausug-Sama who made Sulu in the Philippine map . . . I understand there is still another champion c.1950s who became the ambassador to Egypt under Ramon Magsaysay, any clue?

    2. Parsons Nabiula swam in the 1956 Olympics. He may have gotten a gold in the 1954 Asean games. I could not find any information on Tony Asamali's Olympic career, but he at least won 3 Bronze medals in the 1966 Asean games. I now have a list of 6 or 7 more athletes that competed in swimming that are most likely either Tausug or Sama. Do you have any idea whether Parsons or Tony were of Sama descent? The following article claims that Tony was Tausug.

      1. His name is Ret. Gen.Parsons Nabiula. He is a Samal, though his mother is a Tausug. His son mentioned earlier who is part of the Hagibis is Sonny Parsons or Jose Parsons Nabiula.
        Parsons Nabiula won a gold medal in 1954 Asian Games. Disqualified in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics because he had a fever during the event.

    3. Thank you all for liking and commenting. @Joe, maybe you are referring to Col. Pullong Arpa, from Siasi, who became the first, and only, Sama ambassador to Egypt. I didn't know that he, too, was a swimmer. @LoveLove, Sheridzma, thank you for remembering me as a funny teacher. It was one of my intentions to make students laugh, or, at least, smile in class aside from trying to sharpen their minds.

      1. bapah hji.pullong was a member of the Phil military academy class of 1928,he was the classmate of col. Edwin Andrews name after air base of Zamboanga,city.
        magsukul ako anak siali si deputy gov. and 1942 siasi vice mayor.moh.jadjurie Leodayang tan.Arpa bin Maharaja Adinda Taup.

        1. bapah.jikirum adjaluddin and bapah asaad usman were both kaki mintaddah of my father and was a famous swimmers from maddas or siasi, sulu

          1. after Kamlon surrendered to uncle Amb. Pullong,he became special envoy to all Arab(Muslims) states in 1957-59 as the first Muslim Ips Sama under president Carlos P. Garcia and he was posted to Egypt during president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

    4. @Luke, thank you for your research into the subject of Tausug/Sama swimmers. Did you come across the name of Pullong Arpa, who became ambassador to Egypt around the 1950's? So the official name of Parson is Parsons! We non English/non American can never really understand the use of the plural form as a name of "one" person, so we always called him "Parson." It is believed that he had a son who became a member of a popular rock band, the Hagibis. Because it is the Tausug/Sama practice to use the father's name as a family name, the son had a family name that made him appear as an American mestizo. As for my tokayo (namesake) Tony Asamli, so the article you read spelled his name as "Asamali." Well, maybe, and maybe he was Tausug and not Sama. It is good to examine who wrote the article. Sometimes these Manila-based writers don't know the distinction between Tausug and Sama. So if a swimmer comes from Sulu, they call him Tausug. Most swimmers from Sulu are really Sama, not Tausug. The Tausug does not have the discipline or the ambition to be a "lowly" swimmer. It is not in the culture. I could be wrong, of course, but that's an honest observation from someone who was born and who was raised in Sulu.

    5. I cannot say for sure what the real name is for Bapa' Parson. My Sama relatives also call him Parson. He is a relative. You can find him in posts about the Asean and Olympic games as Parsons or Palsons. His last name's spelling has several variants as well. He did indeed win a Gold medal for 200m butterfly in the 1954 Asean games.
      I did not come across the name Pullong Arpa in my research. The first Asean games was in 1951. I would assume that this would be beyond his time period. I cannot find clear listings of the Far Eastern Games, the precursor to the Asean games.
      About your comment on Tausug and Sama swimmers. As with Manila writers being ignorant of the difference between Sama and Tausug, I also note that some Tausug writers would readily claim a Sama champion as a Tausug and many Sama might even claim themselves a Tausug. I also, with my biases may make the mistake sometime of claiming that a Tausug is a Sama 🙂 Your comment here about the Tausug and Sama aptitude and inclination towards swimming are well noted. I see the Tausug often described in writing as expert seamen. Yet, the Sama would claim the Tausug know little about the sea and are more involved in farming. Some history might never get straightened out.
      The following men appear to be athletes from Sulu:
      Abdurahman Ali and Jikirum Adjaluddin participated in the 1932 Olympics. Jikirum was a close competitor with Teófilo E. Yldefonzo, one of the most famous Filipino Olympians.
      Jikirum also participated in the 1936 Olympics along with Arsad Alpad.
      Here is a list of some Filipino swimmers in the Asean games, that could possibly be Sama: 1951 Mohammad Mala, 1954 Parsons Nabiulla, Bana Sailani, 1958 Bana Sailani, Dakula Arabani, 1962 Bana Sailani, Sampang Hassan, Amir Hussin Hamsain, Roosevelt Abdulgafur, 1966 Tony Asamli, Amman Jalmaani.
      If you look at recent records of Filipino swimmers, it appears that Sulu hasn't been included for quite some time. It could be interpreted that war has diminished the opportunities that Sama & Tausug have to excel in athletics. It may be that the Philippines has indeed found better talent elsewhere. I believe most likely prejudice, politics, & corruption plays a role in this. My brother-in-law was quite a gifted swimmer. He quit in order to make his coach mad after discovering that money that was supposed to go towards their equipment had been mishandled.

    6. Hi Luke. Just returned from a trip to China. Yes, you are right. There have been no swimmers from Sulu for some time now. Partly because there are more swimming pools in Manila. Is there a swimming pool in Jolo aside from Tigbao? The story about the corruption of coaches is legendary. The money that is supposed to buy equipment and uniforms for athletes is always stolen by the coaches, or if the money is not stolen, the uniforms are usually given to the children and relatives of the coaches instead of the athletes. In the Olympic and Asian games you hardly find a Filipino medalist. Not because there are no talents but because the officials are corrupt. Many times in these games, the Philippines has more officials representing the country than there are athletes. Nobody wonders anymore about the politics and corruption in this country.

Ai tapah'llingbi pasal itu?