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Sama Dilaut (Badjao) Tribe of Sulu: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Mindanao Indigenous People | Philippines Ethnic Group]

Sama Dilaut (Badjao) Tribe of Sulu Archipelago: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Mindanao Indigenous People | Philippines Ethnic Group]


The Sama Dilaut people make up one of the many Sama groups that are widely dispersed in the southern Philippines. The Sama Dilaut’s traditional places of residence are the seas and shores of the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago, which consists of the Sulu province, Tawi-Tawi, and southern Palawan. They are traditionally boat dwellers, also popularly called “sea gypsies,” whose religion has evident Islamic influences.


Badjao” (sometimes spelled Badjaw, Bajau) is the name by which the Sama Dilaut are commonly known to the non-Sama Dilaut. The word itself as a common noun may mean “fisherfolk.” “Bajau” was originally the generic Indonesian word for boat-dwelling people and came to be used in Borneo to refer to all Sama people, whether land-based or boat-dwelling. When one wanted to refer specifically to the boat-dwelling Bajau, one added the modifier laut (sea), thus describing them as the Bajau laut (Bajau of the sea). Early visitors and ethnographers in the Philippines erroneously transferred the Borneo label “Bajau” to the boat-dwelling Sama of the Sulu archipelago. Spanish colonizers called them Lutao (he who swims and goes floating over the water) or Orang-Laut (men of the sea). Luwaan (outcasts) is the Tausug’s pejorative name for the Sama Dilaut, revealing more of the nature of their interaction with one another through history than of the Sama Dilaut themselves. They are also locally called Pala’u (floating people), derived from paraw (boat), which is also the root word of the name of the island Palawan, one of their places of origin. However, this Sama subgroup call themselves “Sama Dilaut,” meaning “Sama of the Sea.”


Due to the Sama Dilaut’s incessant mobility, their population count can only be approximated. In 1986, their total population count was recorded as 24,330; in 1988, it was 28,536. Between 2000 and 2005, the registered population of the Sama Dilaut, as recorded in three provinces of southern Philippines and in four other places where they have moved, is 30,949, broken down as follows: 8,113 in Tawi-Tawi; 13,180 in Sulu; 6,324 in Basilan; 1,439 in Capiz; 68 in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat; 150 in Barangay Tambacan, Iligan City, Lanao del Norte; 205 in Barangay Maasin, Zamboanga City; and 1,470 in Matina Aplaya, Davao City.


A more comprehensive estimate of the Sama Dilaut population is 105,000, scattered in the following regions: Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, Siasi, Tabawan, Bonggao Sitangkai, Cagayan de Sulu Island; Basilan Island, Maluso, Malamawi, Bohe’ Lobbong; Zamboanga del Sur province, Rio Hondo, Batuan Lumbayaw, Taluk Sangay, Sanggali; Olutangga in Zamboanga del Norte province; Davao City, Isla Verde, and Sasa; Cagayan de Oro; Cebu and Tagbilaran in the Visayas; Puerto Princesa in Palawan; and Batangas in Luzon.


Geographically, the Sama Dilaut may be divided into two groups: the southern Sama Dilaut located on the islands of Tawi-Tawi, Sibutu, and Semporna (Sabah); and the northern Sama Dilaut in Siasi, Jolo, Basilan, and Zamboanga. Before the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) secessionist movement, whose sense of nationality included those inhabiting these areas, the southern Sama Dilaut considered themselves one bangsa (people/nation).


Tawi-Tawi, also called “the back door of the Philippines,” lies at the mouth of Sulu and the Celebes Sea. It became a province on 27 September 1973. It has five Sama Dilaut villages, moorages, or kawman, the equivalent of the land-based purok (district). These are Lu’uk Tulai, Tungkalang, Lamiun, Tungbangkao, and Lioboran. Tungkalang (place of coral heads), from tung, meaning “point” or “in,” and kalang, meaning “sandbar,” at the southwest tip of Sanga-Sanga island, is the largest moorage in Tawi-Tawi. In the 1960s, it consisted of about 85% houseboats and 15% stilt houses, some of which stood on a narrow sandbar and some in seawater near the shore.


Sibutu has the villages of Sitangkai, Tungnehat, Tandowak, and Omapoi. Semporna has two villages: Bangau-Bangau and Labuanghadji. The Sama Dilaut living on these two islands are house dwellers and use their houseboats only on long fishing trips. Siasi Island, on the northern side, has five Sama Dilaut villages: Sisangat, Kud-Kud, Musu, Tuhog-Tuhog, and Laminusa.


The Sama Dilaut call their language Sinama. Others, however, call it Bajau, also Badjaw or Badjao, to distinguish it from the language spoken by the land-based Sama.


There are three types of Sama Dilaut based on their forms of residence: the sedentary, with commercial pursuits and permanent homes, such as in Sitangkai, a municipality in Tawi-Tawi province; the semi-sedentary, who spend periods alternately between their houseboats and their village homes in Sisangat on Siasi Island; and the sea gypsies, who live in houseboats as itinerant fisherfolk in search of rich fishing grounds.


Video: Kultura at Tradisyon ng mga BADJAO: Kulintangan at Tradisyunal na Laro [Pangkat Etniko - Mindanao]



History of the Sama Dilaut (Badjao) Tribe


The origins of the Sama Dilaut (Badjao) are uncertain. According to a legend, they came from the shores of Johore, Indonesia, where they had already been living in clusters of houseboats. This is confirmed by one historical account, which traces the Sama Dilaut to the Samal in Johore, who migrated to the Philippines in the early 14th century, before the coming of Islam, and which describes them as being originally boat dwellers who eventually built stilt houses near fertile fishing grounds. A reverse theory, however, is that the Sama Dilaut were originally of the land-based Sama group but branched off into boat dwellers as a result of their occupation. This boat-dwelling practice might have subsequently spread to the area around Malaysia (Saleeby 1908; Nimmo 1968).


Sama Dilaut Badjao houseboat
Sama Dilaut (Badjao) houseboat (Le Tour du Monde, Nouveau Journal des Voyages by Edouard Charton. Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, 1884)


Blumentritt (1892) considered the Samal Laut and the Badjao as two distinct groups, the Badjao having arrived after the Samal Laut, who originally inhabited the Samales Islands, located between Jolo and Basilan. Thus, he distinguished them from the Samal de Lea or Samal Deal Samallipid (land-dwelling Samal) or Samal ha gimba (Samal of the forest), who are simply called Samal or Sama.


Sama Dilaut Badjao man
Sama Dilaut man (Le Tour du Monde, Nouveau Journal des Voyages by Edouard Charton. Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, 1884)


The history of the Sama-Badjao people in the Philippines begins in Zamboanga, circa 1,000 AD. Sama Dilaut settlements were originally located along the Basilan Strait and in the Zamboanga City area, where they developed their own distinct variant of the Sama language. In the next hundred years, as Arab, Chinese, and Brunei merchants turned the Sulu area into a trading center, the various Sama groups began to establish settlements on its islands, including Jolo, which had become a major trading center. They preceded the Tausug, who arrived in Jolo, circa 13th century. The seafaring Sama Dilaut supplied the market with marine products, while the land-based Sama provided the forest products. Attracted by these same economic opportunities, the Tausug began to move from their original site in northwest Mindanao into Sulu, particularly Jolo. Subsequently, the Tausug established the Sulu Sultanate, and the Sama adjusted to their domination in any of three ways: they merged with the Tausug population, moved to other islands, or worked under Tausug control to continue collecting marine products.


Spanish chronicles refer to the Sama Laut as Lutao, whom they also identify as the Orang Laut (men of the sea), sea gypsies, Bajau, and Samal-Laut (Samal of the sea), whom they found inhabiting the coasts and seas of southern Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, particularly Jolo and Basilan. However, the Lutao were not “Moro pirates.” Being sea nomads and declaring no fealty to any ruler, they adhered to their own indigenous religion. The Lutao warriors of the “Moro” Sultan Corralat (also known as Kudarat) of Maguindanao, for instance, were described by a Franciscan friar in 1738 as being “only imperfectly Mahomedanized.” On the other hand, Spanish reprisals against “Moro pirates” in Jolo might have sideswiped innocent Lutao villages. In 1627, a Lutao fishing village, together with its boats, was burned down by Spanish forces because it happened to be in the vicinity of a Jolo settlement. Even as far back as the 17th century, there were Lutao settlements in the Christianized city of Cebu and village of Dapitan.


Spanish and American influence on Sama Dilaut social and cultural development was virtually nil due to two factors: the Sama Dilaut lived in the territory of the Muslim Filipinos, although they were also the least influenced by Islam; and they were itinerant travellers. When the Filipinos took over the governance of the nation starting in 1946, the Sama Dilaut remained relatively untouched by the culture emanating from Manila and other urban centers. This situation, however, began to change in 1970, with the dispersal of the Sama Dilaut population from their original locales to various places in the country, heading north through the Visayas islands to Luzon provinces such as Bicol, Manila, Batangas, Pampanga, and Zambales.


The Sama Dilaut have continued to be displaced by non-Sama migrants, particularly the Tausug, who continue to claim economic and political benefits for themselves in what was heretofore Sama Dilaut territory. In 1970, the harvesting of bakkaw (bark of mangrove trees) used for the processing of leather, and the cultivation of agalagar (seaweed) for the Japanese market attracted Tausug settlers to Tawi-Tawi, where they became the Sama Dilaut’s competitors as suppliers for these export industries. A few years later, in 1973, the creation of Tawi-Tawi as a new province opened up more opportunities such as employment in both government and private agencies, particularly for Tausug migrants. However, the eruption of the war between the Muslim secessionists and the Philippine national government triggered the massive evacuation of populations from Jolo and Sulu. The war escalated after the two-day Battle of Jolo in February 1974. Residents of the island, predominantly Tausug, fled to Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga by the thousands. The war quickly spread to neighboring Sama Dilaut-populated islands such as Tungkalang, Lu’uk Tulai, Sitangkai, and Sanga-Sanga. The presence of an air force base on Sanga-Sanga island subjected it to bombardment and gunfire from both sides, hence triggering the residents’ abandonment of the island. Aggravating the situation for the Sama Dilaut were the recurring invasions of pirates into their coastal villages and the rise of dynamite fishing.


Since then, their continual exodus toward the north has left a trail of Sama Dilaut communities along coastal areas, riverbanks, and other such bodies of water in urban centers through the Visayan islands and farther north toward Luzon. In Barangay Tambacan, Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, the first wave of Sama Dilaut migrants, consisting of about 30 Sama Dilaut individuals comprising four households, arrived in 1999. They had come from Sulu, where, according to them, they had suffered loss of lives and livelihood caused by A-asuk (Tausug) pirates; some had become indentured servants to wealthy A-asuk fishermen. By 2005, the Sama Dilaut population in Barangay Tambacan had grown to 150, comprising 20 households.


In Zamboanga City, Sama Dilaut settlements are on the coastal parts of Barangay Rio Hondo, Mariki, Arena Blanco, Taluksangay, Maasin, and Recodo. In Davao City, a mixed Sama settlement includes a Sama Dilaut population of 184 households or about 1,470 individuals.


Conversely, the Sama Dilaut population in their traditional location has shrunk, as exemplified by that in Tawi-Tawi, which, in the 1960s, numbered 1,600 but by the 1990s, was down to 250. Thus, if the Sama Dilaut are observed to have a “nonaggressive culture,” this is only because as boat-dwelling people, they have historically had the option to flee to the wide open sea rather than to fight (Nimmo 2001).



The livelihood of the Sama Dilaut / Badjao People


In 17th-century historical records, the Sama Dilaut were not known to cultivate land, their sole occupation being fishing. They bartered their catch with mountain dwellers for everything they needed, including firewood and the logs for their houses and boats. Their weapon was the 2 meter-long sarbatana, which could be used both as a blowpipe and a spear. Through it they blew poisoned darts that could kill instantly, the antidote for which was human feces. It had a pointed iron head so that it could also be thrown as a spear. When hunting, they could hit birds with their darts from ten meters away.


Sama Dilaut Badjao vendors in Tawi-Tawi
Sama Dilaut vendors in Tawi-Tawi, 2011 (Neil Daza)

The staple food of the Sama Dilaut consists of panggi (cassava) and fish. Rice is served only for dessert or on special occasions. They have no regular meals; hence, there are no Sama Dilaut words for breakfast, lunch, and supper. They eat whenever they are hungry and there is food.


