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Every Christmas these people are scattered in crowded places in Metro Manila. They are often seen at Claro M. Recto in Quiapo. In the midst of rushing shoppers and rushing jeepneys they can be seen chasing for a few coins, begging. On ordinary days they are known by the passengers of the pier, those coming and going from Manila to see them floating on small boats. It was still the same practice, laying hands on the passengers, asking for coins. Inviting them to throw them into the water and at the same time diving and climbing with the coins they chased under the sea. Great and dive and swim. Their looks are remarkable. Corn hair color their hair and burn in the intense sunlight and their skin. They are the so-called Badjao! Who are they? Where did they come from and why are they here in the City? Little is known about the Badjao.
In 1957 a film was created by veteran director Lamberto Avellana under LVN Films about these groups entitled “Badjao”. Critics say that this is the first film that cleverly shows the colorful culture of the Badjao.
Starring veteran actors Tony Santos, Vic Silayan, Leroy Salvador and Rosal Rosal. The film is about the son of a datung Badjao who fell in love and married the daughter of a Moro or Muslim leader. The film shows the conflicting views of the Badjao and the Moros where they seem to be stuck in a rock. Eventually the two groups reached a peace agreement.
More than fifty years since the release of the film, it is still unclear what and where the Badjao came from. Just as being buried in the oblivion of the film is also forgetting the identity of the Badjao. Of all the so-called “Indigenous groups” in the Philippines, they are probably the ones who lack understanding and learning.
If the Badjao are called "Sea Gypsies" or people roaming not on land but in the ocean. They are commonly found in the Celebes and Sulu Oceans in the Southern part of the Philippines. The provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga have the largest population of Badjao in the Philippines. They are known for their colorful boats called "Vinta". They usually live on the beach in houses that are called "house on stilts" or in the boat itself or "boat houses". They are known as great fishermen and ocean divers. Their relationship with the ocean is unique. They have a tradition where they throw their newborn babies into the sea and the elders of the tribe rescue them.
Due to the unrest caused by the rebels in Mindanao, the Badjao were forced to leave their homeland and move to Sabah, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Badjao is commonly referred to as the “Sama” group which lives on land and Badjao refers to the inhabitants of the ocean.
According to the study there are different groups of Badjao depending on the place where they are located:
1. Ubian - is from the South Ubian Island in Tawi-Tawi.
2. Bannaran - from the island of Bannaran to Tawi-tawi as well
3. Sama - or also known as Badjao Kota Belud because they are located near Kota-Belud in Sabah.
These are just a few of the well-known Badjao groups. Many other small groups are also found in Sabah, Malaysia.
According to Marlea P Nunez, Executive Director of the National Commission on Indigenous People, it is still unclear where the Badjao really came from. The Commission is still conducting studies to ascertain their exact origin. According to Director Nunez, the culture of the Badjao people is also mixed depending on where they are stranded or interacting with a group of people. The Badjao people in Manila or in other languages notice that they are mixed with Tagalog culture. However, there are still cultures that are inherent in the Badjao people such as their dances.
It is not certain how many Badjao people there are in Manila because there are no documents or studies about it; This is according to NCIP Executive Director Nunez. It can be said that the cultural background of the Badjao people is at the crossroads. There are sectors that want to maintain pure Badjao culture and there are also those who are ready to accept changes and other cultures.
There are many aspects that affect the preservation of culture and one of them is the Economic aspect.
The Badjao are currently scattered throughout the Philippines and even in Malaysia and the main reason for their departure from Mindanao is to escape the turmoil or "insurgency" that is happening now in that part of the Philippines.
Arriving here in Manila, where they thought their life would be better away in the middle of the war between the rebels and soldiers, away from the pirates who endangered their lives still did not have a good life that resulted in mga badjao. People who meet on the street and receive ridicule from people who do not understand their situation are often confronted.
After all, begging is not the custom of the Badjao people, they just had to do it to survive, even though they are not used to living in the middle of the ocean trying to normalize their lives. Due to the lack of knowledge of living away from the sea begging was their solution and became the main livelihood in the city to survive only daily life.
It may be dangerous in their lives, but this is the usual situation you see in every Badjao here in Manila. Riding in jeeps, rolling around and relying on the few coins that can be reached. When left unmanaged, they can be left astray and lose the right path.
How long will the situation of the Badjao be like this? When will their voices be heard to pay attention and be removed from the situation they are in? If they had been given protection in the ocean where they live, they would not have reached here in Manila and plunged into more severe hardships of life.