After countless years at sea, Sama-Bajaus now find hope in mainland

The Sama-Bajaus or the sea gypsies as they are universally known for were historically a seafaring nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers who lived in the waters of the Southern Philippines. They handcraft wooden boats to serve as their home and their workplace. They were born out at sea, lived out at sea, and they died out at sea.

But this traditional life has changed for some Sama-Bajaus. After countless generations at sea, some are now settling on land.

Forty minutes from the Zamboanga City mainland, a small community of Sama-Bajaus inhabits a section of Barangay Sangali.

Sama-Bajaus in Sangali are migrants who came from different parts of Mindanao, and who are continuously finding a place where they can sustain themselves and their families’ needs.

Sangali Barangay Chairperson Daud Bakil disclosed that Sama-Bajaus used to sail day and night with the currents, counting only on their fishing gears to make a living. He added that ironically, they survive the deadly waves for them to save their lives from hunger and poverty.

“Noon kasi, pangingisda lang ang source of living nila. Mahirap din para sa kanila tuwing may bagyo, wala silang huli, walang kita, at wala din makakain ang pamilya nila (Before, fishing was their only source of income. It was difficult for them to earn especially during the typhoon season),” Chairman Bakil opened up.

The people who once led nomadic lives navigating the seas have now increasingly adopted new livelihood opportunities on the mainland.


In November 2015, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) identified Sama-Bajaus in Brgy. Sangali to be the beneficiaries of Cash-for-Work (CFW) implemented under the Comprehensive Program for Sama-Bajaus.

The CFW was conceptualized after thorough assessment and coordination with key stakeholders to choose and implement interventions that will not only address the economic conditions of Sama-Bajaus, but will allow them to become more adaptive in all types of environments.

DSWD- Field Office IX thought of introducing and transferring knowledge on crops planting to Sama-Bajaus to enable them, especially women, to earn additional income for their family. This will also help them survive whether they choose to live in coastal community or in mainland area.

Under CFW, identified beneficiaries are required to plant vegetables and other related activities for 10 days and get paid with P1,500. Aside from this, beneficiaries get to sell or bring home the produce.

DSWD- Field Office IX Focal Person for Sama-Bajau Program, Balma Sali, shared that they needed to partner with different stakeholders to realize the said initiative.

“Of course aside from continuous coordination with the local government unit (LGU) ,we also partnered with the Department of Agriculture for the technical assistance. They taught and trained our beneficiaries to plant properly,” Balma said.

Georgina Ruiz, one of the beneficiaries of the CFW narrated their experiences and the things they learned from the series of trainings organized by DSWD that helped them understand the program and the process of planting crops.

“Dimungug kami marayaw para makahati kami, byariin magtanum. Na imingat da kami Bukun da tuwi isab mahunit, pasal hinduan da kami. Na byaun awun na sin namu, iban mga sayul dahun pa bay. Magsukul tuud ha DSWD, ha barangay, pasal nagsupport sila kamu (We really tried to listen and learn how to plant. It was not that hard, after all. Now, we do not just earn money, we also get to bring home some food for our children. We are thankful to DSWD and to Barangay officials),” Georgina shared.

Meanwhile, Hermela Mosqueda, a Barangay Councilor witnessed how Sama-Bajaus were so enthusiastic to participate in the project. She was also surprised to know that the Sama-Bajaus were interested to learn new things, especially planting.

“Nung na-inform na namin sila na may paparating na tulong galing sa DSWD, palagi na silang nagfo-follow-up dito sa Barangay Hall. Interesado talaga sila. Kaya nasabi ko talaga sa sarili ko na hindi pala totoo na mga tamad ang mga Sama-Bajaus, na very dependent. Na-realize namin na talagang hindi lang sila nabibigyan ng opportunity para tulungan ang mga sarili nila (When we informed them about the CFW, the Sama-Badjaus showed their interest to participate. I realized that they are not lazy, they just had no opportunity to help themselves),” Hermela related.

Georgina and her fellow Sama-Bajaus’ new learned skill has boosted both their status and of their family as the CFW did not only provide them with livelihood opportunity, but it also motivated them to fully participate in the training and proved that fishing is not the only option there is to live.

“Makug kami kasi awun na kami dugaing usaha. Misan kami pakain yatu, misan ha mga bud yatu, mabuhi na kami, ba’t maingat na kami magtanum, awun kame makaun, iban hika-buhianan ha mga anak. Oo, Sama-Bajaus kami sah, kaya na namu mangusaha (We are happy that we now have other means to earn. Even if we live in mountains, we can already survive, because we already know how to plant so we will have something to put on the table. Yes, we may be Sama-Bajaus, but we are capable to live a decent and good life),” Georgina added.

Georgina also shared her plans of sending her children back to school this year since she was also able to put up a small sari-sari store using the money she earned from the CFW and from the vegetables sold. Aside from this, her husband was also one of the beneficiaries of livelihood assistance given by the same program of DSWD.

DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman affirmed that vulnerable sectors, like the Sama-Bajaus and other Indigenous Peoples, when given the right push from the government can be instruments of their own development.

Since the start of the program, DSWD was able to serve 238 Sama-Bajaus in Sangali and 1,231 beneficiaries in other Barangays in Zamboanga City.

The Comprehensive Program for Sama-Bajau is on its 4th year pilot implementation in Barangays Sangali, Tulungatong, Arena Blanco, Bolong, Mampang, Mulu-Muluan, Muti, Maasin, Sinunuc, Sangali, Baliwasan, Campo Islam and Taluksangay.

It aims to enhance the potential or the capacities of Sama-Bajau so they will not resort to their negative practices, particularly begging.

The program offers Educational Assistance, Livelihood, Cash-for-Work, skills training and learning sessions focused on parenting skills and values re-orientation.

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Introvert, wanderer, blogger, foodie, a hip-hop music writer, and one of the co-founders of a tech start-up company called GigsManila.