Lessons learned about Sama & Badjao Diving
Badjao diving has received a lot of attention from several documentaries about the ocean and the Badjao tribe. I’ve met scientists that have come to take data with a focus only on the “Badjao” people. Sadly this overlooks that the Badjao are actually part of a larger group, the Sama. It is not only the Sama Dilaut (our term for Badjao) that are experienced divers, but several of the Sama subgroups are known for being quite capable divers. I convinced a scientist to take measurements of a Sama friend’s spear fishing dives. My friend did at least 5 consecutive dives of over 80 ft each. He stayed underwater for over 50% of his time within a 1 hour period.
That happened over a year ago. Since then I have learned some interesting things about Sama diving.
- Sama dive in order to shoot fish with their spear gun. They will also look for oysters, pearls and other edible/sellable things on the ocean floor.
- Distances are measured in d’ppa. One d’ppa is a fathom, in other words it is the distance between the fingertips of a person with their arm’s outstretched. A traditional fathom is said to be 6 ft. I would estimate the Sama d’ppa at about 5.
- Near shipping yards they will dive for scrap metal. Here in Davao that is 12 d’ppa (approximately 60 ft). Diving at the wharf stretches the limits of the newer inexperienced Sama divers.
- The channel between Davao City and Samal Island is about 20 d’ppa (approximately 100 ft). Around Ligid or Talikud Island the ocean depth can be as high as 30 d’ppa (approximately 150 ft). Near General Santos and Sarangani depths are much deeper.
- There are several Sama Silumpak in Davao that have reached as deep as 50 d’ppa when diving.
- The Sama word that describes a person with a strong capacity for reaching great depths while diving is ap’ddon.
- Sama Silumpak are most certainly ap’ddon. They also describe the Badjao as ap’ddon at diving.
- Though you will find many Bisayans fishing in Davao, the Sama say they are not ap’ddon and only the Sama tend to find their livelihood through diving.
- Bapa’ Mabini, a Sama from Tinutu in the Sarangani province, is said to have dove 105 d’ppa on two occasions (possibly 525 ft!). He did it twice on a bet and received ₱8,000. This far surpasses the world record of 126 meters (413 ft) for free diving set by Alexey Molchanov.
- Bapa’ Mabini as well as many other Sama divers suffered from lung complications before he died in 2012.