To the Tausug and non-Sama tribes, they have various names: Samal, or samal-samal (pejorative term for Sama), arung (diminutive of friend), Luwaan (literally, ‘that which is vomited’), or Pala-u (description for the house-like structure on some houseboats); among themselves, however, they view themselves as Sama; and are identified as a group of Sama by other people of Sulu.

The different groups of Sama, whether land-based or boat-dwelling, generally speak the same tongue of a language called Sinama. They usually distinguish themselves from one another by their geographic location, thus, there is the Sama Sitangkai of the Sitangkai Island; the Sama Sibutu of the Sibutu Island Group; the Sama Laminusa of Laminusa Island; the Sama Kabingaan of Kabingaan Island; the Sama Ba’ngingi of the Ba’ngingi Islands, and so on. The Sama Kabingaan and Sama Ba’ngingi are also known as the Sama Lipid or littoral Sama by their peculiar intonation, one of the many distinctive marks of the variants of Sinama.

Habitat also determines appellation, so that those who roam the seas are called Sama Dilaut; and those who stay upshore are known as the Sama Di-leya or Sama De’ya. The houseboat-dwellers are also called Sama  Pala-u (house-boat inhabitting Sama) while the land-dwellers are called Sama Pat’nde (sedentary Sama). These two groups used to trade with each other (fish and marine-produce for cassava and fruits).The boat-dwelling Sama were once recognized by their fantastic skill in boat-building so that they were also called the Sama Djengngeng. Djengngeng is a sea vessel the boat people were popular for.

But for sometime now, the Sama Dilaut or Sama Pala-u has been incorrectly known to the A-a seddi (the outsiders or non-Sama) as the Bajau or Sama Bajau. The Tausug, in particular, and other non-Sama tribes call them Samal, samal-samal or arung – derogatory names used when verbally abusing the Sama Dilaut. The Tausug’s contempt for the Sama Dilaut is well known. Some writers attribute this to the latter’s refusal to be subjects of the Muslim state (Sulu Sultanate). Throughout history, the sea-faring tribe has managed to elude the Sulu Sultan’s authority and has thus remained not completely subdued or enslaved likes the rest of the inhabitants of the Sulu islands.

The Tausug like to call the Sama Dilaut “Luwaan”. One Tausug tale tells of a time when the Sama Dilaut had a mosque built on piles of rock on the sea where they could pray. One day, as they were praying, a school of fish passed below. The Sama Dilaut forgot their prayers and jumped after the fish. God never forgave them and never allowed them back into the mosque. A Yakan legend, on the other hand, has it that the Sama Dilaut tried to trade fish for sexual intercourse with the Prophet’s daughter. The Prophet cursed them and had them ostracized as luwaan. Both groups strongly reject the Sama Dilaut as Muslims like them.

“Boat-dwelling Bajau” or ag-pala-u is an identity many of the newly sedentarized Sama Dilaut now want to dissociate themselves from. This should be understandable: the name has gained a contemporary meaning not only unflattering but has also brought with it abuse, first, from the A-a Suk (Tausug) in his own home-base and now, from the A-a seddi in lahat-bisaya (Christian lands). “Bajau” has also come to mean “dirty, smelling of stink and stench” and at times synonymous with “unclothed and illiterate”.


About Mucha Q. Arquiza
Supports the preservation and promotion of indigenous knowledge systems

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