Religious Beliefs. The Bajau are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi school. Claims to religious piety and learning are an important source of individual prestige, and persons considered descendants of the Prophet ( salip ) are shown special deference. Perceived differences in degrees of Islamic practice are also associated with the relative status of different Bajau groups. Those most closely identified with the historical trading states of the region are generally regarded as the most orthodox, with the Bajau Laut, as the most peripheral group, seen by others as living outside the faith, as non-Muslims. Owing to their boat-nomadic way of life, Bajau Laut moorage groups lack mosques. For those ashore, the mosque represents the primary focus of community leadership and religion. In adopting settled village life, the members of Bajau Laut communities normally construct a mosque in addition to individual houses, and so undergo not only ethnic assimilation but also overt Islamization. Sedentarization is thus marked by a change of religious status (which is often contested, but generally acknowledged in time), and by the emergence of newly recognized positions of community leadership.
God (Tuhan) is the creator of heaven and earth, of the first man (Adam) and woman (Hawa), and of Iblis, or Satan, who leads people to evil. God is also the creator of good, as revealed by the Prophet, the traditions, and law ( sara' ). All events ultimately occur by the will of God. In this world, however, human purposes may also be thwarted or furthered by the actions of spirits or the agency of human evildoers. These latter forces are dealt with mainly by charms, amulets, offerings, mediumship, and divination.
Religious Practitioners. Except for boat-nomadic groups, every parish is served by a set of mosque officials. These include an imam, who leads parish members in prayer; a bilal, who performs the call to prayer; and a hatib, who gives the Friday mosque reading. The imam also officiates at life-crisis rituals, counsels parish members in religious and legal matters, and leads them in prayer during minor rites of thanksgiving. In times of misfortune or crises, other religious practitioners may also be consulted, including midwives, herbalist-curers, spirit mediums, and diviners.
Ceremonies. The annual Islamic calendar includes: a month of fasting ( puasa ) ; Hari Raya Puasa, a feast to celebrate the end of Ramadan; Hari Raya Haji, a feast of sacrifice observed during the month of Jul-Hadj; tulak bala', a ritual bathing performed to cleanse away evil during the month of Sappal; and Maulud, the birthday of the Prophet. Among boat-dwelling and formerly boat-dwelling groups, community spirit mediums are assembled at least once a year for a public séance and nightly trance-dancing ( magigal jin ). In times of epidemic illness, they are also called on to set a spirit-boat ( pamatulikan ) adrift in the open sea beyond the village or anchorage site in order to remove illness-causing spirits from the community.
Arts. Bajau craftsmen have traditionally created ornaments of shell and turtle shell, and embellished houses, boats, house furnishings, and grave markers with carved designs. Pandanus mats are made by women for both sale and home use. In the Tempasuk area of western Sabah, Bajau women weave several types of textiles. The most important are kain mogah, long cloths of small, somewhat somber design, used mainly as trade cloth and for house hangings, and destar, square headcloths worn by men, woven mainly in rectangular design elements, using brighter dyes and often incorporating figurative motifs. Music and dance are richly elaborated. Musical instruments include the kulintangan, an idiophone of between seven and nine knobbed gongs suspended horizontally in a wooden frame. The kulintangan, providing the main melodic line, is played by women, together with suspended gongs and drums, the latter played by male musicians, either alone or in accompaniment to dance. The gabbang, a wooden xylophone, normally of seventeen keys, is also played by women, either as a solo instrument or in accompaniment to singing and dancing. The main dance form that employs the gabbang is the daling-daling, performed usually at weddings or betrothals, in which male and female dancers exchange improvised verses of song.
Death and Afterlife. Death rites follow Islamic practice. The body is bathed and shrouded and buried in a grave niche with its head facing Mecca. If death occurs in the morning, the body is ideally buried before nightfall; if at night, before noon the following day. After a grave is filled, it is often covered with sand or crushed coral and is marked with a stone or wooden marker. Burial is accompanied by a period of vigil lasting up to seven nights. Additional commemorative rites may be held on the 20th, 40th, and 100th day and on the first anniversary of death. Following a period of atonement, an individual's soul is believed to ascend to heaven, while the body descends to hell, where it suffers punishment in proportion to the misdeeds the person committed in life. Spirits of the dead are thought to remain in the vicinity of their graves, at times requiring offerings and other signs of remembrance. Some graves, particularly those of ancestors who possessed extraordinary spiritual or physical powers, may acquire the status of tampat, sites of wonder-working power, and be visited by persons in search of special favors.