Sinama & the Cinema | 7 Sama Films

Travelers to the Southern Philippines & Eastern Malaysia often find their camera lenses gravitating towards the Sama tribe (note: Bajau & Badjao are Sama).  This truth has proven itself even with movie producers both small and big time.  We are proud of the Bangsa Sama.  All the more it makes us proud to see Sama culture or hear the Sinama language on a major TV channel, the big screen or on popular Youtube videos.
Here is our list of 7 must see Sama Films.  We will start with the movies you might see when you turn on the TV.

Human Planet: Oceans (BBC)

For those of you with access to the British Broadcasting Channel you may be familiar with their show, “Human Planet”.  It is a show that features the incredible ability of people to survive in the most extreme environments.  BBC did a show on the oceans that from our experience is fascinating for film viewing in Sama community.  While the ocean may be foreign to many tuning into this episode of Human Planet, for the Sama this is their chance to observe their underwater world without having to hold their breath.  While a Sama might use dog meat and large hooks to real in sharks, the Papua New Guinea man in the film can call up a shark with an incantation and can finish the job with a cleverly designed noose.   Sama don’t consider whale (kahumbu) to be a part of their diet, but who would not be impressed to see the 30 some Indonesians hunt the world’s largest mammel?  The section of the film on compressor diving could have very well picked Sama fisherman as this type of fishing is common to them, instead they filmed Paaling Fishermen in Palawan.
Finally we find the Sama featured as they were filmed in Semporna, Sabah.  Here they are named the Bajau, which is how all Sama are called in Malaysia.  This film was one of our first clues that the Bajau Laut of Malaysia are speaking Central Sinama.  You might have already seen the 3 min. of video that show a Sama diver walking underwater and taking a shot at his lunch before heading back to the surface.  We recommend that you view the full 7 min and 33 seconds that show the Sama homes, their houseboats, and give several dialogues in Sinama, that is if you don’t have time to watch the full episode 😉

Eye on Malaysia: The Seasmiths (Discovery Channel)

This 23 minute documentary on the Lepa Regatta Festival in Semporna, Malaysia is another example of Sama Culture breaking into mainstream television.  The Lepa Festival has for years been the banner holder for showcasing Sama culture as a part of local government tourism initiatives.  The festivals fame motivated us to make the trip to Semporna for its 19th year.
Thanks to Ikwhan Rivai for his efforts that made this film part of the Eye on Malaysia series.  Unfortunately we have not yet had the opportunity to view this film in its entirety.  As far as we can tell it is not for sale by Discovery Asia.  Watch a teaser for the show below and if you happen to find a way to purchase the film, please let us know.  We are interested.

Beyond Survival with Les Stroud – The Sea Gypsies Of Malaysia

This was the second episode of Les Stroud’s TV series Beyond Survival as aired on Discovery Channel.  In this 44 min. episode the host learns skills such as compressor diving, and making traditional woven roofs from palm leaves.  Our first impression was that Les spends too much time talking about himself, but after viewing the film a second time we began to appreciate how the cinematography actually does quite the job at catching the Sama world.  Like many of the films listed here, we appreciate getting to listen in on some of the Sinama conversations held in the background.  Often Stroud’s companions are found wondering out loud what in the world this crazy white man is up to.  The film depicts life on houseboats as well as stilt homes.  Sea Turtles (tohongan), large clams (kima), and porcupine fish (luku’ itingan) all get caught on film.  This film is the first time I heard the Tausug song patay lidjiki’ as it was sung by a little girl in one of the stilt houses.
The entire film was once available on Youtube, but now the best you can do is either find it on Discovery sometime or buy it from Stroud’s website.  (The series Beyond Survival seems to be currently available on Pirate Bay)

Les Stroud with Sama during kulintangan.
Les Stroud with Sama during kulintangan.

On the Sea with Badjao

The film, On the Sea with Badjao, by Vertical Vision is a film still in the making.  It is also a documentary that follows a pair of Sama fishermen, Alexan and a boy named Sari.  They are from the island of Mabul.  Alexan is the last compressor diver from their island.  In the film he is passing on the skill to Sari.  This film looks very promising.  The cinemotography that we have seen so far is quite impressive, especially the underwater footage.
Vertical Vision is asking for your help so that the post-processing of this film can be finished.  Check out their fundraising campaign on kickstarter for more information.

Thy Womb

Two films featuring stories of Sama people have come out recently.  Both are dramas that have hit the theaters in their perspective countries.  The movie Thy Womb receiving international acclaim.  We have written much praise for Nora Aunor’s film.  The movie incorporates 6 different languages into its script.  Though Bongao might be on Cebu Pacific’s flight destinations, the movie takes us much deeper into the province of Tawi-Tawi with much of its footage being shot around the island of Sitangkai.  Tawi-Tawi’s breathtaking beauty is undeniably the true star of this film, but as far as actors and actresses go it truly has a star studded castSama culture is woven through out the entire film, with portrayals of Sama weddings and engagement practices, traditional ceremonies to get rid of plagues, various Sama fishing techniques, and Muslim worship practices in and outside of the Mosque.  The film also contains a variety of Sama boats and footage of Tawi-Tawi’s wildlife including whale sharks and sea turtles.
You currently can watch the entire film on youtube in low quality.  We are looking forward to when the producers will release the film on DVD.  We’re hoping for HD.

The Mirror Never Lies

The second film we alluded to featuring the Sama of Indonesia is the movie, The Mirror Never Lies, A World Wide Fund for Nature sponsored film.  The film is said to use the Bajau language extensively.  We are quite interested to examine how close the Bajau language in Indonesia is to the Sinama spoken in the Philippines and Malaysia.  The movie tells the story of Pakis a Bajau girl who lost her father at sea.  Her mother Tayung must work to provide for her daughter.  Pakis has not lost hope that she might find her dad and seeks help from a Bajau Shaman whose incantation enables her to look for her father using a mirror.  The film is a touching story about a girl coping with the loss of her dad.
The Mirror Never Lies is another film that we would love to add to our collection.  For those of you living outside of Indonesia you may have to content yourself with watching the preview.  Find out more by visiting The Mirror Never Lies official English website.

Bohe’: Sons of the Waves

Bohe’: Sons of the Waves competed in Cinemalaya 2012.  It is a 17 minute film that features Sama Dilaut from Luzon.  In the film they are trying to save their community by aquiring mangrove trees.  They cannot buy the seedlings so they attempt to steal them.  As stated in the films synopsis, “the hope of these young sea gypsies will be the frustration of their elders.  Currently the movie is not available online, but you can find out more on the Bohe’: Sons of the Waves facebook page and watch the preview below.


The list of films featuring Sama people and Sama culture would not be complete if I did not include the 1957 film Badjao that starred Tony Santos and Rosa Rosal.  Though the film has its share of errors regarding the Sama Dilaut (known as the Badjao in the Philippines) it is still a worthwhile film to watch.  You can view the whole thing on Youtube.  We’ve included the first part of 7 here.

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