Sama Dilaut Badjao fisherman gathering seaweeds in Zamboanga
Sama Dilaut gathering seaweeds in Zamboanga, 2007 (Mithi Lacaba)


For subsistence and commerce, the men engage in fishing, pearl diving, boat building, fish-trap making, and fishnet weaving. Their fishing methods require group or communal participation. There are several types of fishing based on the size and manner of participation, method, equipment, and the catch. Anebato-oging fishing may involve as many as seventy-five boats, carrying two to three fishermen each. The to-oging is a kind of fish that converges in large schools on the reefs during the tahi a-dikit (little sea water) season. The boats run in a single line, headed by a nakura (leader), until they find a school of to-oging. They slowly surround the fish by forming their boats into a circle while making much noise by shouting and striking their paddles against their boats. After catching the fish with their nets, they proceed to other reefs to repeat the process, which can be as many as ten times and can last a total of seven hours. Anoha (pole) fishing is for catching anchovies. Magsaut (lift net) fishing, which involves only two or three boats, is done by submerging a net between two ontang (rafts) and lifting it to trap the fish that have been attracted to the net with the light from kerosene lamps or torches of woven coconut leaves. A sedentary type of fishing is done with amissi (hook-and-line) to catch large, 10-kg fish. Shark fishing requires a shark hook, a bohehtna (shark rattle), a wooden club, and the singing of the traditional, dirgelike kalangan kalitan (shark songs) for protection against this most dangerous of all marine species. In the lauwani-lauwani method, a towrope is tied between a small raft and the houseboat, and a series of hooks with baits are hung from the rope; at regular intervals, the towrope is checked for its catch of fish. Fishermen do not deliberately go out to sea to engage in this type of fishing, which is only incidental to a sea journey being made.


The women, together with their children, gather clams, snails, seaweeds, and other such marine life at low tide. A favorite seafood is kamun, which is a pink, 20-centimeter long crustacean, with a pair of large claws in front. The male and female kamun stay together in the holes of reefs. The male is caught first by a noose attached to a pole, which is thrust into the hole. While waiting for the female to take the bait, the women and children sing kalangan kamun (kamun songs).


Local loggers provide the tukang (boat maker) with the body of the paraw or vinta, which is made of casco (timber or log), already cut in various sizes. The tukang then refines the basic structure according to the stipulations of the buyer.


The Sama Dilaut interact with the other Sama subgroups only when they go to the village market to sell or barter their catch of fish for cassava and matches. Otherwise, great pains are taken to avoid their Tausug and other Sama neighbors. They gather fresh water from the well at night when there is no one else about, and they do not send their children to school. Occasionally, they hire themselves out as farm hands to the land-based Sama so they can use the land to plant cassava.


Some Sama Dilaut villages evolved a sedentary lifestyle with the arrival of fish buyers on their islands. The Sama Dilaut no longer had to travel across the seas, especially to Jolo, to sell their catch, because the resident fish buyers provided a ready market in their own islands. In the 1960s, certain islands had developed a reputation for being the best sources of their respective products and natural resources: the pottery of Simunul; the boats of Sibu; the mats of Ungus Mata; and the freshwater of Bo’on. Saturday morning is the Sama Dilaut’s market day in the capital town of Bongao in Tawi-Tawi, when they come from other islands to trade their goods such as fish, shells, and seaweed for cassava, squash, sugarcane, bananas, and cloth.


In the 1970s, mangrove trees were harvested for bakkaw, which was used for the processing of leather; for their trunks, which were used as piles, because these can last indefinitely under seawater; and for firewood, because it burns longer and emits more heat than many other types of wood. Seaweed became very important to the Sama Dilaut as an export product, particularly for the Japanese market, although it is not included in their diet. Since the 1990s, however, Sama Dilaut men have joined the workforce on the docks of Tawi-Tawi as stevedores, while the women have woven and sold mats primarily to local and foreign tourists. Formerly, they wove plain mats in their natural colors because these were only for domestic use, whereas the colored ones with woven designs were for ceremonial use. However, having had to compete in the market, they have refined the art of mat weaving and created even more elaborate designs.


By the turn of the millennium, Sama Dilaut migrants had dispersed in different parts of the country and resorted to new ways of life to survive. Aside from continuing their traditional occupations such as boat making and fishing, they sell cultured pearls and, as a last resort, beg for alms. A ubiquitous instrument in aid of begging, generally used by the boys, is the tambol (drum), which is improvised from anything that can be struck rhythmically, such as a tin can or plastic water container cut to size. Some elderly female mendicants are widows whose husbands were fishermen killed by pirates in the open seas.


The Sama Dilaut migrants in Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City are street vendors, odd jobbers, intermittent construction workers, and sidecar (also known as foot-pedal tricycle) drivers. The startup capital of sidecar owners and retail vendors comes from private moneylenders who give them one-thousand-peso loans, which is paid back at 10 pesos a day, including interest. The sidecar is custom-built in Maricaban, Pasay City for seven thousand pesos. However, unlicensed sidecars or those plying forbidden routes are impounded by the local government. Owners must pay a fine of five hundred pesos to reclaim their sidecar. Because of their penurious and migrant situation, the Sama Dilaut are generally unable to fulfill the requisites for the sidecar license. Furthermore, sidecar routes are confined to the side alleys, where passengers are scarce; thus, the sidecar drivers must take the risk of being caught plying highways such as Roxas Boulevard, where there are more passengers to be had.


Sama Dilaut settlers in Batangas City are pearl vendors though not pearl divers themselves. They travel as far north as Cagayan Valley and the Ilocos provinces to sell their pearls. They obtain the cultured pearls from Mindanao Muslim traders in Manila and Batangas and sell these to tourists at beach resorts, passenger ships, and cruise liners. The cultured pearls are strung together as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings.


In Zamboanga City, a 161-hectare lot in Sitio Tongbato, Barangay Sangali has been awarded to Sama Dilaut as their ancestral domain. The Self-Employment Assistance Kaunlaran (SEA-K) provides microfinancing for livelihood projects that they are most skillful at, such as banca making, seaweeds production, and mat weaving. The Ahon/Ayuda Badjao Project, with similar livelihood components, has been implemented in five other barangays of the same city. Other programs providing livelihood assistance for various migrant settlements are the Bajau Integrated Area Development Project of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI) in Cebu City and Integral Development Services (IDS) in Davao City.


In Iligan City, in 1999 to 2002, the migrants at Barangay Tambacan almost entirely depended on ag-pangamuh (begging), on a regular 7:00 am to 4:00 pm schedule. Each family earned between 30 to 70 pesos from begging. Supplementary income came from the women’s ag-tepoh (mat weaving) and the youths’ angedjo (diving for coins thrown by boat passengers). In 2003, a short-lived livelihood program of a non-government organization (NGO) called Hope for Change initiated a dried-fish business for these Sama Dilaut by providing for boats and start-up capital, which would be paid back in the form of dried fish.



The Sama Dilaut / Badjao Community


Not having a centralized government system, the Sama Dilaut have historically submitted themselves to the system and ruler that prevailed in whichever region they happened to inhabit, which was temporarily at best. During the Spanish colonial period, a number of Lutao, as Spanish chroniclers called them, served as warriors of the sultans and datus of Mindanao, Jolo, and Basilan. On the other hand, every Subanon village paid tribute to a self-styled Lutao ruler, on whom the Subanon also depended for trade. Some Sama Dilaut settled in Christianized Cebu and Dapitan during the same period.


A Sama Dilaut settlement or community is a kawman or moorage of two or three dakampungan or kampong (clans), each of which may consist of up to 10 nuclear families. The head of each kampong is a panglima, about 30 to 40 years old.Hismain functions are to settle disputes, collect fines, and officiate at weddings within his kampong. He may have inherited the position from his father if he has similar leadership qualities as well as expertise in applying the adat (traditional law or custom) during arbitration. The panglima of the whole kawman is the panglima of the original kampong that founded the kawman.


The kawman is also organized into work teams, with a nakura (leader) who is recognized for his expertise in a specific occupation such as boat building or fishing. Thus, the expert boat builder is the nakura of the boat-building team; the expert fisher is the nakura of the fishing team.


The Sama Dilaut followed this political structure for many years, but many Sama Dilaut have already been assimilated into the local government structure. At present, the panglima’s influence is waning because of the presence of the municipal mayor or the barangay captain. However, he is still consulted on matters of marriage and divorce and on the schedule for fishing boats to cast off. Migrants in Barangay Malitam Dos, Batangas City are encouraged by their local government to exercise their right to suffrage. Just the same, they still adhere to the teachings and authority of their elders and chieftains. In Barangay Maasin, Zamboanga City, the Sama Dilaut community participates in elections. In a settlement in Davao City, they are treated with unusual courtesy by political leaders and aspirants because they are registered voters.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Culture, Social Organization, Customs and Traditions


The kinship system of the Sama Dilaut is central to their life and is shown in the various terms they have for different types of blood relationship. Dakampungan is the generic term for “relative,” but it may also mean the clan or alliance of related families “who regularly tie up together at a moorage.” Another term for a clan in one moorage is pagmundah. Dakau-man means “of the same group or moorage.” Magdau-danakan means “all siblings.” Magtau tai-anaak means the “extended family,” including the offspring down to the great grandchildren. Dalahah means “of the same blood,” and dapu-unan means “of the same descendants.” A person addresses anyone older than him or her as “umboh.”


Sama Dilaut Badjao People fluvial parade, Tawi-Tawi
Sama Dilaut fluvial parade, Tawi-Tawi, 2011 (Neil Daza)

The magdanakan or mataan (nuclear family) may not include any other close relative if its members live in cramped quarters: a houseboat typically measures 3.5 meters long, 1.7 meters wide, 1.3 meters deep. If they live in a stilt house, the parents and grandparents of the married couple may stay with them. They marry very young—the girls at age 13 or 14 and the boys at 15—and soon after the wedding live independently. The boy has his own fishing boat and/or builds his own stilt house with the help of the community.


While each dakampungan has its own social organization, the moorage’s social hierarchy consists of the following persons by order of importance: the headman, the djinn (shaman) and the nakura (leader of a work group), the permanent residents, the seminomadic residents, and the nomads. However, these are not fixed positions; a seminomadic individual, for instance, may have the wealth and charisma to be considered equal to those occupying the higher rung of the social ladder.


Prescribed practices and taboos attend every phase of the Sama Dilaut’s life cycle. When a woman becomes pregnant, ferns are forbidden in the dwelling because they are believed to cause poor health in the infant. Certain beliefs and practices show the people’s affinity with the sea. When the moon is out, the pregnant woman bathes on a fishnet or on a paddle so that the child will be brave and strong and know his way about the sea.


During childbirth, the father keeps a torch burning at the door to drive away evil spirits attracted to the blood expelled during delivery. The placenta is placed in a coconut shell and as a man takes it to the shore, the people in the house call to him. He is not supposed to heed them, for if he looks back, the baby’s head will face backward all its life. The placenta is buried deep enough in the sand so that animals cannot dig it up. The placenta is considered the infant’s twin; throwing it away will distress the infant. A similar but religious version of the burial rites for the placenta is that presided over by the panday (female healer). She washes it thoroughly while reciting the prayer for the dead. She then wraps it in a white cloth and places it inside the coconut coffin. She and others in attendance walk in a procession toward a spot nearby where it can be buried.


The infant is named after a place, event, or anything related to the circumstances of its birth. The boy’s family name is the same as his father’s first name; the girl’s family name is her mother’s first name. The children usually wear no clothes until they are about 10 years old.


Sama Dilaut Badjao boys in Zamboanga City
Sama Dilaut boys in Zamboanga City, 2007 (Mithi Lacaba)


Some Muslim practices of the Sama have been adopted by some Sama Dilaut, such as male and female circumcision and magtabok (female ear piercing), which is a ritual led by the panday.


Pag-islam (male circumcision) is done on the boy when he reaches puberty. It is a special occasion, with festivities beginning on the eve of the ceremony. All the relatives and friends are invited to the merrymaking, where the young people dance the pag-igal. The next morning, the imam (religious leader) takes the boy, who is covered only by the tadjong (an oversized tube-shaped garment), to a corner of the house where the pag-islam is performed. The boy recites the angang-gasa (dedication to the girl he loves) to distract himself from the pain. The wound is treated with ashes and covered with white cloth. The boy’s initiation into manhood culminates with a string of advice on his obligations to his family and proper conduct in society. Lunch is then served to the guests, relatives, and friends. The boy stays home until he is healed, for it is believed that stepping on animal feces would prevent healing. The pagsunnat (female circumcision) is now an obsolete practice.


