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ETHNONYMS: Badjaw, Bajau Laut, Bajo, Luwa'an, Pala'au, Sama, Sama Dilaut, Turijene'


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.

History and Cultural Relations

A variety of local legends traces the original dispersal of the Bajau to the loss or abduction of a princess, a mythic event variously associated with the different early sultanates of the region: Johore, Malacca, Brunei, Sulu, Luwu, or Bone. In more prosaic terms, linguistic evidence suggests that the Proto-Sama-Bajau-speaking ancestors of the present Bajau began to spread from an original homeland located in the northeastern islands of Sulu, southwest of Mindanao, sometime early in the first millennium a.d. The principal movement was southwestward, through the Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines, to the eastern Borneo coast. From Sulu and eastern Borneo, subsequent migrations carried Bajau speakers eastward through the Straits of Makassar to coastal Sulawesi and from there southeastward into the Moluccas. By the early seventeenth century, Dutch accounts of Sulawesi record the presence of large numbers of Bajau around Makassar. Following Makassar's defeat by Dutch and Bugis forces in 1669, many of these communities are said to have dispersed to other islands in eastern Indonesia. By the early eighteenth century, fleets of Bajau were voyaging on fishing and trepang -collecting expeditions as far south as Roti and Timor. Some of our fullest descriptions of the Indonesian Bajau come from this period. Most are described as strongly maritime people, sea-going dependents of either Bugis or Makassarese patrons. The outward spread of the Bajau from Sulawesi appears to have been closely linked to the development of a maritime trade in trepang (sea slug or bêche-demer ), a Chinese culinary delicacy, and to the associated expansion of Bugis and Makassarese political and commercial influence. For almost 200 years the Bajau acted as the principal gatherers of trepang throughout the eastern islands of Indonesia. In northern Borneo, the Bajau were already well established when Captain Thomas Forrest first visited the western and northern coasts of what is now Sabah in 1773. In western Sabah, the Bajau were under the loose suzerainty of the Brunei sultanate and in some areas, notably Tempasuk, maintained close ties with small Illanun enclaves; some of them, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, staged settlements for slave-raiding voyages into other parts of Southeast Asia. On the southeastern coast of Sabah, the Bajau were historically part of the Sulu zone, a maritime sphere of political and commercial interests dominated by the Sulu sultanate and its Tausug rulers. Here the principal seat of power was at Jolo, in the central islands of the Sulu Archipelago. In 1878 the territory now comprising Sabah was ceded by the sultans of Sulu and Brunei to the British North Borneo Chartered Company, while in 1915 the Sultan of Sulu relinquished all secular power over his former territories to American colonial authorities in Manila. The subsequent colonial period saw the breakdown of traditional patterns of administered trade and formal hierarchy, the abolition of slavery, the emergence of Chinese and European commercial interests, and the partial suppression of traditional forms of piracy and raiding. In Sabah, the Mat Salleh Revolt (1894-1900), which was the first major uprising against European rule, was led by a leader of Bajau-Sulu ancestry. Since 1963, when Sabah gained independence within Malaysia, and throughout most of the postcolonial period, the Bajau, as the largest Muslim minority, have played a decisive role in state politics, disproportionate to their numbers. In Indonesia change has been equally rapid since independence. Here Bajau communities have been under official pressure to abandon boat-nomadism and nearly all are now shore-based, living in coastal villages, characteristically dependent on fishing, trade, and other maritime pursuits for their livelihood.


