Introduction / History
The term Bajau is applied to a variety of predominantly maritime peoples. Their scattered settlements are found across Southeast Asia from the Philippines, through eastern and northern Borneo; and from Sulawesi and the Little Sunda Islands of Indonesia, to the Mergui Archipelago off southern Myanmar. Today, only a small number of the Bajau are boat dwellers, and their numbers have declined rapidly during the last century.
The origin of the Bajau is not certain. Some say they came from Sumatra; others say they came from the South Pacific Islands. They are closely related to the various Sama peoples of the Philippines and Malaysia. Historically, they have lacked overall political cohesion, and primary loyalties are generally towards the smaller sub-groups.
All the Bajau peoples speak a variety of Sama-Bajau. The Bajau Kagayan of the Philippines speak Mapun Sama, which is quite similar to Central Sama. Many also speak Tausug.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Bajau Kagayan live in well-established villages with houses that are built on stilts. The villagers fish, mostly in all male crews, on a daily or overnight basis, returning to the village to eat and to sleep. Such settlements generally consist of densely clustered houses built in close association with the forests, where village members find seasonal employment cutting thatch or wood. Houses usually consist of a single room, raised on stilts one to two meters above the ground or high-water mark. Most have open porches or platforms on the front, which serve as common work areas. Kitchens are usually built on the back sides of the houses.
Each household has an acknowledged head, who is usually a man. He is the house owner and still actively engaged in making a living. Household spokesmen and other core members of the village cluster are often related. The most obvious ties are those of married sisters.
For many of the Bajau, fishing is the primary source of livelihood. Trade also occupies a central place in the Bajau economy, and historically, the Bajau were highly valued for their specialized seafaring skills.
Except for nomadic groups of boat dwellers, fishing is carried out by all male crews, with women and children involved in inshore gathering. Male occupations include blacksmiths, boat builders, and inter-island merchants. Women often market pottery or work as weavers. Both men and women participate in the farm work.
Among the Bajau Kagayan, marriage is either arranged by the parents or initiated by elopement or abduction. Divorce often occurs during the first two or three years of marriage, and remarriage is relatively easy for both partners. After that, divorce tends to be infrequent. Following marriage, a couple is expected to set up a separate household within two or three years. New houses are generally built close to the family of the bride.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, slave raiding was characteristic of most areas of Bajau settlement, and local populations absorbed large numbers of slaves. Many of these slaves eventually gained their freedom, with some of them rising to positions of prominence and wealth.
What are their beliefs?
The Bajau Kagayan are Sunni Muslims of the Shafiite branch. Claims to religious piety and learning are an important source of individual prestige, and salip (descendants of Mohammed) are shown special honor. Variations of Islamic practices are associated with the relative status of different groups.
Every parish is served by a set of mosque officials. These include an imam, who leads members in prayer; a bilal, who performs the call to prayer; and a hatib, who gives the Friday mosque reading.
What are their needs?
Few Christian resources exist to reach the Bajau Kagayan. Only prayerful intercession can break the chains that have kept the Bajau Kagayan bound.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among the Bajau Kagayan of the Philippines.
* Ask the Lord to soften their hearts so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray for the effective use of the Jesus film among the Bajau Kagayan.
* Ask the Lord to establish strong local churches among the Bajau Kagayan.