Sama Dilaut Badjao woman and child, Zamboanga City
Sama Dilaut woman and child, Zamboanga City, 2007 (Mithi Lacaba)

Marriage arrangements are made after the girl’s third menstrual period, with the boy about a year older. Early marriage has evolved as a solution to the cramped living conditions in the houseboat. Soon after marriage, the young couple lives on their own, with the boy fishing for his own family’s subsistence. Although tradition allows polygyny, it is very rare because it is not economically feasible. Hence, the Sama Dilaut are monogamous because of economic, not religious or ethical, reasons.


Marriage between relatives, starting from first-degree cousins, is considered desirable. Exceptions are first cousins on the father’s side; foster siblings; and “milk siblings,” children fed breast milk from the same woman. Marriage among members of the nuclear family, with one’s grandparents or any of their siblings, and with one’s aunt or uncle are considered sumbang (incest), and thus forbidden.


Pre-wedding arrangements proceed in several stages. In amnik bih, the first stage, the boy’s parents send an elderly woman to present the initial proposal. The girl’s parents accept after getting the consensus of their relatives. Pang-angbat or pagtunang (engagement period) begins with a lavish celebration. The boy’s parents invite relatives and friends to a repast, after which they go to the girl’s house in a fluvial parade, to the sound of gongs. They bring presents of cash and food. The boy’s obligation to offer services and goods to his future in-laws begins. However, the betrothed couple is not allowed to speak to each other. The pagbua-mamah (final engagement) follows after a month or two. Negotiations for the bride wealth take place between the spokespersons of the two families. Demands by the girl’s uncles and aunts are included in the bride wealth. The wedding date depends upon the length of time the boy’s family will need to accumulate the cash and goods for the bride wealth.


The wedding ceremony is the most festive occasion in a Sama Dilaut community. Women and girls, in their most colorful tadjong, dance aboard the boats to the accompaniment of the gabbang (native xylophone) and improvised drums. The bride’s parents provide the maligai, which is a small replica of a bamboo hut, filled with pastries and decorated with peso bills arranged like panji (buntings). This is the final expression of their consent to the marriage. While the dowry is being brought to the bride’s home, girls dance on boats underneath the house. Anyone of the family, except the bride, accepts the dowry.


The first ritual of the wedding ceremony is the bathing of the bride and groom, done separately by the imam. The bride first emerges from her aunt’s house and sits in public view on a boat. At each end of the boat, a large banner with a dragon design is hoisted. The imam takes a few strands of her hair and blows on it three times. He chants a prayer asking the Supreme Being to grant her a happy married life, and then he pours water on her. The bride is then helped to change from her wet clothes, with a tadjong hiding her from view. She enters the nipa hut built on the boat, where the groom’s mother and aunts will prepare her. The groom undergoes the same bathing ritual; he is then taken to his bride’s family boat, where he will be similarly prepared.


Before the fascinated gaze of children and young women, a wedding cosmetician prepares the bride by applying white powder on her face and shaping her eyebrows and bangs with a razor. The groom is similarly made up on a separate boat. The couple wear their ceremonial traditional attires.


If the wedding takes place on a boat, a tadjong is drawn over the boat so that the bride is hidden from the groom’s view. Only the bride’s father is aboard the boat with her. The groom, borne on his friend’s shoulder, leads the procession toward the wedding boat. They stop just outside the boat. The imam chants the prayers, which the bride’s father replies to from behind the tadjong. The groom stands on the boat while the imam asks on his behalf that he be welcomed into the bride’s family. When the father assents, the tadjong is removed. The bride’s father takes the groom’s right forefinger and places it on the bride’s head and then on her chest. This ends the ceremony. The couple is carried to shore amid the cheering of the crowd. The bride dances the pag-igal.


If the wedding takes place in a stilt house, it is done at the bride’s home. The imam walks with the groom to the side of the bride, who is covered with a tadjong. Two singers, representing the bride and the groom, answer each other with the traditional wedding song. The couple sits on a pillow or cushion while the imam goes around the bride and then the groom. He steps slightly on the groom’s big toe and sits in front of the couple. A piece of white cloth is used to cover the imam’s and the groom’s thumbs which are pressed together. The imam chants the prayers and the ceremony ends.


Wedding gifts are then received by the couple, the bride accepting the gifts from the groom’s family and the groom accepting those from the bride’s. They descend the house to the shore, where the bride dances the igal, while the groom dances the kuntao (martial arts dance). The celebration continues for three days. On the first night, the paglibuhan (circle of crowd) is held in the bride’s home. Dancers coming from both families perform the pag-igal until late into the night. On the second day is the bina-iran, the reception for the couple at the groom’s kawman, where his own friends and relatives are waiting to welcome the bride. A second paglibuhan takes place that night. The third day is the mag-indih baid, when everyone returns to the bride’s home. The groom takes his belongings with him, for the young couple will live with the bride’s family until they are ready to live independently.


In case of magbutas (divorce), the bride-price or a fraction of it is returned to the groom, the amount depending on the length of the marriage, number of children, and cause for divorce. A long marriage requires no settlement.


Upon death, the mayat (corpse) is bathed with a mixture of freshwater and seawater, or in coconut oil. This ritual is called parolihun. It is performed by a person who is of the same sex as the mayat. The mayat is covered with a mat or a white-and-orange blanket. It is believed that the orange color will prevent contamination of the medicine man or woman. A bahangi (all-night vigil) is held, with the imam leading the prayer chants for the soul of the deceased. If the deceased is a man, the coffin is made from the hull of his fishing boat cut lengthwise or at least from parts of his boat. If a woman, a log is cut lengthwise and hollowed out, with the top serving as cover. The possessions of the deceased, such as betel nut containers, bolo, and hats, are buried with him or her. In the 17th century, Spanish chroniclers observed that their rituals of mourning included throwing their most precious possessions such as gold and other jewels and ornaments into the sea. Burial grounds are seashores, such as those in Kabingaan island in Sulu, Bilatan Boon, and Bunabunaan in Tawi-Tawi.


Although weddings and funerals may be attended by all members of the moorage, these are still family affairs. Three occasions that do require the participation of the whole moorage are the aneba to-oging, which is a communal fishing expedition; the pamatulakan, which is a religious ceremony to halt an epidemic, and the Umboh pai baha-o (Umboh of the new rice), which is celebrated before the rice harvest starts.


When a serious dispute arises between two members of a clan in a moorage, a neutral party may step in to arrange a kipalat selamat. This is a ceremony held in the boat or house of one of the disputants and in the presence of the disputants’ families. Toward the end of the ritual, the djinn prevails upon the two quarrelling parties to shake hands and embrace each other. The clan eats together to mark the reconciliation.


On the other hand, where disputes arise between a Sama Dilaut and someone of another ethnic group, reconciliation is not so easily achieved. Sama Dilaut migration into other settled communities have triggered interethnic hostilities that erupt in communal sites where basic services are shared. In Barangay Tambacan, Iligan City, the predominantly Visayan population’s resentment of the Sama Dilaut newcomers is aggressively demonstrated at the public water system, where both ethnic groups are forced to intermingle. Because Sama Dilaut children are subject to bullying, a classroom was built solely for them, but it remains unused because they must spend the day begging to put food in their stomach. On the other hand, in Barangay Maasin, Zamboanga City, a comprehensive socioeconomic program called the Ahon Badjao Project was announced to have achieved the following enrollment figures in 2001 for the community of 205 Sama Dilaut: 31 in grade school, 8 in high school, and one in college. No one in the community had a birth certificate.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Religious Beliefs and Practices


The Sama Dilaut have six categories of gods and supernatural beings: Tuhan (Lord), the omnipotent but impersonal creator god, in a category of his own; Umboh, also known as Omboh or Mbo, the first man or ancestor, also in a category of his own, although the word “Umboh” is also the name of their indigenous religion; umboh, the generic word for ancestral spirits; ummagged or umagad, spirits of persons (when the word refers to spirits of the dead, it is synonymous to “umboh”); saytan or saitan, evil spirits that dwell in rocks and trees; and panggua, living corpses.


Graveyard marker
Graveyard marker (CCP Collections)

No rituals are held in honor of Tuhan. However, he is always invoked and his permission requested at the beginning of rituals and prayers addressed to the saytan and other spirits, such as the pagduwa-a atahah kalluman (prayer for long life) and the prayers for healing. Thus, the supremacy of Tuhan over Omboh and all spirits is recognized. It is his role as the creator and life giver that is recalled when a woman’s first pregnancy is celebrated with the ritual of the pag-hinan ni Tuha (the work or the creation of Tuhan); for the same reason, the panday or midwife addresses her prayers to Tuhan during childbirth.


Umboh, being the Sama Dilaut’s first ancestor, acts as the mediator between his people and Tuhan. They describe him as a very aged man dressed in black. Thus, black or dark cloths are used for the mag-umboh, which are rituals held in his honor. There are three types of mag-umboh: the Umboh pai baha-o (Umboh of the new rice), the Umboh boa saluka (Umboh of the coconut), and the Umboh pai (Umboh of the rice).


The Umboh pai baha-o, now obsolete, used to be the most important and grandest festival, when the Sama Dilaut still had access to land that they could plant to rice, before the Tausug took over Sama territory. The ritual was held yearly to start the planting season, sometime around September. The head of the family walked around the field, a bowl of incense in hand, while praying to the spirit of the palay (unhusked rice) to ensure the plants’ health and to protect these from pests, rats, and drought. This ritual could be repeated whenever they felt it necessary, but it was done in the late afternoon when the spirits were out and about. To keep the spirit of the palay in the field, the harvested rice was first stored overnight in a shed erected on the field and taken home the next morning. Some of the harvest was deliberately left behind in the field to carry over to the next planting season. The harvest was kept in a corner of the house near the sacred space, and the women slept with their heads near the palay.


The Umboh pai is held just before the first rice harvest, at the start of July. Three items are required: a mature coconut, enough palay at least to fill a bowl, and the bark of a tree branch, four feet long and six inches in diameter. The djinn or imam fashions the bark into a cylindrical basket, which he lines with black or dark-colored cloth large enough for it to fold over to cover the basket’s contents. Dried grass may be substituted for the cloth so that the basket looks like a nest. The ritual begins at high noon, with the imam scooping a bowl of palay from a sack and pouring it into a ligo (winnowing tray). With his cupped hands, he then scoops the rice from the ligo, pours it into the bark basket, and covers it with the basket’s black cloth. A bowl of charcoal with incense is lit. The coconut and the basket of palay, heretofore set apart from each other, are placed side by side in the sacred space, which is at the left wall from the front entrance of the house or from the bow of the lepa. This is Umboh’s cue to enter. The imam moves the bowl of incense around in the air while he and everyone present pray the “prayer of long life” to Tuhan, Umboh, and each one’s own ancestral spirits. The ritual concludes with the bowl of incense being placed between the coconut and the basket of palay. These objects must stay in place for three days or more, after which the family asks Umboh’s permission to remove these. They can then consume the palay and coconut in the usual manner. The head of a family that has held rituals inviting Umboh into their house must sleep or lie with his head toward the sacred space.


The Umboh boa saluka (Umboh of the coconut) is a simpler ritual than the Umboh pai. The imam places a pair of young, green coconuts and a young tree branch along the wall of the sacred space, moves the incense bowl in the air while praying, and places it together with the three ritual objects.


Duwa’a jin ritual held during the rice harvest season among the Sama Dilaut Badjao in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi
Duwa’a jin ritual held during the rice harvest season among the Sama Dilaut in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi, 2007 (Hamka Malabong)

The Sama Dilaut pay homage to the Umboh dilaut (Lord of the sea), with a pagduwa-salamat (thanksgiving ritual) in the panglima’s house after a big catch. They then drop household items, such as a plate, bowl, and saucer, in that part of the sea where the bounty appeared. The antitheses of the Umboh dilaut are the saytan of the sea, also called salim, which are the spirits of extraordinarily strong or holy persons.


Sama Dilaut religious practices are essentially indigenous, though Islamic influence is evident in the Islamic vocabulary and Arabic expressions that have replaced some indigenous terms and prayers. Curing and healing rituals are performed by four types of medicine persons: the a-anambar, the djinn or shaman, the imam or priest, and the panday or female healer. The a-anambar uses herbal medicine to treat minor illnesses such as flesh wounds, and bodily aches and pains. The djinn, who can be male or female, is the most important person in the Sama Dilaut’s religious rituals, which include healing rites and rites of passage. They are called in when an illness is persistent and has no readily discernible cause, such as asthma, migraine, and diarrhea. The imam presides over the same ceremonies as the djinn but does so with Arabic chants and prayers. When the djinn also doubles as the imam, the practice of healing and curing is mixed with some Islamic rituals. The panday is called to assist in childbirth, to heal women who have miscarried, and to prescribe herbs for abortion.