Local communities take a wide variety of forms. At one extreme, among Bajau Laut boat-dwellers, local communities consist of scattered moorage groups made up of families whose members regularly return, between intervals of fishing, to a common anchorage site. Such communities tend to be fluid in makeup and are characteristically organized around smaller family alliance groups (pagmundah ). The latter are comprised of anything from two to six closely related boat-dwelling families whose members regularly fish and anchor together, often sharing food and pooling labor, nets, and other gear. Intermoorage relationships are maintained through intermarriage, frequent exchange of visits, and the movement of families from one group to another. Such relations, and a similar status as clients of surrounding shore people, reinforce a wider sense of identity. Somewhat less extreme are pile-house villages made up of families whose members regularly move between the village and extended periods at sea as boat-dwelling family fishing crews. Houses in such communities are often small and poorly constructed; some of them are too low to permit their occupants to stand upright inside. Such communities are generally those of recently settled boat-nomads. More typical are well-established pile-house villages. Here village members fish largely in all-male crews, on a daily or overnight basis, returning to the village for meals and to sleep. Such settlements generally consist of densely clustered houses built in close association with nipa and mangrove forests, where village members find seasonal employment as thatch- or woodcutters, particularly during the northwest monsoon when squalls and high seas prevent open-sea fishing. Houses usually consist of a single unpartitioned room, raised on piles 1 to 2 meters above the ground or highwater mark. Most are fronted by an open porch or platform, often serving as a common work area, with an attached kitchen at the rear. Finally, at the opposite extreme are land-based villages built inland from the immediate shoreline. Here individual houses are generally separated by house compounds, fruit trees, and gardens. Houses, both ashore and in tidal settlements, are individually owned, with the house owner generally acting as the household head or spokesman. Households are grouped into clusters (tumpuk or ba'anan ). Most clusters contain between two and five closely related and physically adjacent households, although a few headed by especially wealthy or effective leaders may be considerably larger, attracting the allegiance of more distant kin and affines. Household spokesmen and other core-cluster members are most often related as married siblings, spouses of siblings, or members of closely related sibling sets. Because of the tendency to uxorilocal residence, ties between married sisters generally predominate. One household head is looked to as the cluster spokesman. A cluster may coincide with a parish, a group of households affiliated with a single mosque. More often, however, a parish contains more than one cluster, with one cluster spokesman, typically the mosque owner or sponsor, acknowledged as the principal parish leader. A parish might comprise a village, or be larger or smaller. In villages containing more than one parish, one parish leader, having the support of the majority of household spokesmen, acts as village headman.

Among boat-nomadic groups, the boats used as family dwellings vary in size and construction. Those of northern and central Sulu are basically small dug-out vessels with double outriggers, while farther south, in southern Sulu and southeastern Sabah, boats are generally larger, averaging 10 meters with a beam of between 2 and 2.5 meters, lack outriggers, and are plank-constructed with solid keel and bow sections. All are equipped with a roofed living area made of poles and kajang matting and a portable earthenware hearth used for preparing family meals, usually carried near the stern.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. For many groups, although by no means all, fishing is the principal source of livelihood. In Sabah, where the Bajau comprise less than 20 percent of the population, they make up over two-thirds of the state's fishermen. However, except for the Bajau Laut, other communities are economically flexible, adopting farming where land is available, or taking up other occupations. In western Sabah, most Bajau settlements are located inland from the immediate coastline, chiefly along the lower rivers draining the western coastal plains. Here the majority practice farming, engage in trade, and rear water buffalo, cattle, and horses. In addition, some travel inland annually to join interior communities in rice harvesting in return for a share of the crop. For agricultural or partially agricultural groups, the main crops grown are rice, cassava, maize, bananas, and, as cash crops, copra and fruit. Fishing communities are characteristically located close to areas of coral reef, submerged terraces, bays, channels, or stretches of inshore water sheltered by fringing reefs, islands, or coastal headlands. The marine life exploited by Bajau fishermen is diverse, including over 200 species of fish, large varieties of shellfish, crustaceans, dolphins and other sea mammals, sea turtles (taken for their shell, eggs, and egg sacks), sea urchins, and edible algae. Fishing equipment includes driftnets, liftnets, spears, spearguns, handlines, longlines, traps, harpoons, explosives, lures, jigs, and poisons. Since the 1950s, major technological changes have included the introduction of manufactured nylon netting, explosives, and motorized fishing vessels. Fishing activity varies with tides, monsoonal and local winds, currents, migrations of pelagic fish, and the monthly lunar cycle. Most driftnetting is done on falling tides, with favored periods coinciding with the new, full, and "dark" or late-rising phases of the moon. During moonless nights, fishing is often done with lanterns, using spears and handlines. Catches include skates, cuttlefish, and squid. Ebb tides are important for gathering, diving for shellfish, and inshore and beach netting. In exposed areas, monsoon winds often require seasonal shifts in fishing grounds and occasional suspension of fishing during high seas. Today fishing is primarily for market sale. Most fish are preserved by salting or drying. In villages located close to urban areas, landings may also be sold directly to retail vendors or to local middlemen for export sale. In the Philippines the introduction of agar-agar aquaculture in the mid-1970s dramatically affected the local economy of southern Sulu. Together with secessionist conflict and rapid population growth, it has led to a massive influx of newcomers, mainly Tausug and Samal from central Sulu, who have tended to displace Bajau Laut populations from their traditional fishing grounds in the southern Sibutu and Tawitawi islands, forcing many to migrate as refugees into southeastern Sabah. Here their numbers are swelling an already burgeoning fishing population. As a result, the rich coral reefs of the region, which for centuries provided protein and local trading wealth, are under increasing threat of destruction.

