Identification. "Samal" is a covering term for Muslim Samalan speakers. One of the many ethnic-minority groups in the Philippines, they are one of ten Islamic groups presently living in the southern Philippines. They speak a Malayo-Polynesian language, Siamal or Samalan, perhaps the oldest in the Sulu Archipelago. In the Philippines, ethnic identity is usually determined by language. For the Samal Moro, their minority status is a double bind: they are at once speakers of a less-known language and Muslims in a Christian country. Christians call them "Moros" (as in "Moors"), a reference the Samal consider insulting. Referring to themselves as "Sama" or "Samal," they clearly distinguish themselves from the Sama-laut, known in the literature as "Bajaus" or "Sea Gypsies." Typically, Samal identify themselves more with a particular island or island group.
Location. The Philippines lies in the severest cyclone belt of Asia. It is extremely volcanic, and its climate is tropical with marked rainy and dry seasons except in Sulu. Of 7,100 islands and islets, only 700 are inhabited, and most of them have a simple north-to-south structural alignment. The southernmost group of islands form the Sulu Archipelago where the Samal live. South of Jolo and Siasi, the Samal are found mainly in the TawiTawi area and outlying islands beyond.
Demography. The 1992 national population estimate for the Philippines was 62,380,000, of which 5 to 10 percent are Muslims, the largest minority group. National population density averages 208.2 persons per square kilometer. There are concentrations of forty-five other major ethnic groups in the islands of Luzon, Mindanao, and the Visayas. The annual population growth estimate is 2.49 percent and average life expectancy is 62 years for males and 64 for females. In 1985 the national population was estimated at 56,808,000, of whom an estimated 126,100 were Samal Moro. In Sulu, the Samal are the second-largest indigenous ethnic group (after the Tausug).
Linguistic Affiliation. Around eighty-seven languages and dialects are spoken in the Philippines; with the exception English, Spanish, and Chinese, they all belong to the Austronesian Family. Eight Philippine languages are spoken by 86 percent of the population, with Cebuano (24 percent) and Tagalog (21 percent) being the most widely used. Tagalog has formed the basis for the national language, Pilipino, as it is the major language of Manila. The official languages of the country, Pilipino and English, are used in government, mass communication, and commerce, and beyond grammar school.