In the 1960s, every clan in Tawi-Tawi had at least one djinn; every kampong, or settlement, had its panday. By the 1990s, the assimilation of the Sama Dilaut into Islam was typified in Lu’uk Bangka, Tawi-Tawi, where the six families in the Sama Dilaut moorage were attending the mosque and there was only one remaining, elderly djinn. In Tungkalang, there were three djinn who were elderly women. Hence, after these elders, the djinn would die out, to be replaced by the imam.


The “prayer of the left arm” is done by the panday after she helps deliver a baby. It is a cleansing ritual because she has “touched blood.” She begins the rite by blowing and praying over cooked yellow rice. She then takes a pinch of rice and places it on her wrist with a blow of air and a prayer; she repeats the same process on her inner elbow and on her shoulder. She performs the same ritual to others who have helped with the delivery. Then she ties a white cloth cord around her wrist and does the same to the others. She wears this cord as long as possible or until she helps deliver another baby.


Pag-djinn (healing) rituals led by the djinn or imam are required when a person’s illness has been caused by the saytan. The word “saytan” (evil spirit), derives from “Satan,” which is an Islamic influence; however, the concept itself has pre-Islamic origins. The saytan’s favorite dwelling places, called tempat, are islets, parts of the sea with strong undercurrents, strange-looking rocks, and trees, particularly the nunuk (banyan tree). Their favorite time for roaming around is during the darkest period of the month, the nights of the bulan matai (dead moon).


The saytan punish people who come too near their dwelling, unless these trespassers first ask for their permission. The saytan may cause any kind of misfortune such as bad weather, a poor catch of fish, and death. However, it is not always clear when or why the saytan has been offended. Expressions of either appeasement or thanksgiving to the saytan are food offerings such as rice and cassava; gifts of betel, tobacco, and cigarettes; and green, white, or yellow panji.


Pag-djinn rituals are not the same for all Sama Dilaut. Certain features of a ritual may have begun as improvisations and then passed on to become general practice particular to a moorage, clan, family, or even an individual djinn conducting the ritual. For some Sama Dilaut, thepag-djinn ritual to drive away the saytan is performed the night before the full moon; for others, it is held in the early morning; and still for others, it is held when the sun is at its zenith.


A family wishing to appease an offended saytan goes to its dwelling in a procession led by a djinn or imam, and brings yellow, fist-sized rice cakes and banners of green, yellow, and white. If the ritual leader is an imam, he greets the saytan “assalamu alaikum,” kneels, and prays while holding a bowl of incense. The prayers consist of apologies to the saytan, interspersed with formulaic phrases that are a mixture of Arabic and Christian prayers. Everyone else murmurs his or her own individual prayers. As the imam continues to pray, he offers the banners and rice cakes to the saytan while his companions sprinkle perfume and talcum powder around the saytan’s dwelling.


Curing or healing rituals are held in the sick person’s boat or house. The male djinn wears a green pair of the traditional loose trousers and a white shirt; the female djinn, yellow sarong and green blouse. The djinn and other participants sit cross-legged on special mats that are used only for such ceremonies. The ritual objects are a young coconut, a glass of water, and a bowl of rice. These are placed at the center of the circle of participants. The ritual begins when incense, or at least a piece of charcoal, in a coconut half-shell or white bowl is lit and thus starts to emit smoke. The djinn begins the duwa-a (prayer) with an invocation to the saytan. As everyone else follows, he rests his hands on his crossed legs, alternately turning his palms upward and downward. This hand movement indicates blessings received and evils fended off. The people face the hainan if the boat or house interior has one hanging from the wall. This is a bar a meter and a half long, carved in a combination of curvilinear and geometric designs and in the traditional, vivid colors of green, red, yellow, blue, and white, which represent the Sama Dilaut’s identity. At the end of the ritual, everyone partakes of the food offerings; thus, spirits and participants alike share in the feast together.


The umagad or umboh may also cause illness with a busang (curse). In such cases, a magbusang ritual is held in the sick person’s home or at the deceased relative’s grave. The offended spirits may allow the patient’s recovery in exchange for a magjanji, a ritual to fulfill a promised act of reverence, such as placing offerings on an ancient, sacred grave on Mount Bongao. The magla-ankuliah is a ritual to expel foreign objects such as nails and glass shards placed by irate spirits in a person’s body.


Because healing or curing sessions are also religious rituals, there is a prayer for every illness. For example:


Bang itu saytan tahik alaan ka pakagis

Bang itu saytan baliyu pasigay kam manilu

Aku ya pasaliyu

Magay ka palimbu-limbu

Tanda ko mata itu


Otoan ka u magpapanjari

Pamulungan makami

Askaduan na ilaha ilaw la

Dua barkat Ia ilaha ilaw la


(If you are an evil spirit from the sea

If you are an evil spirit

Go away from there

Why are you barring the way?

I can see you


Oh God the Supreme Being

Help us God the Almighty,

God the merciful

We long for your blessing.)


A healing ritual performed by an imam is the malud (Arabic chant), which lasts all night long, starting at sunset. For the same purpose, a djinn chants the kata-kata, a very sacred text that is the equivalent of an epic in length and content, which lasts for a considerably longer period. The djinn performs for about two hours per night for several nights to rid a sick person of a saytan or umagad’s punishment. Food offerings and smoking incense is placed in the middle of a mat between the djinn and the sick person.


During an epidemic, the imam calls upon the whole community to participate in a rice ritual. In every stilt house, uncooked rice is placed in a pot and set on the topmost corner. On every houseboat, it is placed at the bow. All the household members sleep with their faces turned toward the pot. The next morning, the oldest woman of every household cooks the rice and shapes it into a cone. This is placed in a bowl and brought to the panglima’s house. The imam prays to the ancestral spirits to accept the rice offering and to bless their living relatives. The healer takes some of the rice from each bowl, mixes it, and invites all the children to partake of it. This ends the ritual. The head of each household then takes back his share of the rice, which is eaten at home.


A more elaborate ceremony to stop an epidemic is the pamatulakan. Each clan is represented by a man who, together with the men of the other clans of the moorage, constructs a small boat, also called pamatulakan. Every family in the moorage contributes the offerings of food, betel, cigarettes, and perfume. The Sama Dilaut in Tungkalang might add a tau-tau image. These are all loaded onto the boat, to which has been attached the familiar small white, green, and yellow panji. The boat is then pulled by all the djinn of the community through the moorage before they take it out to sea, while chanting prayers to the saytan to depart with the pamatulakan.


Equally ceremonious is a thanksgiving ritual, the magtimbang (balancing or weighing), which is held in fulfillment of a promise in exchange for a person’s recovery from a serious or life-threatening illness. Previously it could be held inside the house or boat but is now always held outdoors. It starts at dawn, which, for the Sama Dilaut, is the most propitious time for such ceremonies, though preparations are made a few hours before this. An eight-foot wooden pole, wrapped completely in white, is suspended about seven feet from the ground between a pair of trees, huts, or boats moored on the shore. A white sheet of cloth large enough to carry a person is tied like a sling to either one end or the center of the pole. Ritual objects are tied or slung from the other end, three feet above the ground. These objects, which must weigh the same as the person for balance, may consist of containers of water, coconuts, rice, sugar, bananas, and firewood. A ceremonial tepo (mat) is laid on the ground under the pole, and rice cakes of various shapes and colors are placed on the mat, along with the requisite bowl of smoking incense. The recovered person is helped into the sling and sits with his or her feet three feet above the ground. Chanting to the spirits, the djinn or imam very slowly turns the pole counter-clockwise three to seven times, while everyone in attendance tosses rice. Still chanting, the djinn then reverses the pole’s rotation until it is completely unwound. The recovered person is helped out of the sling, and the ritual objects are distributed to everyone.


When umagad or umboh appear in a person’s dream to request for food, the djinn holds a sinumangit (feeding the dead). After the djinn’s prayers, the food offerings, accompanied with smoking incense, are distributed to the attendees.


A minor saytan, in whose honor no rituals are held, is the saytan of the wind. It is the source of the wind’s motion, ranging from a gentle breeze to the turbulence that causes the death of fisherfolk. The healing rite of blowing air on an ailing person’s arm or on a woman’s strand of hair during childbirth derives from the notion of the wind’s power.


Sama Dilaut Badjao in a graveyard, Sulu Archipelago
Sama Dilaut in a graveyard, Sulu Archipelago, circa 1983 (Ma’i Collection, Filipinas Heritage Library)

The panggua or living corpses may haunt living people for various reasons: the burial rites for them were not properly conducted; they hold a grudge against the person they are haunting; or they have led evil lives. Panggua allum (live ghosts) are people still alive but who are panggua, and thus behave like sleepwalkers.


Monsters and other such creatures of folklore are the following: the forest-dwelling mananokoban, which can attack and kill a person within a few hours; the night-wandering galap, the sight of which causes a heart attack; the blood-sucking barbalan, which appears human by day and transforms into a bird by night; the human-eating gansuang, which tears its victims apart; and the fiery babangan, which causes instant death to every victim it touches. Other monster spirits of various shapes and sizes are the small kaliawan, which cause people to fly and then crash to death; the bagganan, which drown fishermen in the Siasi waters; the giant, bald, one-legged, dark-skinned manolokot, which cause illness and death; and the bagongan, also known as timbalon, the sight of which causes insanity.


In Barangay Malitam Dos, Batangas City, there are Sama Dilaut families who have been converted to Christianity as a result of mission work. However, they have generally remained only nominally so because the Sama Dilaut’s attachment to their Umboh and all their rituals remain deep-seated.


In a multiethnic coastal settlement in Davao City, the Sama Dilaut population, consisting of 184 households out of 364, is predominantly Pentecostal Christian. The other ethnic groups are Maranao, Tausug, Sama Laminusa, and Cebuano. Of the five groups, the Sama Dilaut are at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. The men are either fishermen or shell and pearl vendors. The women peddle ukay-ukay or used clothes. The elderly and the children are beggars. None have been to school for more than a year. The Muslim Maranao are the political leaders, such as the barangay captain and councilmen.


The conversion of the Sama Dilaut population into Pentecostal Christianity started in 1993, when a Sama Dilaut pastor from Rio Honda, Zamboanga City set up residence with his family in this settlement in Davao City. His congregation started with only three families: his own, his brother’s, and his in-laws’. His residence doubled as their place of worship. Within a year, fifteen households or 8% converted. In 1994, the pastor named the congregation “God’s People Badjao Fellowship,” after another Pentecostal subgroup called “God’s People Christian Fellowship,” which was run by a Cebuano pastor in the heart of Davao City. By 1999, six more households or 11% were Pentecostal, though 147 households or 80% of the Sama Dilaut population continued to hold on to their indigenous Umboh beliefs. By 2002, there were 108 households or 60% that were Pentecostal, and two churches had been erected: Southern Baptist and Pentecostal.


The interior of the Pentecostal church consists of a platform on one side and floor space for the worshippers to sit or stand on. Sunday worship lasts from 8:00 am to noon. It opens with an hour-long singing of hymns in the Sinama language, to the accompaniment of an electric keyboard and a kulintang. People rise on their feet one after another to give testimonials that reinforce each other’s faith. Then they place their offerings in a basket that sits before the platform. The pastor enters and, from the platform, leads the Bible study. Passages from the Bible are read, and he delivers his sermon with much dramatic flourish. The service ends with a faith-healing session, amid communal prayers led by the pastor. Some are overcome with emotion and either fall unconscious or go into a trance. Because of the support of American and Korean missionaries as well as the protection of Davao’s prominent Cebuano residents of the same sect, these Sama Dilaut Pentecostals suffer less discrimination than those in other multiethnic settlements. The church has also led its congregation in participating in local elections, giving political leaders and candidates reason to treat them with courtesy as potential voters.


In general, however, Muslim influence prevails and is most evident during the month of Ramadan, when those who have settled outside of their places of origin return to Sulu or Basilan. Another compelling reason for a return trip to the homeland is the impending death and burial of a member of the migrant family. They save up for such journeys from their meager earnings, including those from their begging activities.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Dwellings


The Sama Dilaut metaphor for “mooring place” is the samboang, literally “a stake to which they tie their houseboats.” “Palaw” is their native term for the place where they permanently settle or their “traditional moorage.” These two terms are the root words of the place names Zamboanga and Palawan. Spanish chroniclers of the 16th to 17th centuries, referring to the Sama Dilaut as the Lutaos, consistently describe them as boat dwellers, “taking their wives, dogs, cats, and all their possessions in their boats” (Loarca 1582). Though the Lutao built houses along the coast, these were so far away from the shore that the posts, made of tree trunks, were completely submerged during high tide, and the water between their settlement and the shore was so deep that large ships could pass here.