Industrial Arts. Shore- and land-based groups tend to specialize in different lines of trade and craft production; some communities, for example, act as centers of boat building, pottery making, weaving, blacksmithing, or interisland trade and transport. Other specialized crafts include the manufacture of kajang mats and roofing; pandanus mats, sunhats, and food covers; shell bracelets, tortoise-shell combs and other ornaments, lime and salt making, and skilled carpentry and woodcarving.

Trade. Trade occupies a central place in the Bajau economy. Historically, the Bajau were highly valued by the traditional trading states of the region for their specialized seafaring skills. European accounts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries attest to their local importance as suppliers of marine commodities, boat builders, seamen, and occasionally pirates and slave raiders. Bajau in western Sabah historically traded with inland Dusun communities, exchanging dried fish, salt, lime, shell ornaments, and other coastal products for rice, fruit, tobacco, and forest and agricultural goods. Out of this trade evolved a network of periodic markets, known as tamu, held at from five-to twenty-day intervals. Today, along both sides of the Philippine border, smuggling provides a lucrative living for those with the necessary capital and commercial connections.

Division of Labor. Both men and women participate in farm work. Smithing, boat building, and interisland trade are male occupations, while women weave and make and market pottery. Except for boat-nomadic groups, fishing is carried out by all-male crews, with women and children engaging in inshore gathering.

Land Tenure. Among boat-dwelling and other strongly maritime groups, fishing grounds are available for common exploitation. For the Bajau Laut, fishing areas typically overlap, making possible cooperation between families from neighboring moorage groups, particularly during large-scale fish drives. Among more settled fishermen, fish-trap and liftnet sites and artificially constructed fish corrals are subject to individual ownership; otherwise, as with other groups, fishing grounds are unowned. Historically, boat-nomadic communities were without land or other property ashore, except for small burial islands. Here the dead of several neighboring moorage groups were buried. In addition, community members were allowed access to sources of fresh water, usually a well or spring, and the use of the immediate shoreline (which provided certain supplies, such as bamboo for masts and poles), in return for their economic services as clients. Among shore- and land-based groups, virtually no form of corporate ownership exists, and houses and both residential and farm land are held and inherited under individual rights of tenure.


Despite marked differences of economic orientation and settlement, the basic features of social organization are essentially similar. Kinship is bilateral, genealogical reckoning is generally shallow, and kin groups with corporate functions are lacking.

Kin Groups and Descent. Among the Bajau Laut, close kindred are distinguished from both kin generally, whether the relationship between them is traceable or not (kampong ), and nonkin, or "other people" (a'a saddi ). Among a person's kampong, individual descent lines (turunan ) are recognized, each leading back to a particular ancestor; close kindred (dampalanakan or dampo'un ) constitute, minimally, those sharing descent from common grandparents (mbo' ), such as Ego's cognates traced bilaterally through first cousins. Descent as such, however, is of little social significance and the principal emphasis is on collateral ties. Between an individual's dampalanakan, mutual assistance is considered obligatory unless relations are ruptured by formal enmity (bantah ), and applies in a variety of situations (i.e., life-crisis rites, illness, economic distress, litigation, and conflict). Close kindred characteristically form the core of multifamily households, household clusters, and parish groups.

Kinship Terminology. Terminology emphasizes generation, lineality, and relative age. Cousin terms are of the Eskimo type.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Kin are favored as marriage partners. Exceptions are the children of brothers and those nursed by the same mother or nursemaid. Marriage is either parentally arranged or initiated by elopement or abduction. Arranged marriages are the ideal, but elopement is frequent. Marriage negotiations are normally set in motion by the man's family, often with the help of a go-between. After a proposal is accepted, the bride's father designates one of his kinsmen to act as his daughter's guardian (wakil ). The man chosen formally receives bride-wealth from the groom's family and represents the woman's side during the wedding ceremony. The religious component of the rite is conducted by an imam. Weddings usually take place in the guardian's house, to which the couple is conducted in separate ceremonial processions, often with music and dancing. Divorce is frequent 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 its own household within two or three years, except for one child, usually the youngest, who normally remains to look after the parental couple in their old age. New houses are generally built close to the natal household of the bride. Polygyny is permitted but infrequent.

Domestic Unit. Domestic organization is variable. Among boat-dwelling groups, each boat typically shelters a nuclear family, plus often one or two additional kin, averaging, in all, five or six persons. Here the family is both a domestic group and an independent economic unit. Among groups whose members divide their time between village residence and dispersal at sea, domestic organization is characteristically complex. While the nuclear family functions independently at sea, its members are frequently incorporated, upon their return to the village, into larger, multifamily households. The members of these larger groups share a common hearth, meals, and residence within a single village pile house; they are identified by name with its owner, as his tindug (followers). Among settled, shore- and land-based groups, households are often large. Although the majority are reported to contain a single stem or nuclear family, larger groups, consisting of the families of two or more married siblings, are not uncommon. Each household has an acknowledged head. The latter, usually the house owner, is most often a man still actively engaged in making a living.

