The word Bajau is a collective term for indigenous groups of people. These groups have also blended with the culture of the Sana which is why they are called the Sama-Bajau. In history the term Sama describes indigenous people who live more in areas of land. On the other hand the term Bajau is used for ethnic groups residing near the seas or on seas or those who dwell in boats.
The Badjau People or also called the Sama or Samal are indigenous ethnic groups found in Maritime Southeast Asia. They live mainly on the seas using wooden boats like the Vintas. This ethnic group originally came from the Sulu Archipelago. They also lived in some areas of Mindanao and northern Borneo. For half a century though, the Badjaus have been migrating to neighboring countries and also in the northern Philippines. This is due to the ongoing conflicts in the ARMM ( Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). At present the Badjaus are considered to be one of the largest ethnic groups in Sabah. They make up almost 15% of the state’s population. These people have also migrated in Indonesia but the number of their population remains unanimous. The Bajau were sometimes associated with other ethnic groups of similar lifestyles. They have been called Sea Gypsies. The outward spreading of the Bajau from their old homes to other countries wasalso associated with the development of sea trade in modern times.
The origin of the term Bajau was never clarified. It is generally used to describe or call these ethnic groups. Ironically, they themselves never used the term Bajaus to describe themselves. They would call themselves according to their tribe’s names, the place they live in or where they came from. But even so these people share the same some of their vocabularies and bodily features. That is why agree with being called Bajaus in general.
As a large ethnic group, the Bajaus have subgroups within themselves. And although they share some genetic characteristics and parts of their vocabularies, each of their groups had their own unique languages and traditions. However, some of these subgroups are able to understand the others’ languages. The Simunul for example, which are found in Sabah are able to communicate with other Bajaus using the Tausug language.
There are numerous subgroups comprising the Bajaus. The UbianBajaus are the first of these groups. They are originally from the island of South Ubian located in Tawi-Tawi of the Philippines. In Sabah they are considered to be the largest group of Bajaus. They live in minorities around the Kudat and Semporna Towns in Sabah, Malaysia. The Bannaran is another subgroup which originated also in Tawi-Tawi but on the Bannaran Island. They are also found Kudat and Semporna. The SamalBajaus is another group originating from the coasts of Sabah. But many of them have migrated north up to the Visayas and southern Luzon islands.
The Bajau people vary in their religious beliefs as well as their cultures. Their faiths include the strict Sunni Islam, folk islam and then there are others who are dedicated to ancestor worship. A minority of them are Christians too.