Sama Dilaut Badjao houseboat, Tawi-Tawi
Sama Dilaut houseboat, Tawi-Tawi, 1970 (Dean Conger)

The Sama Dilaut, whether nomadic or settled, consider their hometown the kawman in which they were raised. A kawman consists of several related nuclear families, with a male elder as the panglima. A larger moorage consists of several clans, with the panglima of the original kin group serving as the overall head. The biggest house in the kawman belongs to the panglima. On the rooftop, a white pennant, measuring 70 centimeters by 1 meter, proclaims his position. Stilt houses are connected to one another with footbridges or catwalks made of loosely nailed boards. This village structure has been described as a “cluster of stilt huts woven around ... like a cobweb” (De Henning 1973). Relatives live near one another in the same neighborhood.


Sama Dilaut Badjao housing at Taluksangay, Zamboanga
Sama Dilaut housing at Taluksangay, Zamboanga, 2007 (Mithi Lacaba)


Dwellings are of three kinds: the luma, stilt house, and palaw. The luma is a house standing on the seashore. It is made of sturdier material than the stilt house. Posts are tree trunks that can withstand seawater. The harun (ladder) is a log into which notches are carved to serve as steps. One end is buried in the sand and rises about three notches above the water; the other end leans on the footbridge, which serves as the landing leading to an open doorway. The house has a long frame about four meters wide. The roof is of tin sheet, nipa, or coconut leaves. The walls and floor are made of wooden boards sawn from logs found floating on the sea, lying on the seashore, or felled in the inland forests. Two window openings are cut out of the front wall and a third window, out of another wall.


The living room also serves as the sleeping area, toilet, and storage space for household possessions. On the inner walls are attached as many mirrors as there are children in the family. Mirrors are believed to drive away evil spirits. A roof beam holds the fishnets. A second doorway leads to the kitchen, which is a separate structure from the main house and connected with a footbridge. The kitchen contains the stove, consisting of three rocks arranged in a triangle and set atop a round metal sheet. Other kitchen paraphernalia are pots, a water jar, kerosene can, coconut grater, and flat-bottomed basket containing fruits, cassava, and coconuts.


The footbridge that connects the kitchen to the next house forms part of the flooring of that house. A pantan is an extension where fish is dried. Laundry and dishwashing are done with the person sitting on the ladder’s last step above the water and using the sea as the washbasin. Clothes are hung to dry from poles stretched across the landing.


Stilt houses, also built along the shores, are of lighter materials, such as bamboo posts and nipa, which are free or cost very little. Labor, too, is free, because relatives and neighbors help build the house.


The palaw, also known as houses on the boats, generally have identical features except for their varying sizes. The typical house has a framework of poles over which the sapao (thatched nipa palm) is rolled to form a curved gable. The structure has a height of one meter, which is just right for a seated person. The dingding, which are mats of woven coconut leaves, are stretched on both sides along the length of the paraw and hung from the eaves to keep out the rain. The kitchen is at the bow, which is the front part of the boat. It consists of a lappohan (clay stove) or earthenware hearth set atop a tin sheet on a plank. The simple structure of the rack for dishes is balanced off by its decorative carvings. A tree branch is attached horizontally nearby, with its limbs intact to serve as hooks from which to hang pots and pans. Clothes, fishing nets, sails, and drinking water are stored at the stern. Hanging from the posts are burlap bags containing food and condiments. Living in the palaw has curved the posture of the Sama Dilaut, who stand or walk with protruding buttocks, especially the women, who are more house-bound.


In the 1960s, the Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut had four types of houseboats, most of them on their way to extinction: the lepa, also called lipa or pidlas, the djenging, the balutu, and the pilang. The hulls of these boats are made of single tree trunks and can either be permanent dwelling places or temporary lodgings during fishing trips. The lepa and the ordinary djenging are convertible into fishing or sailing boats by the simple dismantling of the house structure atop these.


The lepa or pidlas is lighter and speedier than the bigger and heavier djenging. It has no outriggers. It can be the longest of the houseboats, the longest on record being 18 meters from bow to stern, though the average length is 11 meters. The hull is a log that is hollowed out, also called a dugout. Planks are laid across the hull to serve as the foundation on which the palaw or nipa hut is constructed. These planks are not securely fastened so that they can be raised to allow storage of household objects in the hull. Sticking out above the roof may be the owner’s fishing spears and harpoon gun. A relatively new boat type, the lepa was introduced from Borneo to the Sama Dilaut just before World War II. It quickly rose in popularity as a fishing boat because the fishermen could drop their net directly on the sides of the boat without outriggers getting in the way.


The djenging is the traditional houseboat, which the Sama Dilaut trace back to their forefathers. Unlike the outrigger-less lepa, the djenging has double outriggers, though it is shorter than the lepa. In 1968, the djenging was to be found only in Tawi-Tawi, for everywhere else, it had by then been replaced by the lepa. Its hull measures 13 to 17 meters long and two meters wide. Its house structure, a wooden cabin, is meant to last longer than that of the lepa. Its walls are made of wooden boards fastened with nails, and the roof is made of galvanized iron sheets. There are windows and a doorway. The size of the djenging varies according to the owner’s economic status. In Tawi-Tawi, a boat of these dimensions is called a kumpit. The smaller lepa is usually only eight meters long.


In former times, there was a larger type of djenging that was also called a balutu or kubu. These had houses 10 meters long and three to four meters wide that sat atop boats considerably longer from bow to stern. Decorative carvings were presumably more abundant and elaborate. Now obsolete, the balutu was reserved for a wealthy panglima’s residence. The house on the balutu was a permanent structure because the boat on which it stood was permanently anchored in its place. In the 1930s, the greatest number of these balutu were anchored at Sitangkai, but none exists there today. In the 1960s, there were six derelict balutu anchored at Tawi-Tawi.


The pilangor dapang is a speedy and sleek sailboat with bamboo outriggers and a sail attached to a tripod mast made of bamboo. It is the Sama Dilaut’s adaptation of the Tausug vinta, though they also use it as a houseboat. It is from four to 10 meters long from bow to stern and may look shorter because it has a deeper U-shaped hull, besides being narrower than those of the other boats.


Sitangkai is said to be the Sama Dilaut’s main settlement, consisting solely of stilt houses. Lepa are used only as temporary lodging for fishing trips. Tungkalang, the oldest moorage in Tawi-Tawi and said to be the most traditional or conservative, consists of both stilt houses and houseboats. Although it is a stone’s throw away from the Samal Sea community, its structure and features are distinctive.


Since the Sama Dilaut exodus northward from Mindanao, they have adapted the organization of their settlements and the structural design of their dwellings according to the demands of their new environment. The 20 migrant families in Barangay Tambacan, Iligan City have built their houses from discarded materials on the grounds of a nearby supermarket. In 1998 to 2003, the local government developed the Sama Dilaut settlement in Barangay Maasin, Zamboanga City as its “Model Badjao Community.” Its population of 205 individuals, with each household having an average of nine members, had the following infrastructure units built for them: 30 residences, a three-room school, an agar-agar (seaweed) sun drier, a day care center, a mini-health center, footbridges, a dock, and the “livelihood center.” The last is considered the village “centerpiece,” where the women converge to weave their mats. All the structures are made of concrete and are supported by cement posts standing on foundations under the sea. Thus, these are modern variations to the basic house-on-stilts Sama Dilaut house.


At least a thousand other Sama Dilaut families in three other barangays of Zamboanga City have had similar structures built for them: in Caragasan, 30 residences, a livelihood center, day care center, solar dryer, and two school rooms; in Taluksangay, 40 residences; and in Arena Blanco, a livelihood center and a day care center. Similarly, the 161-hectare lot in Sitio Tongbato, Barangay Sangali, Zamboanga City, which has been awarded to the Sama Dilaut as their ancestral domain, has two Sama Dilaut settlements, each with about 70 residences, 14 communal toilets, one livelihood center, and footbridges.


A basic problem for the Ahon Badjao Project is the sustainability of a quality of life that is mainly defined by infrastructure. Hence, it has been described by observers as a government “showcase.” In Metro Manila, where there was an Ahon resettlement site as well, its Sama Dilaut residents left when basic services such as electric power were eventually cut off and their dwellings set on fire. Ten families settled at an area behind a mall at Sucat, Parañaque, where each family paid an average monthly rent of one thousand pesos and water was bought at five pesos per container.


Most Sama Dilaut migrants in Metro Manila are found in Baclaran, Pasay City, which has the sea on one side and a large, bustling open market on the other. However, government authorities regularly tear down their makeshift huts, thus forcing them to live out in the streets. At night, their wooden cart or sidecar doubles as storage room for all their worldly belongings and as sleeping space for the children. Stored in this cart or sidecar are goods for their own personal use, such as rice, vegetables, a thermos, gas stove, a pot and pan, dishes and spoons, clothes, and a blanket, as well as their retail merchandise, such as cigarettes, that they sell on the streets. The adults sleep beside their sidecar or cart, which they park beneath the flyover in Roxas Boulevard at the boundary of Pasay-Cavite or in the side alleys in the interiors of Baclaran. Sleeping mats are flattened cartons, or cardboard boxes, which they buy for two pesos a kilo. Here, at any hour of the night, they may suddenly be hosed down by water cannons on fire trucks to drive them away. Some stall owners in the Baclaran market allow them to spend the night in the stalls, which they sweep and clean in exchange. Washing and laundry is done at a public toilet. Water costs 10 pesos a gallon.


In October 1999, a presidential memorandum created the Sagip-Kalinga Program (Rescue-Care Program), which authorizes the police, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to conduct “arrest-and-rescue” operations on vagrants. Additionally, Presidential Decree 1563, also known as the Anti-Mendicancy Law, provides for the arrest of beggars. Hence, the word “rescue” has entered the Baclaran Sama Dilaut’s vocabulary as a noun: by their account, the almost daily arrival of the “rescue” means that they are chased down and forcibly taken to the Sagip center. On the other hand, the DSWD claims that all mendicants, which include the Sama Dilaut, are rescued and taken to a “processing center,” also known as the Sagip-Kalinga, in Malibay, Pasay. The processing includes attempts to persuade the Sama Dilaut to return to Mindanao, but the harrowing experiences that caused them to leave in the first place, or the experiences undergone by those who did return, are their reasons for wanting to stay. To them, the war situation in Mindanao and the pirate attacks on their moorages far outweigh the risks of living in the metropolis, despite the regular destruction, either by demolition or by fire, of their clusters of shanties. In 2005, some families attempted to settle in Biñan, Laguna and then moved to Talaba, Cavite, but soon returned to Roxas Boulevard after their shanties were set on fire.


Government-sponsored resettlement programs in towns outside of Manila have generally been met with resistance from the resident populations. In 2005, a hundred Sama Dilaut families were relocated from Batangas City to the fishing village of Barangay Malabago, Santa Cruz, Zambales. However, the residents of Santa Cruz put up a sustained and organized opposition, citing economic and cultural reasons.


In Angeles City, Pampanga, Sama Dilaut communities live along the Abacan River and under its main bridge. The families that first settled under this bridge were each paid 5,000 pesos by the local government to allow the demolition of their shelters and their relocation to Mabalacat. The traditional Sama Dilaut place marker, which is a fish-shaped banner, waves from a bamboo post that stands near the village school. The school itself is simply a roof held up by a bamboo frame. As of 2014, their village population had swelled to 157 families, who share the use of one communal artesian well. Because of the derogatory connotation of the label “Badjao,” these migrants have asserted their preference for their other name, “Sama Dilaut.”



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Traditional Attire


The traditional attire of the Sama Dilaut consists of either everyday wear or elaborately embroidered costumes for special occasions. The patadjung or tadjong has many uses. Among the Sama Dilaut, it is large enough to fit any person and is worn by both men and women as a skirt or a gown tucked in place at the chest level. It can serve as putung (headcover), waistband, sash, blanket, hammock, shoulder bag, cradle, pouch, hood, or pillow. Check and stripe patterns are woven into the patadjung. More elaborate ones worn for special occasions may have batik prints or tie-dyed floral and geometric patterns. The sawwal kantiu (loose trousers), also worn by neighboring ethnic groups, is made of plain or printed cotton cloth for everyday wear. The sawwal made of richer fabric is reserved for special occasions and worn by the women with a sablay or an allabimbang, also called badjuh or badio. On such occasions, men wear it with a badjuh-lapi, a hip-long collarless jacket with long, tight sleeves and always worn open in front.