Inheritance. Inheritance is generally bilateral. Many forms of property, however, are associated through their use with one sex or the other. Such property ordinarily passes from father to son, or from mother to daughter. Examples of traditional male property are cattle, farmland, suspended gongs, and fishing boats; female property includes household furnishings, cooking utensils, jewelry, and kulintangan (stationary gongs). In addition, the Bajau distinguish between property acquired in the course of marriage and property inherited separately, to which the owner's spouse acquires no claim.

Socialization. Preadolescent children traditionally undergo ritual haircutting (maggunting ), followed by prayers, weighing (magtimbang ), and a public distribution of foodstuffs. At puberty boys are circumcised, while in most communities girls undergo partial clitoridectomy between the ages of 2 and 6. Unlike male circumcision, the latter is a small private rite witnessed only by women. For one or two years, most children receive a course of Koranic instruction. Those who complete their studies undergo a "graduation" ceremony (magtammat ) sponsored by their parents. Today, in addition, most children attend public school, although few complete more than three or four years of primary education.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Boat-dwelling and strongly maritime communities tend to be internally egalitarian. Others, particularly those closely linked in the past to the trading polities of the region, developed systems of stratification much like those of the dominant Tausug, Maguindanao, Bugis, and others, comprised of nobles, commoners, and slaves. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, slave raiding was characteristic of most areas of Bajau settlement and local populations absorbed large numbers of slaves, most of them captives from other areas of the Philippines and Indonesia, many of whom eventually gained their freedom, some rising to positions of prominence and wealth.

Political Organization. In Sulu and southeastern Sabah, the sultan of Sulu historically claimed proprietary rights over all boat-dwelling Bajau. Outside of Jolo these rights were generally delegated to regional leaders acting locally as the sultan's representatives. In practice, proprietorship was expressed in patron-client relations. As patrons, local shore leaders asserted "ownership" over individual moorage groups. Implied was a willingness to defend the rights entailed from outsiders. The relationship involved privileged trade, boat-dwelling clients supplying their patron with fish and other sea products, formerly including trade commodities like mother-of-pearl and trepang, in return for assurances of physical security, a moorage site, and agricultural foodstuffs. Should a patron fail to protect his clients, or impose oppressive terms of trade, a boat group might quit its former anchorage site and seek out a rival leader willing to take the place of its former patron. Thus mobility and competition for clientage among shore leaders checked abuses of the relationship and assured the Bajau Laut a considerable degree of political autonomy. However, boat-dwelling groups traditionally lacked parish organization, and therefore had no formal representation in the state except through their patrons. In contrast, shore and land-based groups have always had their own parish, village, and regional leadership, with personal authority operating largely through leader-centered coalitions. While the power of individual leaders is locally based, each historically owed allegiance to the sultan or local head of state. The position of more powerful regional leaders was legitimized through their investiture with titles. Thus the sultan incorporated local communities into the larger polity by appointing proven local leaders to act in his name as representatives of the state. In return for tribute and political fealty, titleholders were granted rights to conduct and regulate trade, levy taxes, maintain order, and administer the law. Today regional leaders operate largely in the context of electoral politics or through state appointment and serve generally as links between community leaders and the national administrative structure in any of the three countries involved.

Social Control. Responsibility for resolving disputes falls chiefly on house elders and parish and village leaders. Above the village level, factional rivalries tend to be pervasive.

Conflict. Boat-dwelling Bajau Laut see themselves, in contrast to their neighbors, as nonaggressive people who prefer flight to physical confrontation; in the past, individual moorage groups looked to their patrons ashore to insulate them from the endemic feuding and competition for power occurring around them. As a consequence, the politically dominant groups of the region have historically viewed the Bajau Laut with disdain as timid, unreliable subjects. Among shore groups vendettas occur, sometimes resulting in long-term enmity, but endemic armed conflict is generally lacking. In the past, many groups engaged in slave raiding, often in conjunction with trade, and were recruited from time to time by the regional states of the area as a naval fighting force.

Religion and Expressive Culture

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.

See also Samal; Sea Nomads of the Andaman; Selung/Moken


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Sather, Clifford (1978). "The Bajau Laut." In Essays on Borneo Societies, edited by Victor T. King, 172-192. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sather, Clifford (1985). "Boat Crews and Fishing Fleets." Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography 4:165-214.

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