Common Misconceptions about Sama

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?

10 thoughts on “Common Misconceptions about Sama

  1. 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. ”Palaˈu” in Sinama simply means to live on a boat. It is quite a fitting term for the lifestyle of the Sama Dilaut (Bajau
    Palauh is broken language from Malay Language.. The Malay call them Orang Perahu.. and finally the call themselve as pala’uh. Orang Perahu mean .. mandusia boggo’.. tahinuka?

    1. I hope you understand that I am saying it is false that “Palaꞌu” means god forsaken. I appreciate though that the Malay and the Sinama words have the same meaning. I hope that this myth about “Palaꞌu” meaning god forsaken can be taken out of all textbooks and documentaries that have made these false claims. Magsukul Raja ma comment 🙂

    1. I saw the movie Badjao earlier this year and was surprised to see this pictured in the very beginning. I assume that the creators of the film had heard that the “Badjao”have a ritual where they throw their newborn babies into the ocean, so they included it in their film. It looks more ridiculous than it sounds. However, I watched the film with some Sama Deya and they also believed the Sama Dilaut do this. I asked if they had ever seen it and they said no. Another Sama friend of mine believes this story because he read it in an American’s book 🙂 I am still very skeptical of this and would like to hear from a Sama that can attest to witnessing this or having firsthand experience with it. Thanks Sigfried for your post.

      1. I think there is more to this mythic ritual than meets the eye.The same,I think again, to the god forsaken meaning attached to the word Pala’u.I am in immersion with a community of Sama DiLaut presently harbored along the historic Parua River in the City of Mabalacat,Pampanga and I intend to dive deeper into the origins of these (mis)conceptions.You are welcome Luke and thanks for your response.

        1. There certainly is an origin to why these myths got attached to the Sama people and the case is certainly not closed on the ocean ritual, though it may be an exaggeration. My thought as stated in the article above has always been that someone made a joke once that Bajau children are basically thrown into the ocean right after they were born and someone took that joke too seriously.
          As for the word Palaꞌu. Racism is alive and well in Sulu and throughout the Philippines. The Sama recognize that a majority of Tausug regard the Sama as inferior and persecute them. Much more the Sama Dilaut because many remain animists and not Muslims. I find it very plausible that many Tausug would call the Sama Palaꞌu godforsaken. But the word Palaꞌu must be understood based on its origin. It is the Sama word for dwelling on a boat.
          A Malaysian Sama once shared with me that the Malayu word for bangka is perahu. Phonologically that is also not far off from the word palaꞌu.
          Thanks again for your replies and I’m looking forward to hearing what you might further discover about this.

  2. hahaha baby-throwing? if small boy yes..i remember my uncle throw me n my cousins to the ocean. LOL
    #back then I can't swim. LAHI TAHAK MAG BEYAK MAKA LEMES NA.

  3. Assalamu Alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatu!
    Hello Admin, my name is Daaniya and I’m engaged to a sama (Please forgive me if I use the wrong terms as I’m quite unfamiliar with these). He is originally from Simunul,Tawi-Tawi and currently working in Madinah, KSA. I’m a nurse here in the KSA as well. I’ve reverted to Islam 10 months even before I met my fiancee.
    I am REALLY eager to learn the language and the culture so that I won’t be totally clueless when we visit his family back home. I also want this effort to be a surprise gift for my fiancee. Unfortunately, I’ve been having a difficult time researching on how to speak sinama (or samal?). If you could please help me or direct me to any website where I can try and study the language, I would truly appreciate it.
    Jazak Allahu Khayrun!

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