Tepo weaving in Maasin, Zamboanga City
Tepo weaving in Maasin, Zamboanga City, 2014 (Estan Cabigas)

The women’s sablay is a loose-sleeved blouse reaching down to the hips. A simpay (band) forms the front opening and extends to the back to form a small collar. It is fastened in front with ordinary pins or a karusang (a set of three brooches). The sablay is worn with a patadjung or a sawwal kantiu, and topped with either a kamban (silk or brocade shawl) or a papanda (scarf of filmy material). The sablay’s fabric for everyday wear is different from that used for special occasions.


A blouse worn for special occasions is the long-sleeved, tight-fitting allabimbang, open at the midriff but reaching down to the hips. The panyuh (a large handkerchief) is worn as a modest covering for the part of the chest that the blouse leaves open. Embellishments consist of hand embroidery, sequins, or tambuku (small metal or gold buttons). The allabimbang may be worn with a siyag (a more elaborately embroidered patadjung), which is worn with one corner slung over a shoulder or arm.


The men roll up the patadjung or sawwal kantiu and tuck the upper corners at the waistband to make the bahag, which is more convenient to wear to work in such occupations as pearl diving, fishing, or wood carving. For special occasions, the sawwal kuput-mahabah (long, tight-fitting trousers) are worn. It is held at the waist by a strip of cotton cloth called a kandit. A tasseled kandit, made of katsa (muslin) and embroidered in vibrant colors at both ends, is the saputangan, worn on religious occasions. During the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom exchange waistcloths. Worn with the sawwal is the badjuh-lapi. Both sides of the opening are decorated with colorfully embroidered strips, and the sleeves are embroidered with cross-stitches at the wrists. The pis is a large kerchief, folded and draped to make several variations of headgear, or used as a handkerchief, carry-all, or sling. The plain yellow pis is the most common among the Sama Dilaut males, although the pis siyabit (large kerchief), with handwoven geometric patterns, may be used by the relatively well-to-do.


The cone-shaped saruk (man’s hat) is made of woven nipa or pandan (pandanus) leaves, whose natural creamy color is retained. Geometric, spiral, or concentric lines are sometimes painted on the hat. The wide-brimmed salakut (woman’s hat) also has a cone-shaped top. Its materials, colors, and weave are like those of the saruk. But, there are salakut that are “richly dyed and exquisitely crafted” in Sibutu (Amilbangsa 1983). The taming is a fish-shaped shield made of woven rattan now used solely as a prop for the fight dance magsangkil. The tutup are colorful food covers made of nipa or pandan leaves.


Tutup, Sibutu Island, Tawi-Tawi, circa 1975 Ukkil: Visual Arts of the Sulu Archipelago
Tutup, Sibutu Island, Tawi-Tawi, circa 1975 (Ukkil: Visual Arts of the Sulu Archipelago by Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa. Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2005)

Tutup, Sibutu Island, Tawi-Tawi
Tutup, Sibutu Island, Tawi-Tawi, circa 1975 (Ukkil: Visual Arts of the Sulu Archipelago by Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa. Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2005)

Tutup, Sibutu Island, Tawi-Tawi
Tutup, Sibutu Island, Tawi-Tawi, circa 1975 (Ukkil: Visual Arts of the Sulu Archipelago by Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa. Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2005)


Women’s accessories are jewelry and colored combs. The gallang (bracelet) is the most popular ornament. The most common is that made from sulau (letter cone) or kima (Tridachna gigas). Other pieces of jewelry are the gantung-liug (pendant), aritis (earring), singsing (ring), hukut-liug (necklace), and galungsung (anklet). Metalcraft designs can be classified into three kinds: the repoussé, relief hammered from the reverse side; arabesque, incision of interlocking curves; and filigree, tracing with thin gold, silver, or brass wires. Although the favorite ornamental material is bulawan (gold), precious and semiprecious stones, turtle shell, colored glass, nacre, and black coral are also used.


The sudlay is the ornamental comb made from wood, coconut, or turtle shell, and inlaid with jewels. The tambuku, which are about a hundred small buttons encrusted on an allabimbang, may range in shape and style from the simple round to the embossed floral or filigree design. The sulakengkeng, long artificial fingernails made of gold, silver, brass, or tortoise shell, are used only for dancing. The panumping, a crown worn by a bride or as part of a dance costume, is made of paperboard covered with tinfoil of all colors, sequins, beads, and tassels.


Sama Dilaut painting and carving are integral to the people’s life cycle. In wedding ceremonies, the wedding beautician must be adept at applying the special makeup on the bride and groom. With a razor blade tied with thread to a split bamboo twig, the beautician shapes the bride’s eyebrows into a triangle and carves tiny bangs on her forehead. Lampblack is used to outline a rectangle on her forehead and this is emphasized by yellow ginger juice. The outline is then filled in with borak (white powder), which is made of ground rice. The rest of the face is smeared with the white powder, creating a white mask. Black dots are outlined horizontally above the eyebrows and/or beneath the eyes with the pointed end of a coconut midrib. The hair is sleeked with coconut oil, pulled back in a tight bun, and decorated with small paper flowers. The groom is attended by another beautician, and his face is made up the same way.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Crafts and Boatbuilding


Laminusa mat Ukkil: Visual Arts of the Sulu Archipelago
Laminusa mat (Ukkil: Visual Arts of the Sulu Archipelago by Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa. Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2005)


Tepoor tepoh, which refers to either mat weaving or the mat itself, is done with pandan, buri, and other native fibers. It has two layers: the lapis (underside) is plainly woven, whereas the diam (topside) consists of strips dyed green, orange, red, violet, and blue, and woven into multicolored geometric patterns such as stripes, squares, checkers, and zigzags. Utility bags and pouches are woven from these materials, with inwoven designs like rickracks, stars, and diamonds. Cotton tassels dangle from the edges of the pouches. The women of Laminusa, Siasi, and Sulu are especially known for their elaborately designed tepo, which they barter for food. The boras is another kind of mat made of rattan and painted with the same geometric designs as the pis siyabit. Ceremonial mats are these multicolored ones with elaborate designs; ordinary sleeping mats are made of plain, wider strips.


Washbasins are carved out of solid wood and painted with green, white, blue, red, and yellow vines that crawl and grow in curling tendrils. The gabbang, the indigenous xylophone, has a frame carved in the likeness of a bird, fish, or lepa and is incised with geometric patterns or curlicues.


Spanish colonizers of the 17th century marveled at the genius of the Lutao as boat builders, who designed their sea vessels primarily for speedy pursuits and escapes. Thus, the planks were very thin and all the parts of the boat were fastened together with rattan strips that passed through holes that had been carved into the planks. The crescent-shaped keel touched as little of the water surface as possible, and the sides measured only a width of a plank tall. These features made for very lightweight boats but the katig (bamboo outriggers) and two rudders, one at either end, prevented themfrom turning over, even during a storm. The hull allowed just enough room for two rows of rowers, numbering as many as 60 men in a 24 meter-long boat. They paddled together according to their synchronized breathing. The chief and his fighters were quartered in the burulan or baileo, an open-walled, palm-roofed shelter, 8 to 12 meters long and elevated on a platform above the seated rowers.


In the 1960s, the Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut were building 15 different types of boats, ranging from 18 meter-long houseboats to the 60-centimeter long miniature boats that are the grave markers. Besides the four types of houseboats, they were making five types of fishing boats and six miniature boats. In contrast, the Sitangkai Sama Dilaut had only two.


For the Sama Dilaut boat builder, the houseboat is a piece of sculpture that is carved out of a tree trunk; for the Sama Dilaut painter, it is a canvas for his lines, curves, and geometric shapes. The Sama Dilaut appreciate the complex and intricate process of boat building and give due recognition to their master boat builders. In the 1960s, there were eight well-known master boat builders of Tawi-Tawi, namely, Hadjulani, Maisahani, Kaiyani, Suarani, Saraban, Amileludden, Lajahulan, and Salbaiyani. The last was also a renowned carver and kata-kata chanter.


The shape of the baran (keel), which is the boat’s basic structure, is naturally determined by the shape of the log of which it is made, although some amount of carving and shaping is done on it with a set of patuk (tools) for boat building. However, every other part of the boat must then be manually worked to suit this basic shape. The hull of the boat, which lines the keel, consists of planks which must be bent one by one to fit the bow shape of the keel. This is achieved by first balancing the plank upon a pile of rocks, like a seesaw. The ends are then weighed down to the ground by large rocks. It is alternately dampened and dried in the sun for several days until it has stiffened into the same bow shape as the keel. The bamboo outriggers are bent in the same way so that the ends are above the water.


The lepa’s sweeping, graceful lines lead the eye toward its jung-ar (prow), which gives the lepa its distinctive mark. Attached underneath the jung-ar is a strip of decorative carving called the ling-ai-at. The sa-am, which are winglike projections with colorful and elaborate carvings, extend from two braces, each lying across the bow and the stern. What makes the shape of the djenging distinct from that of the lepa is its more elevated, thus more prominent, bow and stern, which bear carvings as these rise upward.


Okil, also okir or ukkil, refers to either the art of wood carving or the particular design which characterizes the textile, wood carvings, mats, and metal engraving in Sulu and Lanao. Sama Dilaut houseboats typically bear okil carvings and paintings on their exteriors. The wood-carving designs consist of the following motifs, which can be used individually or in any number of combinations: dau-an dau-an (leaves); the exuberant kalo-on (curlicues or curved lines); the more restrained bahan-bahan (bending or curving lines); agta-agta (fish); small waves; and floral motifs (Nimmo 2001, 69-70). The prow of a houseboat is carved in a combination of these motifs and may feature a shaft with a design imitating a dragon, a sarimanok, or a buaya (a crocodile’s gaping mouth). When the head of the family dies, this carved part of the boat may be sawed off to serve as his grave marker.


The lauwa-lauwa (cobweb), which had the fine, lacy quality of a spider’s web, was unique to the balutu and is thus no longer seen. It was carved on panels and placed horizontally in the space between the roof eaves and the walls at the front and back of the house for ventilation (Nimmo 2001, 70). This is analogous to the calado of the bahay na bato (wood-and-stone house) owned by the Spanish-period, Christianized elite.


Geometric designs may also be painted lengthwise along the sides of houseboats in the traditional Sama Dilaut colors of green, red, yellow, blue, and white. These have the following motifs: pinis gunting, which is a series of squares or rectangles made up of two pairs of triangles with their points meeting at the center; sambili, which is the painted version of the bahan-bahan; syabit (many-colored), which is a series of triangles with a circle in each center; and pis syabit (many-colored pis), which is the same design as the man’s kerchief. The use of paint is a recent innovation used by the Sama Dilaut to emphasize carved designs and inscriptions.


Part of the interior décor of the paraw is the hainan, which is a bar a meter-and-a-half long, carved in a combination of the typical curvilinear and geometric designs and in traditional, vivid colors. However, it is also a religious object, as it is believed to represent ancestral spirits, and it is what the people face during religious rituals.


The five types of fishing boats are the boggo, birau, junkun, bitok, and todan-an, which differ from one another in almost indiscernible ways. The boggo’s simple lines are broken only by a decorative, rectangular wooden knob attached to each end of the boat. The bow and stern, which are identical, drop either straight down toward the water, like the shorter sides of a rectangle, or outward, like a trapezoid. The birau is shaped differently from the boggo in that both its ends slope inward toward the water, like a parallelogram. The junkun is much like the boggo, including the rectangular wooden knob on each end, but both ends of the keel sweep upward, higher than the surface of the water. The todan-an is a smaller and plain pilang and is sometimes used as a temporary houseboat.


The six miniature boats are the palungan, ontang, pamatulakan, pamatulakan ta-u ta-u, bangka anak-anak, and the toy boat. Except for the ontang, these are replicas of either the boggo or birau about a meter long. The palungan is filled with soil for use as a planter for herbs and other such useful plants. A number of these palungan are hung from the side of the boat near the cooking area. The ontang is a small raft, which aids in fishing. The pamatulakan ta-u ta-u, which is about a half meter to two meters long, is specially constructed for a religious ceremony to drive away either an epidemic or a misfortune that has fallen upon the whole moorage. The bangka anak-anak (children’s boats) are built by fathers for their children, who ride on these around the moorage with paddles proportionate to their size.


