Introduction / History The Northern Sinama belong to a larger people group known as the Sama. The Sama originally inhabited the islands and coastal areas between the island of Mindanao and the Sulu Islands. Evidence suggests that they began to leave their homeland sometime in the first millennium AD, probably due to rapid growth of Chinese trade in the area. The founding of the Sulu Sultanate in the 1400s, along with the related expansion of maritime trade, appear to have hastened the southward spread of Sama-speaking islanders.
Today, the majority of the Northern Sinama live in the Philippines. The Northern Sinama of Malaysia live on the island of Sabah. They speak the Balangingi dialect of the Sama-Bajau language group.
The Sama are a highly fragmented people with no overall political unity. Specific Sama groups can be distinguished by dialect. However, most identify themselves with a particular island or island cluster.
What are their lives like? The lives of the Northern Sinama revolve around fishing, seafaring, and trade, with some farming along the coastal strips. Throughout much of Sulu and eastern Sabah, copra (the meat of the coconut from which coconut oil is derived) is the major cash crop. Copra holdings are small, and few families own enough palms to support themselves entirely from copra sales.
Trade has also long occupied a central place in Sinama society. Since long ago, seafarers were valued as suppliers of trepang (sea cucumbers), dried fish, pearls, pearl shells, and other marine commodities.
Settlements, particularly those near the coastlines, are dense clusters of houses situated along well-protected stretches of shoreline. Houses, which are raised one to three meters above the ground or highest water mark, usually consist of a single rectangular room with an attached kitchen. Houses built over the water are connected by small bridges or planks.
Households are grouped in larger units called tumpuk, which means "clusters." The Northern Sinama live near their families and maintain close ties with their relatives. One household head is selected by the cluster members to act as the tumpuk spokesman. A parish consists of local groups whose members are affiliated with a single mosque. Sometimes, clusters and parishes are one and the same.
Among the Northern Sinama, both men and women share in agricultural labor and engage in trade. Fishing, building boats, and working with iron are primarily male occupations. Women generally weave mats and market pottery.
What are their beliefs? All Northern Sinama are Shafiite Sunni Muslims. Those who are well versed in religious matters, including the imams (religious leaders) and other mosque officials are called paki or pakil. The paki preside over all major rites, act as religious counselors, and conduct minor rites of thanksgiving.
Friday prayers are performed in the parish mosque and are the climax of a weekly cycle of daily prayers. An annual religious calendar includes Ramadan (the ninth month in which all Muslims fast) and the prophet Mohammed's birthday.
Some of the Northern Sinama are animists (believe that non-living objects have spirits). Spirits of the dead are thought to remain in the vicinity of their graves. These spirits require offerings for appeasement. Some graves have reportedly become the sources of miracle working power.
During the month of Shaaban, it is said that Allah permits the souls of the dead (roh) to return to this world. To honor their return, the people offer special prayers to the dead and clean the grave areas.
What are their needs? Since the early 1970s, the fight for independence has resulted in massive relocation of the islanders to other parts of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Muslim extremists are still very active and there have been numerous murders, kidnappings, and battles with the Philippine military forces. These fiercely independent people need to find their identity and future in Jesus in order to know peace.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to send forth laborers into Malaysia to work among the Northern Sinama.
* Ask God to provide a Gospel witness to go forth via radio in their area.
* Pray that God will give Northern Sinama believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Malaysia through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong and growing Northern Sinama church for the glory of His name!