Introduction / History The Northern Sinama live on a number of islands in the Sulu Archipelago and on the Mindanao coast in the Philippines. They are a subgroup of a much larger group of Sama. They speak the Balangingi dialect of the Sama-Bajau language.
As a whole, the Sama are a highly fragmented people without overall political unity. Individual Sama groups, such as the Northern Sinama, identify themselves by dialect and geographic location.
The Sama were originally located in the islands and coastal areas separating southwestern Mindanao from the northeastern islands of Sulu. It is thought that they first began to disperse sometime in the first millennium A.D. as a result of expanding Chinese trade. This southward migration accelerated in the fifteenth century with the founding of a Sulu sultanate and increased maritime trade. From bases, particularly on Balangingi Island, Sama slave traders carried out annual raids on coastal settlements from Luzon to the central Moluccas.
What are their lives like? The Northern Sinama are a maritime people, with fishing being their major economic activity. They also engage in seafaring trade and some farming. Throughout much of the area, copra (dried coconut meat yielding coconut oil) is the major cash crop. However, copra holdings are small, and most families are unable to support themselves entirely from copra sales. Thus, trade also occupies a central place in Northern Sinama society. Maritime groups were historically valued for their navigational skills as seafarers and suppliers of dried fish, trepang (sea cucumbers), pearls, pearl shells, and other items.
Settlements consist of densely clustered houses situated along well-protected stretches of shoreline. In some places, houses are built directly over the sea, but in other places, they are located along the beach front. If over the water, they are connected by planks or narrow bridges. Built on stilts one to three meters above the ground or high-water mark, houses usually have one rectangular room with an attached kitchen.
Households are grouped into larger units called tumpuks (clusters), which are located near one another and are related by close kinship ties. Within the village, one household head is acknowledged as the tumpuk spokesman. In some instances, the tumpuks coincide with the parishes, whose members belong to a single mosque.
Fishing, boat building, and iron working are primarily male occupations, while weaving mats and marketing pottery are jobs for women. Both men and women engage in farming and trade. The Northern Sinama are known for their traditional dances, songs, percussion and xylophone music, dyed mats and food covers, and wood carvings.
What are their beliefs? The Northern Sinama are almost all Sunni Muslims. Those who are knowledgeable in religious matters, such as the imans (Islamic leaders) and other mosque officials, are called paki or pakil. They preside over all important ceremonies and act as religious counselors. Friday prayers are performed in the parish mosque, climaxing a weekly cycle of daily prayers. Also, an annual religious calendar is observed, celebrating Ramadan (yearly Islamic fast) and the birthday of Mohammed.
The Northern Sinama still retain some of their traditional ethnic religious beliefs. Spirits of the dead are thought to remain in the vicinity of their graves, requiring expressions of continued concern from the living. Some graves have reportedly become the sources of miracle working power. During the month of Shaaban, it is said that God permits the souls of the dead (roh) to return to this world. To honor them, the living offer special prayers to the dead and clean the graves.
What are their needs? Since the early 1970s, the Sulu Archipelago has experienced much political unrest. The ensuing civil war has resulted in a massive relocation of peoples to other parts of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Today, Muslim extremists are still very active, and there have been numerous murders, kidnappings, and battles with the Filipino military forces. Much prayer is needed if the Northern Sinama are to find true peace in Jesus.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to the Philippines and share Christ with the Northern Sinama.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Northern Sinama.
* Pray that God will give the Northern Sinama believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Northern Sinama.
Western Mindanao, Sulu archipelago northeast of Jolo, Zamboanga coast peninsula and islands and Basilan island. Northern Sama dialect: Luzon, White Beach near Subic bay; Lutangan dialect: Olutangga island. Possibly on Luzon and Palawan. (Source: Ethnologue 2016)