Sunduk from Sulu
Sunduk from Sulu (CCP Collections)

The pamatulakan ta-u ta-u is a boat-shaped grave marker for men. It bears the traditional, carved and painted decorations as on a regular houseboat and carries a doll-sized man’s figure. Another type of grave marker is the sunduk, which is carved into an animal form, such as a dragon, serpent, sea horse, or bird, which will carry the spirit into the afterlife. It is 60 centimeter high and stands on a heavy wooden base placed over the grave. A male marker is distinguished by a three-dimensional, columnar or cylindrical pillar, topped with a fez, a stylized umbrella, or a stylized human head. The female marker is marked by a flat, two-dimensional triangle or oval, sometimes with scalloped edges and incised with lavish floral designs. The grave is fenced around and covered by a luma-luma (canopy) and festooned with paper parasols and multicolored panji, which the panglima and imam stick into the ground as they chant prayers over the dead.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Literature: Epic, Riddles, Folktales and Stories


Sama Dilaut literature, except for their kissa, kata-kata or epic, and riddles, seems to have been created primarily to be sung. Or it may be that their spoken form of literature is indistinguishable from that of the Sama, to whom is attributed such forms of oral literature as animal tales, trickster tales, numskull tales, magical tales, and novelistic tales.


Sama Dilaut riddles collected in the Semporna district of Sabah have a set opening: daing-daing ai (what kind of fish). Groups of young men may play these guessing games at night, each side even betting some money on its answers (Sather 1965).


Daing-daing ai bang kekita, angekit kita? (Lerah)


(What kind of fish, when we bite it, bites us?

[Chili pepper])


Daing-daing ai embal tandata atassata? (Baliu)


(What kind of fish is it that we cannot see but can

feel? [The wind])


Daing-daing ai sali sali daheya-daheyana? (Taiung)


(What kind of fish looks the same when seen from

all directions? [A sea urchin])


Daing-daing ai ania dua guntingna? (Kagong)


(What kind of fish has two pairs of scissors?

[A crab])


According to an origin myth, Tuhan offered the Sama Dilaut a choice between two kinds of death: they could die and be reborn each month like the moon, or they could die like leaves and be replaced by new ones. Another version substituted leaves with the roots of the banana tree, which promise a new growth. The people chose the leaves—or the banana tree roots in the other version—and hence secured their continuity through procreation.


The Sama Dilaut have two types of narratives: the kissa and kata-kata. Kissa is the true-to-life story of a person or a group of persons. These narratives may be romantic tragedies, stories of heroism and of journeys. There is a kissa that traces their ancestors, whom they call Samal ha Laud, to a fishing clan in Johore, Indonesia. A group of boats sailed in search of richer fishing grounds. One night a typhoon came and they had to moor by a sandbar. As they were about to rest for the night, their boats suddenly started bucking up and down. They realized they had tied their boats to the nose of a giant manta ray, which had begun to swim round and round in a frantic attempt to unloosen the boats tied to its nose. The fishers managed to untie their boats, but by then, they had been flung in various directions. And that is why the Sama Dilaut are scattered in the islands of Siasi, Jolo, Zamboanga, and Tawi-Tawi.


Giant manta ray trying to loosen the boats tied to its nose
Giant manta ray trying to loosen the boats tied to its nose (Illustration by Jap Mikel)

A slightly different version is that the village of houseboats was buffeted by strong winds at Johore. The leader stuck a pole into the sea floor and tied his boat to it. The villagers, in turn, tied their boats to that of their leader. As they slept that night, the sea floor moved out into sea toward the Sulu Archipelago. When the villagers woke up, they did not know where they were. They realized too late that they had secured themselves to a giant manta ray.


Another origin kissa involves the Princess Ayesha of Johore and the sultans of Brunei and Sulu. She preferred the Brunei sultan but was betrothed instead to the Sulu sultan. Escorted by a fleet of war boats, she was sailing toward Sulu when a Brunei fleet, led by their sultan, intercepted them and took Princess Ayesha away. The princess’s retinue, fearing to go on to Sulu or return to Johore, stayed on the sea, mooring only at uninhabited islands. Some turned to piracy and established pirate dens along the North Borneo coasts.


Legends explain natural formations and phenomena. An ancient path cutting through the forest from the mountaintop of a certain island to the sea is said to have been created when Umboh Hawis caught a giant fish while fishing from his mountaintop, and it dragged him down to the sea. Half a giant clamshell is on Mount Tumatangis on Jolo Island while its other half is still at the bottom of the sea between Sanga-Sanga and Tawi-Tawi because Umboh Hawis kicked it apart when it clamped on his big toe. A boat carrying pirates about to attack the village on Batu-Batu Island was turned to stone by Allah. The strong currents of the channel between Sanga Sanga and Tawi-Tawi are caused by two princesses who were thrown there by their exasperated father because of their constant quarrelling.


The kata-kata is a long narrative about the adventures of mythical heroes as they journey to distant, magical lands or other worlds. An example of a kata-kata is the epic Silungan Baltapa: The Voyage to Heaven of a Sama Hero, chanted by Binsu Lakbaw in 1997 at South Ubian, Tawi-Tawi. The epic hero’s name, Silungan Baltapa, is derived from silung, a secluded place for meditation, and baltapa, a meditative prayer. Thus, his name may mean either “a secluded mystic” or “a place for meditation.” The epic narrates a young man’s quest for a wife, whom he wins with considerable help from his sister, Muslim Magkapala (Muslim Lady), and her magic powers. When she dies as a result of childbirth, he goes in quest of her in Heaven. He journeys through the levels of Hell, where he witnesses various sinners and their corresponding punishments. He takes a prescribed way to reach Heaven, where he meets Tuhan, the God Almighty, who instructs him on how to bring his wife back to life. There are parallels between this epic and the Mi’Raj story, which is about the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad to Heaven, where he sees the God Almighty; his acquisition of the Knowledge of the Absolute; and his return to Mecca.


Another kata-kata bearing the same motifs as the Silungan is about Datu Amilebangsa Sahaia’s quest for the loveliest woman in the world, though he is already betrothed to another woman. He is challenged by obstacles in various forms. Two lovely women vainly try to entice him away from his goal. He comes to the island of the enchanted woman, Babo Putlih Lihaumata, who warns him of the dangers of his journey. When Datu Amilebangsa resumes his journey, a robber, Manar Bangsahaia, engages him in a sword fight. After several years’ fighting, Manar Bangsahaia gives up and lets him through. But when Amilebangsa tries to cross the channel between the two islands, Manar Bangsahaia uses his magic to make it very deep, with strong currents. Amilebangsa prays for a horse, which appears and takes him across the channel. He arrives at the house of the world’s loveliest woman, Ma’ajarat-Tornorka, and finds her behind the eighth curtain. But she sends her messenger bird to her betrothed, Datu Ahsarakar-Tantu, who arrives and challenges him to a sword fight. Amilebangsa overcomes a series of defeats in his enemy’s hands and finally wins Ma’ajarat-Tornorka. Amilebangsa and Ma’ajarat-Tornorka are wed. Ten months later, Ma’ajarat-Tornorka dies in childbirth. The newborn learns from his father where his mother is and, after three days, goes after her in the afterworld. He reaches Umilkiama, which is between earth and the afterworld. He tells Tuhan and his ancestral spirits that he wants to have a taste of his mother’s milk, so they advise him to go to the Kayu Taobi, the tree that the spirits of dead infants suckle for all eternity. But the infant wants his own mother and resumes his search for her. High above, he sees a spinning maligai (flying house), filled with the spirits of the dead, including his mother. It is under the responsibility of Munkar, Tuhan’s assistant, who separates those deserving of heaven from those who are not. He lets Ma’ajarat-Tornorka reunite with her son. On their way back to earth, they encounter spirits whose punishments correspond with their sins in their previous lives: gamblers condemned to gamble forever; coconut thieves loaded with coconuts; abortionists swimming in blood; and betel leaf thieves putting betel leaves in their hair. Ma’ajarat-Tornorka and her infant son fall into a very deep hole from which only the infant emerges. He and his father, Datu Amilebangsa, are reunited, but Ma’ajarat-Tornorka never emerges from the hole, which turns out to be her grave.


The maligai or flying house filled with dead spirits
The maligai or flying house filled with dead spirits (Illustration by Jap Mikel)


Sama Dilaut / Badjao Songs


The Sama Dilaut have a song for almost any activity. All, except for the lugu (wedding song) and the panul-kin (song for the dead) have improvised lyrics. An excerpt from the lugu follows:


Sail kami malallay-lalay

Mag-ambit kami dua manaytay

Maid kami limabay

Kumita kilai hi rayang

Mabaya kami limabay

Hamot sin sumping malay

Bangsila makapag-habuok

Makapag simun tamus.


(We are walking very slowly

The two of us will cross the bridge

So that we can catch a glimpse

Of the eyebrows that are hidden

Let us pass by

As fragrant as flowers

And after the wedding

They may then kiss each other.)


The leleng is a song for all occasions:


Katulak ni Manila

Sakayan bangka-bangka

Pag ambal na kita tanda

Atay ku na magkubla-kubla.


(When I go to Manila

Aboard a banca

When I no longer see you

My heart will pound with fear.)


The binoa is a lullaby with improvised lyrics:


Bua bua binoa

Tulibakaw utu manok-manok

Bati kaw ti mi gauk

Matay na aku a nga luk

Bang tangis nu mag-alud

Bua-bua.


(I am rocking you

Sleep like a hen

Wake up crowing

I am tired, stop

Your loud crying

I am rocking you.)


The tenes (ballad) below shows a borrowing from the English language in the phrase “litel gel” (little girl):


Tenes kitulmbaya bai taga Jalidua

Tulaku ni Sabah baka alama lama

Kita ilu karua umbal na mag-unda sadya

Tabanaka dangan-dangan na

Baikita maglata-lata

Intomon pain si lanla (2x)

Baikita magbeya kadua

Baikita na maglata-lata

Landiar lata tenesanta

Mikilana susa lahat si litel gel itu

Halam tul tanda.


(Tenes don’t be sad;

When I leave for Sabah

We will seldom see each other

And you will be left alone.

We used to tease each other.

Remember this young man (2x)

When we were together

When we used to tease each other

Now our tenes-tenes is over

I will no longer see your home.)


The Sama Dilaut have five types of songs: leleng, binoa, tenes, panulkin, and lugu. Except for the last two, the lyrics are improvised and chanted in a monotone. The leleng is chanted for any occasion, by anyone of any age: children at play, a boy teasing a playmate, a youth singing about a faraway sweetheart, a man fishing or resting. It is also sung for special occasions like weddings, haircuts, or circumcisions. A specific type of leleng is the lia-lia, also called a “spite song” or “anger song.” It is sung by small children to express their resentment against their playmates’ and parents’ perceived wrongdoings, without the fear of being punished for their disrespect.


Sama Dilaut Badjao women dancing in Tungkalang, Tawi-Tawi
Sama Dilaut women dancing in Tungkalang, Tawi-Tawi, as shown in Rosalie Matilac’s documentary Sayaw sa Alon, 2007 (Neil Daza)

The binoa is similarly chanted as the leleng. It is sung in the moorage to lull a baby to sleep. The name of the baby is mentioned in the first line of the lullaby, followed by the mother’s sentiments and reflections. The tenes is a ballad whose tune changes with the lyrics. It may be sung for any occasion and by anyone, but especially by a young man for his sweetheart. The melody of a known tenes may be used for a different set of lyrics. Some tenes are love or courtship songs, fishing songs, and even songs addressed to sharks.


The panulkin is sung only by the imam and has traditional tune and lyrics. It is sung during the vigil for the dead, from 7:00 pm to 1:00 am. It is a way of keeping awake and of making the community aware that someone has died. A woman sings the lugu at a wedding as the imam or panglima walks with the groom to the bride’s side. The lugu’s lyrics are verses from the Koran; it has a traditional and melancholy tune.


The Sama Dilaut also have musical pieces, collectively called sangbayan or songs that inspire dancers to dance artfully. The sangbayan includes love songs such as the dalling dalling, duldang duldang, and pakiring pakiring.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Famous Song: “Dayang Dayang”


The pakiring pakiring, with its mischievous lilt, has become popularly known nationwide as the song “Dayang Dayang” (Princess) since it became a radio hit in the late 1990s. The nonsense lyrics of the popular version are based on those of the Sama Dilaut original, which is traditionally sung during weddings and other such joyful occasions. Among the popular audience, “pakiring pakiring” refers to the dance, and “dayang dayang” is the generic term for the song now commercially available in different versions (Jubilado 2010). YouTube videos show Tausug and Sama Dilaut dancers performing the pakiring pakiring to various versions and remixes of the song, including disco and rock versions. Since the first original “Dayang Dayang” version was posted on YouTube in 2007, it has had over five million viewers by 2015. The anonymity of the singer on YouTube is a typical feature of the folk song.


