Infobox Ethnic group
group = Bajau

caption =
population = at least 401,800
regions = flagicon|MalaysiaMalaysia smaller|(Sabah, Sarawak) 401,800"Monthly Statistical Bulletin, January 2007: Sabah", Department of Statistics Malaysia, Sabah. ISSN|18231659]

flagcountry|PHI smaller|(Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga Peninsula, Metro Manila)
flagicon|IndonesiaIndonesia smaller|(Kalimantan, Sulawesi)
languages = Sama-Bajaw languages, Malay, Bahasa Sug, Bahasa Indonesia, English
religions = Sunni Islam (with elements of Animism)
related = Tausug, Yakan other Moros, other Filipino peoples, other Austronesian peoples

The Bajau, (also written as Badjao, Badjaw or Badjau) are an indigenous ethnic group of Malaysia and the southern Philippines. Although native to the southern Philippines, due to escalated conflicts in the Sulu Archipelago in the southern part of the country, most of the Bajau had migrated to neighboring Malaysia over the course of 50 years, where currently they are the second largest ethnic group in the state of Sabah, making up 13.4% of the total population. Groups of Bajau had also migrated to Sulawesi and Kalimantan in Indonesia, although figures of their exact population are unknown. They were sometimes referred to as the Sea Gypsies, although the term has been used to encompass a number of non-related ethnic groups with similar traditional lifestyles, such as the Samadilaut and Jama Mapun peoples of the Southern Philippines. The modern outward spread of the Bajau from older inhabited areas seems to have been associated with the development of sea trade in trepang.


Like the term Kadazan-dusun, Bajau is a collective term, used to describe several closely related indigenous groups.


The origin of the word Bajau is not clear cut. Although it is generally accepted that these groups of people can be termed Bajau, these groups never call themselves Bajau. They call themselves with the names of their tribes that are mostly the names of the places of their origins. They accept the term because they realise that they share some vocabulary and general genetic characteristic such as in having darker skin, although the Simunuls appear to be an exception in having fairer skin.

British administrators in Sabah, labelled the Samah as Bajau and put Bajau in their birth certificates as their race. During Malaysia, some have started labelling their races as their ancestors call themselves, such as Simunul. For political reasons and to ensure easy access to the Malaysian special privileges granted to Malays and natives, many have started calling themselves Malay. This is especially true for recent Filipino migrants.

For most of their history, the Bajau have been a nomadic, seafaring people, living off the sea by trading and subsistence fishing. The boat dwelling Bajau see themselves as non-aggressive people. They kept close to shore by erecting houses on stilts, and traveled using "lepa-lepa", handmade boats which many lived in. Although historically originating from the southern Philippine coasts, Sabahan Sama legend narrates that they had originated from members of the royal guard of the Sultan of Johor, after the fall of the Malay Malacca empire, who settled along the east coast of Borneo after being driven there by storms. Another version narrates that they were escorting the Sultan's bride, but the bride was later kidnapped by the Sultan of Brunei.

This is reinforced by the presence of people with similar linguistic characteristics in Johor and a family history that can be traced to soldiers from Johor.

The documented evidence of the existence of Samah at Sulawesi island, the land of the Bugis, and the Philippines, must be taken into account in determining the origin of the Samah people. The Samah and Palao people are the few groups whom their place of origin cannot be determined with certainty, because they exist in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. At each location, they seem to have stories of how they came to be at their current place.

Currently, there exists a huge settlement of Filipino Bajau in Pulau Gaya, off the Sabah coast. Many of them are illegal immigrants on the Malaysian island. With the island as a base, they frequently enter Sabah and find jobs as manual labourers.

Demographics and religion

The many Bajau sub-groups vary culturally and linguistically, but are unified through their adherence to Sunni Islam of the Shafi'i school.


Commonly, many sub-groups of Bajau are named after the place or island they live-in for many years. Even though they are called Bajau, each sub-groups has their own unique language, cultures and tradition. However, certain sub-groups are able to understand the languages of other sub-groups and races. For example, some Bajau understand the Bajau Ubian language, and the Bajau Ubian and Simunul in Sabah are able to understand and speak the Tausug language called the Suluk language in Sabah.

