Samal - Orientation

Identification. The term "Samal," or more generally "Sama," covers a diverse congeries of Sama-Bajau-speaking peoples whose scattered settlements are found throughout a vast maritime zone stretching from the central Philippines to the eastern coast of Borneo and from Sulawesi to Roti in eastern Indonesia. In the Philippines most Sama speakers, with the exception of Yakan, Abak, and Jama Mapun, are referred to as "Samal," a Tausug term used also by Christian Filipinos. Elsewhere, in Indonesia and Malaysia, related Sama-speaking groups are known as "Bajau" (variously spelled Bajao, Badjaw, etc.), a term of apparent Malay origin, while in the Philippines the term "Bajau" is reserved more narrowly for boat-nomadic or formerly nomadic groups referred to elsewhere as "Bajau Laut" or "Orang Laut." The most common term of self-designation is "Sama," or "a'a Sama" ( a' a, people). In addition, most groups identify themselves by toponymic modifiers (referring typically to a particular island or island cluster) to indicate their geographical and/or dialect affiliation. As a whole, the Sama are a highly fragmented people, without overall political integration. In the past, these smaller populations were divided between the principal trading states of the region, in each polity occupying a subordinate status relative to the dominant ethnic groups, notably the Tausug and Maguindanao in the southern Philippines, the Brunei in western Sabah, and the Ternatans, Bugis, and Makassarese in eastern Indonesia. Among the principal subgroups of Sama, the most divergent, culturally and linguistically, are the Abak of Capul Island, northwest of Samar in the central Philippines. The Abak are believed to derive from an early northward migration of Sama speakers and are today the only Christianized Sama subgroup. The Yakan of Basilan Island and coastal Zamboanga are thought to be descendants of another early offshoot community. While acknowledging the symbolic suzerainty of the Tausug and Maguindanao sultanates, the Yakan-speaking groups, unlike the majority groups, are today an inland agricultural people with no close ties to the sea.

Location. Sama-Bajau speakers are probably the most widely dispersed ethnolinguistic group indigenous to Southeast Asia. Their widely scattered settlements are found from the central Philippines, with small enclaves in Zambales and northern Mindanao, through the Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines to the eastern coast of Borneo and from Palawan and western Sabah (Malaysia) to coastal Sulawesi, southward through the Moluccas to Aru, Roti, and western Timor.

Demography. In all of Southeast Asia Sama-Bajau speakers number some 650,000 to 730,000. Those in the Philippines referred to as "Samal" form the largest single group, estimated at 243,000 in 1975. The Yakan numbered over 115,000 and the Jama Mapun about 25,000, including an estimated 5,000 in Sabah. The total Bajau population of Sabah was nearly 73,000 in 1970, exclusive of recent Philippine immigrants. The latter comprise a further 30,000 to 40,000 (a conservative estimate). No reliable population figures exist for eastern Indonesia, but recent estimates place their numbers there at between 150,000 and 200,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Until recently the Sama Language Family was thought to be affiliated with the Central Philippine Language Group; today, however, it is generally assigned a separate status within the Hesperonesian Branch of Austronesian, probably coordinate with that of the Philippine languages as a whole. Sama-Bajau has been proposed as a general name to cover all of its various dialects and languages. Included are an estimated ten languages, most of them strongly dialectalized. The most divergent are Abaknon (spoken by the Abak), Yakan, and Sibuguey. The Sibuguey are comprised of a number of small, relatively isolated Sama groups living mainly around Sibuguey Bay in western Mindanao. Another relatively divergent language, Western Sama, is spoken in North Ubian and the Pangutaran island group west of the main Sulu chain. Small numbers of Ubian speakers are also found in northern and western Sabah. More closely related are Northern Sama, spoken chiefly in the islands of Basilan Strait, including Balanguingui in the Samales island group, and central and southern Sama, spoken in the Tapul, Tawitawi, and Sibutu island groups and throughout the adjacent eastern coastal districts of Sabah, from Kudat to Tawau. In Sabah, these latter varieties of the Sama subgroup live mainly on Cagayan Sulu and neighboring islands (Balabac, Bakungan, etc.) near the eastern coast of Sabah, with additional small enclaves in southern Palawan. In Sabah, dialects of a separate Sama language, West Coast Bajau, are spoken in the western and northern coastal districts of the state, from Kuala Penyu to Terusan. Another distinct group of dialects, known generally as Indonesian Bajau, is spoken by a variety of closely related peoples from Sulawesi and eastern Kalimantan to Timor.

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