A version of the song was sung during a wedding scene in Brillante Mendoza’s 2013 film Sinapupunan (Thy Womb). Folk singer and lyricist Yoyoy Villame created another version called “Dayang Daya” (Much Cheating), a play on the Tagalog word daya which means “to cheat.” The song is the satirical plaint of the stereotypical Indian merchant, who sells various wares and runs a money lending business as well, but he must deal with customers reneging on their payments.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Musical Instruments


The Sama Dilaut musical instruments may be improvised like their songs. Drums are anything on hand that can be beaten, such as plastic water containers or the wooden floor. An instrument that is technically not musical but is valued for the rhythmic sound that it can create is the bohehtna (shark rattle). It is fashioned out of a 1.5 meter-long bamboo pole, one end of which is split up to half a meter. The two ends of a half-meter-long stick, through which six coconut half-shells have been strung, are attached to the halves of the split end of the pole to hold them apart. Thus, this end of the pole forms a triangular base. The shark fisher reaches down the side of his boat to submerge this improvised rattle in the water and shakes it up and down to attract the shark.


Bulah-bulah woman dancing
Bulah-bulah by Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, Marikina, 2003 (Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa Collection)


The most distinctive native instrument is called gabbang, whose frame is carved like a lepa. Its bars are made of bamboo carefully chosen so as to produce a pleasing mellow sound. The length of each bar determines the pitch; hence, the bars are arranged from the longest to the shortest, that is, from the lowest tone to the highest. These bars are beaten with a pair of wooden pieces wrapped in thick cloth. It is used to accompany singing and dancing. Also used for dancing are the bola-bola or bulah-bulah, which are pairs of bamboo or shell clappers that are held in both hands.


Sama Dilaut Badjao kulintangan players in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi
Sama Dilaut kulintangan players in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi, 2007 (Neil Daza)

The tagunggu is the Sama Dilaut equivalent of the Sama kulintangan gong ensemble.The tagunggu consists of five types of gongs: the kulintangan, solembat, bua, pulakan, and panamukan. Beside these is the tambul (wooden snare drum). The kulintangan provides the melody. The solembat keeps the beat steady, like a metronome; it may be played with one stick for musical pieces or two sticks for the musical accompaniment to the igal. The bua consists of three large, knobbed gongs, which provide rhythmic variations: the largest, also called bua; the thinner but wider pulakan; and the medium-sized panamukan. The tagunggu music is played during religious ceremonies such as the pagkawin (wedding) and pag-islam or circumcision.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao Traditional Dances and Rituals


The Sama Dilaut dance traditions have much in common with the other ethnic groups of Sulu, especially the Sama. The basic traditional dance movement is the igalor angigal, also known as pangalay, performed by the female. The costume for the igal is the allabimbang and the sawwal. The hair is preferably pulled back in a bun, although it may also be allowed to hang loose. The dance is accompanied by any drum—even a plastic water container—or a gabbang.


The sinalayan is the beginning of the dance. The hands are held in front, making a scooping motion. They alternately go up and down, with one palm facing down as it descends while the other hand is being raised. In the meantime, the feet make the palalay-lalay, shuffling steps with the knees bent. After this first movement, the dancer may choose from any of several wrist, hand, and elbow movements. The nilimbayan (to swing) is of two types: the nilimbayan nidakan, with the arms stretching outward from the chest as the palms face outward; and the nilimbayan nibukutan (to swing backward), with both hands behind the lower part of the body. In the sinagang or pataud-taud (rocking), the arms make a pushing motion from the elbows to the fingers. In the niliboran tanganku (circular movement of the hands), the wrists are rotated. In the binaliku (to fold), the hands are a short distance from the chest, and palms alternately circle while facing outward. In the magdambila (both ends), the hands shift from left to right and vice versa.


The fingers are kept together while they are stretched as far upward and backward as they can go, especially the thumbs. The hand movements are done together with the nikelengan or maglingad-lingad (tilting of the head) to look at the movements of one’s hands. The hands are constantly making either a nileboran (circular motion) or a nilimbayan (winging motion). The torso does not move, but the posture is pinatudik (buttocks protruding).


There are five positions of the feet: tinukunan (to stop), with the feet at a standstill during the dance; nidaganan (to pull someone to go with you), which is a walking movement; deyo-deyoan (to go down), with the knees in a bending movement; nilangkahan, with the knees bent while dancing, related to the langka, the basic position of the kuntao; and the paboli-bod, with the feet going in circular movements while standing in place.


The dancing style is smooth and flowing: no pauses should mark the change from one movement to the next. There is also no marked ending, although the dance always begins with the sinalayan. There is no fixed sequence of movements, no fixed number of dancers. The igal is performed to mark the various stages of the life cycle, such as the child’s first haircut, ear piercing, male and female circumcision, or a wedding.


The basic male dance movement is the kuntao, a stylized imitation of the indigenous martial arts. It is said that this form of martial arts was taught to the Tausug by a Malaysian warrior, who had been stranded in Sulu in the 16th century. The basic position of the kuntao is the langka, with feet apart, knees bent, arms raised to the level of the chest and stretched a bit to the front, palms facing outward. It is related to the nilangkahan movement of the igal. The performer’s kuntao movements may vary from tender and graceful to energetic and warlike. He invariably begins with the “greeting-and-obeisance” movement, in which he flips his hands at chest level, skips and lands cross-legged at a deep knee bend, and flips his hands again at chest level. A variant is to slap his hands overhead, bring them down to ear level with palms facing outward, slap his hands again at chest level, stretch his arms sideways, bring his palms together at the chest, pivot, flip the hands, and finally, bow.


Almost all traditional Sama Dilaut dances are variants of the pangalay/igal and kuntao. These dances may be classified into religious or ceremonial, occupational, and entertainment or exhibition dances.


Any person may break into dance as a form of prayer to the Umboh. For instance, one observer had recorded the dance of a sick man who believed his illness had been caused by angry spirits because of an offense he had committed against another man. Before the mag-umboh or dance of exorcism, the stricken man, covered in a sheet of green cloth up to his neck, sat on his lepa. Then to the beat of the gabbang played by young mothers and their children, he leaped from one boat to another as he shrieked and flung his arms about convulsively. He wore the spirits’ favorite colors: green sarong and a white shirt. The man he had wronged was dressed similarly and sat on another lepa. This second man broke into the same frenzied movements while speaking loudly in “the language of the spirits.” Talcum powder was thrown at them, and then they fell in a daze on two other men. A third man revived them with a prayer whispered in their ears (de Henning 1973). The atmosphere throughout was not solemn, as the community cheered them on with much shouting and laughing.


The sambulayang or pangalay pangantin is a wedding dance in which the bride is hidden from the groom’s view by a sambulayang (flag) tied to a bamboo pole. She is followed by the groom, who indicates his readiness to defend and protect her by continually touching the hilt of his kalis or kris (sword). The male carrier of the bamboo pole does the same. The dance is highlighted by the groom’s retrieval of the bride’s sulangkengkeng also known as janggay (metal claws), which drop to the floor one by one as she flicks them off her fingers. The dance ends with the groom ceremoniously handing the sulangkengkeng back to his bride.


The magsangkil is a mock fight between two dancers who each carry the fish-shaped taming or shield and a sangkil (spear). The movements are uncharacteristically slow and graceful. An entertaining dance is the bulah-bulah, a pangalay in which both male and female performers use the shell clappers. The Sama Dilaut of Sitangkay have evolved the tariray, in which the bulah-bulah is clicked alternately with brass percussions played in staccato rhythm.


Occupation dances are also mimetic, imitating the actions of people at work. One dance that was originally Sama Dilaut but which spread to the Sama and Tausug is the tawte-tawte, in which dancers simulate the movements of fishers trying to pursue a school of fish around a rock. They pretend to catch the fish with the sap of tubli (poison vine). Another fisherfolk’s dance has the lone dancer seated during the entire performance, comically pretending to catch fish that are attacking him.


Religious rituals are enriched by theater elements, centering on reenactments and role playing as performed by the djinn. The magjinn or pagjinn is performed on the 14th moon to drive away an unfriendly jinn (spirit). As the moon begins to emerge, the whole community assembles on a porch that has been covered with boras, or rice powder. The male dancers wear green sawwal kantiu and white badjuh-kulung. After the thanksgiving prayer, the panglima or imam dances around while anointing the performers with a green lotion called “tonix.” The participants alternately dance until they begin to be possessed. The panglima slaps them awake with his headkerchief. The next day, the pag-duwaa (thanksgiving offering) is held. It begins with another prayer by the panglima in front of a miniature lepa festooned with panji of white, yellow, and green, the favorite colors of the spirits. Offerings of yellow rice, a live chicken, eggs, betel nut, and native cakes are placed on the lepa, which is then allowed to sail—a fitting form of worship for people whose lives are defined by the sea.


The curing ceremony with a tau-tau image as the central object has been observed only among the Sama Dilaut of Tungkalang. The tau-tau is a wooden replica of a human being, 1.5 feet tall, with legs, ears, and a nose but lacking arms and other facial features. It wears a green cloth belt and is armed with small guns and swords or knives. It is used to drive away the saytan causing a person’s illness. The healing djinn transfers the illness-causing saytan to himself or herself and then to the tau-tau. She then carries the tau-tau from the house or paraw to a fishing boat, which has two men playing gongs. Close relatives follow the djinn into the boat. While two of them paddle toward Sanga-Sanga island, the djinn dances to the music of the gongs. At Sanga-Sanga, a large nunuk tree stands; here, the djinn places the tau-tau in the crook of a root, praying to the saytan to stay there. Other tau-tau images are ensconced in the roots, having been left behind by others in previous curing rituals. The djinn places food offerings of rice and cassava, as well as white and green buntings, at the foot of the nunuk.


In some mag-umboh rituals, an effigy of the Umboh is made out of a basket through which a piece of wood, representing the arms, is inserted. The effigy is then dressed with a sablay. The panglima or imam dances about while carrying the Umboh and imploring the spirit to enter the Umboh. He then holds a dialogue with the Umboh, who is believed to answer his questions with signs that only he can decipher.



Sama Dilaut / Badjao in Films 


The Sama Dilaut (Badjao) have been featured in several Filipino films as early as the 1950s. Lamberto Avellana’s Badjao, 1957, depicts the plight of the Sama Dilaut people as they are confronted with discrimination and oppression. The story centers on the attempts of a Sama Dilaut man and a Tausug woman to overcome their families’ objections to their relationship. Although the film was shot outside of Mindanao and the characters were portrayed by non-Sama Dilaut actors speaking Tagalog, it depicts the conditions that the seafaring people of Sulu were actually facing. However, some Sama Dilaut traditions are represented inaccurately. The film won major awards in the 1957 Asian Film Festival in Tokyo, when international film festivals were just beginning to appreciate ethnic stories.


Badjao People
Lamberto V. Avellana’s Badjao, 1957 (Mike de Leon Collection)

Sheron Dayoc’s Halaw (Ways of the Sea), 2010, depicts the journey of a Sama Dilaut brother and sister, joined by a motley set of characters as they illegally cross the border between the Philippines and Malaysia through the southern backdoor. The two Sama Dilaut leave Sulu for Sabah to reunite with a distant relative who has become a victim of human trafficking. The film ends ambiguously, leaving the survival of these two open to question.


Brillante Mendoza’s Sinapupunan (Thy Womb), 2012, adheres to the tradition of Armando Lao’s “found story,” which foregrounds the strength of the locale and how it affects the characters. Shot in Tawi-Tawi, the film follows the journey of a Sama Dilaut midwife who is herself a barren wife, portrayed by Nora Aunor. In order to fulfill her husband’s desire to have a child, she conducts a search for a second wife for her husband. The film exhibits the beauty of the southern seas, rainbows, the butanding (whale sharks), and moorages. The production design features the embroidered work and mats for which the Sama Dilaut are renowned.


Several TV and film documentaries have been made on the Sama Dilaut / Badjao People. Rosalie Matilac’s prize-winning, Sayaw sa Alon (Dancing on Sea Waves), 2008, follows the transformation of the Sama Dilaut from being sea gypsies to urban, land-based nomads along the slums of railroad tracks in Laguna. Weaving through the narrative are the past and the future of the Sama Dilaut’s rich culture and traditions.









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