Bajau - Orientation

Identification. Variants of the Malay term "Bajau" (e.g., Badjaw, Badjao, Bajo, etc.) are applied to a variety of predominantly maritime Sama-Bajau-speaking peoples whose scattered settlements are found throughout a vast region of islands and coastal littorals, extending from the southern Philippines to the northern and eastern coasts of Borneo, and eastward over much of eastern Indonesia, from Sulawesi to Timor. In Malaysia and Indonesia the term "Bajau" is applied to both boat-nomadic and sedentary populations, including some land-based, primarily agricultural groups with no apparent history of past nomadism. In the southern Philippines the term "Bajau" is reserved exclusively for boat-nomadic or formerly nomadic groups, while more sedentary Sama speakers are referred to as "Samal," a name applied to them by the neighboring Tausug, but used also by Christian Filipinos ( see Samal ). In eastern Indonesia the Bajau are called "Bajo" by the Bugis and both "Bajo" and "Turijene'" (people of the water) by the Makassarese. The most common term of self-designation is "Sama" or "a'a Sama" ( a'a , "people"), generally coupled with a toponymic modifier to indicate geographical and/or dialectal affiliation. Historically the Bajau have lacked overall political cohesion and primary loyalties are generally with these smaller subgroupings. In Sulu and southeastern Sabah, boat-dwelling groups and those with a recent history of boat-nomadism identify themselves as "Sama dilaut" or "Sama mandilaut" (sea Sama). They are referred to by other Sama speakers as "Sama pala'au" (or "pala'u") and by the Tausug as "luwa'an." Both names have pejorative connotations, reflecting the pariah status generally ascribed to boat-nomads by those living ashore. In Malaysia and Indonesia nomadic or formerly nomadic groups are known as "Bajau Laut" or Orang Laut" (sea people).

Location. In Sabah (Malaysia) the Bajau are present along both the eastern and western coasts of the state and in the foothills bordering the western coastal plains, from Kuala Penyu to Tawau on the east. In eastern Indonesia the largest numbers are found on the islands and in coastal districts of Sulawesi. Here, widely scattered communities, most of them pile-house settlements, are reported near Menado, Ambogaya, and Kendari; in the Banggai, Sula, and Togian island groups; along the Straits of Tioro; in the Gulf of Bone; and along the Makassar coast. Elsewhere settlements are present near Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, on Maratua, Pulau Laut, and Kakaban, and in the Balabalangan islands off the eastern Borneo coast. Others are reported, widely scattered, from Halmahera through the southern Moluccas, along both sides of Sape Strait dividing Flores and Sumbawa; on Lombok, Lembata, Pantar, Adonara, Sumba, Ndao, and Roti; and near Sulamu in western Timor. In Sabah, boat-nomadic and formerly nomadic Bajau Laut are present in the southeastern Semporna district, while Sulu-related groups are found in the Philippines in small numbers from Zamboanga through the Tapul, western Tawitawi, and Sibutu island groups, with major concentrations in the Bilatan Islands, near Bongao, Sanga-Sanga, and Sitangkai.

Demography. Boat-dwelling groups have never, from the earliest historical evidence available, constituted more than a small fraction of the total Sama-Bajau-speaking population. However, their numbers have declined rapidly in the last century, and today they probably amount to fewer than 10,000. In eastern Indonesia, the Bajau as a whole, including both nomadic and sedentary groups, number between 150,000 and 200,000, and in Sabah, approximately 120,000, including at least 30,000-40,000 recent Philippine migrants.

Linguistic Affiliation. All of the scattered populations variously referred to as "Bajau" are Sama-Bajau speakers. However, not all Sama-Bajau speakers are Bajau. A member of the Hesperonesian Branch of Austronesian, the Sama-Bajau Language Family includes some ten languages, the majority of which are spoken almost exclusively in the Philippines, by a variety of people including the Yakan, Samal, and others not ordinarily known as "Bajau." In eastern Indonesia the Bajau speak what appears to be a single language, characterized by only minor dialectal differences, known as Indonesian Bajau. In the eastern coastal districts of Sabah, at least two closely related varieties of Bajau are spoken, known as Central and Southern Sama. In Sabah the two are frequently classed together as East Coast Bajau. Both are divided into a variety of local dialects with close links to allied dialects spoken by Samal groups in the neighboring Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines. A separate language, known as West Coast Bajau, is spoken in the northern and western coastal districts from Kuala Penyu to Terusan, with some overlap with East Coast Bajau in northern Sabah. Recent linguistic studies show that the boat-nomadic Bajau Laut are not a linguistically homogeneous population, nor are they linguistically distinct as a group from the shore-based Sama-speaking communities present around them. Those living in Semporna and southern Sulu speak Southern Sama, while those in western Tawitawi and central and northern Sulu speak varieties of Central Sama. Except for the division in Sabah between East and West Coast Bajau, locally contiguous dialects, whether spoken ashore by settled land-based groups or at sea by boat-nomadic or partially nomadic communities, are usually mutually intelligible, in most areas grading into one another without sharply defined language boundaries.


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