Lists of Bajau sub-groups:
#Ubian (The largest group of Bajau. They reside on many islands of the Philippines and its seas, as well as sizable minorities living around the towns of Kudat and Semporna in Sabah, Malaysia)
#Samah (or Commonly known as Bajau Kota Belud, because most of them live in or near area of Kota Belud, Sabah, i.e. the whole of the West Coast of Sabah). They call themselves Samah, not Bajau and their neighbours, the Dusuns also call them Samah, not Bajau. It must have been the British administrators that define them as Bajau.
#Samah/Sama Sulawesi Selatan [Manusia Bugis, Christian Pelras, ISBN 979-99395-0-X, translated from "The Bugis", Christian Pelras, 1996, Oxford:Blackwell Publishers Ltd.]
#Simunul (They can be found at Kampung Bokara, Sandakan, Semporna and Lahad Datu Towns. Simunuls in Sabah originate from Tawi-tawi, where they are still mostly found and is the majority there, and the only Bajau group that mostly has fair skin.)
#Samal (A group native to the Philippines.)
#Bajau Banadan (This sub-group, live mostly in Kudat, and have origins in the Philippines, hence although living among Malay peoples for a substantial part of their history, are also able to converse in the Philippine Tausug and Samal languages.)
#Tando' Bas (This sub-group is rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. They had recently migrated to Sabah from a place called Tandobas in the Philippines)
#Ungus Matata (This sub-group is rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. They had recently migrated to Sabah from a place called Ungus Matata in the Philippine.)
#Tolen ( This sub-group is found only at Bum-bum island, in Semporna, Sabah. No trace of them anywhere else even in the Philippines)
#Palao ( This sub-group originally live on boats all the time but recently in Sabah, some have settled on land.)
#Tabawan (This sub-group is rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. They had recently migrated to Sabah from a place called Tabawan, Tawi-tawi, Philippines)
#Banguingui (Native to the Philippines, where the majority still live. This sub-group was rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. Some had recently migrated to Sabah)
#Sikubung (This sub-group is rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. They had recently migrated to Sabah)

For more lists, refer to [ BahasaSama]


Claims to religious piety and learning are an important source of individual prestige among the coastal Bajau, and the title of "salip/sarip" (descendants of the Prophet Muhammad) are shown special honour in the local community. Some of the Bajau lack mosques and must rely on the shore-based communities such as those of the more Islamized Tausug or Malay peoples. The Ubian Bajau, due to their nomadic marine lifestyle, are much less adherent to orthodox Islam, and practice more of a folk hybrid, revering local sea spirits, known in Islamic terminology as Jinn.


The Bajau people are also well known for weaving and needlework skills.

In Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia, the Bajau groups perform the Tausug's dance,"Daling-Daling", either in Suluk or their own native languages. They also invented their own dance called Igal-igal, based on the Daling-daling moves and costumes. In fact it has become the dance of choice for wedding ceremonies for native communities in Semporna and has spread to Sandakan. By the year 2000, among the Suluk and Bajau communities, this dance, also simply called Daling-daling, tend to be included with the Joget dances at wedding ceremonies at night. This is helped by the production of Music Videos of the Daling-daling songs and dances.

In Sarawak there are a number of Iban named Bajau (Beransah Bajau, Hillary Bajau)


Many Bajaus of the east coast retain their seaborne lifestyle, together with remnants of traditional pre-Islamic beliefs. An example of this is the offering of thanks to the "Omboh Dilaut", the God of the Sea, whenever a particularly large catch is brought in. The east coast Sabah Bajau are also famous for the annual Semporna Regatta.

Among the boat-dwellers in particular, community spirit mediums are consulted at least once a year for a public séance and nightly trance dancing. In times of epidemics, the mediums are also called upon to remove illness causing spirits from the community. They do this by setting a "spirit boat" adrift in the open sea beyond the village or anchorage.

See also

*Pulau Gaya


External links

* [ Born Again Badjao Church - A mission church to Badjaos living along the coastline of Batangas City, Philippines]
* [ Tamu Besar, Kota Belud]
* [ "The Badjao people of Palawan Island" by Antonio Graceffo]
* [ Bahasa Sama-Bajau]

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