The name is spelled in various ways: “Badjao,” “Badyaw,” or “Bajau.” They are also known by other names such as: “Sama Dilaut,” “Laut,” or “Orang Laut”. Sometimes called “sea gypsies” these once-boat-dwelling people are traditionally found in the southwestern Philippines (Basilan and Tawi-Tawi areas), northwestern Malaysia and the northern parts of Indonesia down to Johore where legend traces their origin.
Driven to near extinction due to the exploitation by the neighboring dominant tribes like the Tausog, the Yakans and even the Christians, disease, starvation and apparent inability to cope with the social changes, they are sometimes referred to also as a “vanishing tribe.” At present estimates place their number to about a 40,000 in the Philippines.
The Badjaos are peace-loving people, oftentimes to a fault. They would endure all forms of hardship, inconvenience and lost opportunities only to avoid getting into trouble, especially with people not of their own tribe. Hence, they prefer to live in peace by themselves at the coastal fringes of population centers, mangrove areas, coves and islets. With the huge logs which they once used to carve into houseboats becoming scarce (and expensive), their mobile dwellings have since evolved into shanties on stilts – literally a ramshackle ensemble of poles, palm fronds, and if the family is better off, some pieces of miss-cut planks.
Most Badjaos are fishermen (traditionally, all of them were) and they live on the bounties of the sea or on what is left of it. Having lost their traditional fishing grounds due to armed conflict, commercial fishing, pirates and poachers, they are left with meager means of livelihood.
Extreme poverty has forced many of them to resort to begging as a means of survival. Wherever they live, they are considered citizens of the lowest class: ignorant, dirty, stench-smelling and deprived and most people have very low regard for them. In different parts of Mindanao their situation is a picture of complete neglect that has driven whole families to flock to the big cities of Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao to beg in the streets.
The Badjaos are at the receiving end of all the consequences of the systemic on-going insecurities and violence beyond reach of government services.
*The above information is taken from a portion of a petition letter for the inclusion of the Indigenous People (IP) Samal Bajau Communities in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law BBL written and originally published by: Bro. Nicer O. Natulla, JPIC commission Head of the Claretian Missionaries in Maluso, Basilan province Philippines (January 2015)