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by: Noel Reyes 

The origins of the Badjao are uncertain. According to a legend, they came from the shores of Johore, Indonesia, where they had already been living in clusters of houseboats. Anthropologist H. Arlo Nimmo (1968) believes, however, that the Badjao were originally of the land-based Samal group but branched off into boat dwellers as a result of their occupation. This practice might have subsequently spread to the area around Malaysia. Another theory is that the Badjao were originally boat dwellers who eventually built stilt houses near fertile fishing grounds. 

Spanish and American influence on Badjao social and cultural development has been virtually nil due to two factors: the Badjao live in the territory of the Muslim Filipinos, although they are also the least influenced by Islaml; and they are itinerant travelers.

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Visual Crafts and Arts

The traditional attire of the Badjao consists of either everyday wear or elaborately embroidered costumes for special occasions. The patadjung/tadjong has many uses. Among the Badjao it is large enough to fit any person and is worn by both men and women as a skirt or gown tucked at the chest level. It can serve as putung (headcover), waistband, sash, blanket, hammock, shoulder bag, cradle, pouch, hood, or pillow.
The women’s sablay is a loosed sleeved blouse reaching down to the hips. A simpay (band) forms the front opening and extends to the back from a small collar. Woman’s accessories are jewelry and colored combs. The gallang (bracelet) is the most popular ornament. The most common is that made from sulau(letter cone) or kima (tidachna gigas). Other pieces of jewelry are the gantung-liug (pendant), aritis (earing), singsing (ring), hukut-liug (necklace), and galungsung (anklet). Metal craft designs can be classified into three kinds: the repousse, relief hammered from the reverse side; arabesque, incision of interlocking curves; and filigree, tracing with thin gild, silver, or brass wires.
Badjao painting and carving are integral to the people’s life cycle. In wedding ceremonies, the wedding beautician must be adept at applying the special makeup on the bride and groom. With a razor blade tied with thread to a split bamboo twig, the beautician shape’s the bride’s eyebrows into a triangle and carves tiny bangs on her forehead. Lampblack is used to outline a rectangle on her forehead and this is emphasized by yellow ginger juice. Black dots are outlined horizontally above the eyebrows and/or beneath the eyes with the pointed end of a coconut midrib. Another beautician attends the groom and his face is made up the same way.
A sundok (grave marker) may also be especially fashioned from a separated piece of wood. It may carry the same designs as those on the boat. It is carved into an animal form, such as a spirit into the afterlife. A male marker is distinguished by a column topped with a fez, a stylized umbrella, or a stylized human face. The female marker is marked by a flat triangle, sometimes with scalloped edges, and incised with lavish floral designs.
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Performing Arts

The Badjao have five types of song: leleng, binoa, tenes, panulkin, and lugu. Except for the last two, the lyrics are improvised and sung to a traditional tune. The leleng is sung for any occasion, by anyone of any age. It is also sung for special occasions like weddings, haircuts, or circumcisions.
The binoa is similarly chanted as the leleng. The tenes-tenes is a ballad whose tune changes with the lyrics. It may be sung for any occasion and by anyone, but especially by a young man for his sweetheart. The melody of a known tenes may be used for a different set of lyrics. Some tenes are love and courting songs, and songs that are addressed to sharks.
A woman sings the lugu at a wedding as the imam or panglima walks with the groom to the bride’s side. The lugu’s lyrics are verses from the Koran; it has a traditional and melancholy tune. The panulkin is sung only by the imam and has traditional tune and lyrics. It is sung during the vigil of the dead, from 7 PM to 1 AM. It is a way of keeping awake and of making the community aware that somebody has died.
The Badjao dance traditions have much in common with the other ethnic groups of Sulu, especially the Samal. The basic traditional dance movement is the igal or pangalay performed by the female. The costume for the igal is the allabimbang and the sawwal. The hair is preferably pulled back in a bun, although it may also be allowed to hung loose. The dance is accompanied by any drum or a gabbang.

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Literary Arts
Badjao literature, except for their kata-kata (narrative forms) and riddles, seems to have been created primarily to be sung. Or it may be that their spoken form of literature is indistinguishable from that of the Samal, to whom is attributed such forms of oral literature as animal tales, trickster tales, numskull tales, magical tales, and novelistic tales.
Badjao riddles collected in the Semporna district of Sbah have a set opening: daing-daing ai, "what kind of fish." Sather observed groups of young men playing these guessing games at night, each side even betting some money on its answers.
A Badjao tale says that the ancestors of the Samal ha Laud came from a fishing clan in Johore, Indonesia. A group of boats sailed in search of richer fishing grounds. One night a typhoon came and they had to moor by a sandbar. As they were about to rest for the night, their boats suddenly started bucking up and down. They realized theyhad tied their boats to the nose of a giant manta ray, which had begun to swim round and round in a frantic attempt to unloosen the boats tied to its nose. The fishers managed to untie their boats, but by then, they had been flung in various directions.
Another origin story involves the Princess Ayesha of Johore and the Sultans of Brunei and Sulu. She preferred the Brunei sultan, but was betrothed instead to the Sulu sultan. Escorted by a fleet of war boats, she was sailing towards Sulu when a Brunei fleet, led by their Sultan, intercepted them and took the princess away. The princess’ retinue, fearing to go on to Sulu or return to Johore, stayed onn the sea, mooring only at uninhabited islands. Some turned to piracy and established pirate dens along North Borneo coasts.

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CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. Verd Reyes, Inc. 1994

ARUMAMEN            BAGO