The Bajau people are the second largest indigenous group in Sabah is the Bajau, a collective term for a predominantly Muslim people and their kindred groups. Originally seafarers, there are now two distinct groups, the East Coast Bajau and West Coast Bajau. The West Coast Bajau have now settled down around the Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud areas and have learnt the art of farming and cattle rearing. They are the famous cowboys of Sabah. Their skills in horsemanship are well known locally and on festive occasions both horses and riders are dressed in colourful costumes. On the east coast however many of the Sea Bajaus still live in the traditional way. Fishing is the main activity. While many have settled on land or in water villages, some are still nomadic boat dwellers. The Bajau are skilled fishermen though there are linguistic and culture differences between those living on the West Coast are predomonaatly farmers and the Bajau, well known for their skilled horsemanship, have been dubbed "cowboys of the east". They are expert "horsemen" rearing ponies, buffaloes and cattle as well as on festival occasions respledent in their colourful costumes riding brightly decorated ponies.

Bajau also commonly known to westerners as "Sea Gypsies," the highly mobile Bajao or Sama Dilaut actually live in small groups as far north as the northern tip of Luzon in their house boats called lepa. The true Bajao are actually a Bornean people, but the Sama Dilaut are often called that by other locals because of the similarity of their lifeways; their language, however, is considerably different. The Bajao have also adapted to Jama-Mapun-style houseboats over shallow seas; these are linked together by small bridges. Interiors of houses are not partitioned, and their most notable ornamentation is a hanayan, or ornate shelving. Like other Sama peoples, the Bajao are a non-aggressive group who take flight in their boats when threatened; they claim to have no weapons. The lepa is a beautiful boat of ancient origins; its sail has a "mouth" which enables the boat to sail almost directly into the wind.

Prayer Profile
The Bajau Kagayan of the Philippines

The term Bajau is applied to a variety of predominantly maritime peoples. Their scattered settlements are found across Southeast Asia from the Philippines through eastern and northern Borneo; and from Sulawesi and the Little Sunda Islands of Indonesia, to the Mergui Archipelago off southern Myanmar. Today, only a small number of the Bajau are boat dwellers, and their numbers have declined rapidly during the last century.

The origin of the Bajau is not certain. Some say they came from Sumatra; others say they came from the South Pacific Islands. They are closely related to the various Sama peoples of the Philippines and Malaysia. Historically, they have lacked overall political cohesion, and primary loyalties are generally towards the smaller sub-groups.

All the Bajau peoples speak a variety of Sama-Bajau. The 20,400 Bajau Kagayan of the Philippines speak Mapun Sama, which is quite similar to Central Sama. Many also speak Tausug.

What Are Their Lives Like?
Most of the Bajau Kagayan live in well-established villages with houses that are built on stilts. The villagers fish, mostly in all male crews, on a daily or overnight basis, returning to the village to eat and to sleep. Such settlements generally consist of densely clustered houses built in close association with the forests, where village members find seasonal employment cutting thatch or wood. Houses usually consist of a single room, raised on stilts one to two meters above the ground or high-water mark. Most have open porches or platforms on the front, which serve as common work areas. Kitchens are usually built on the back sides of the houses.

Each household has an acknowledged head, who is usually a man. He is the house owner and still actively engaged in making a living. Household spokesmen and other core members of the village cluster are often related. The most obvious ties are those of married sisters.

For many of the Bajau, fishing is the primary source of livelihood. Trade also occupies a central place in the Bajau economy, and historically, the Bajau were highly valued for their specialized seafaring skills.

Except for nomadic groups of boat dwellers, fishing is carried out by all male crews, with women and children involved in inshore gathering. Male occupations include blacksmiths, boat builders, and inter-island merchants. Women often market pottery or work as weavers. Both men and women participate in the farm work.

Among the Bajau Kagayan, marriage is either arranged by the parents or initiated by elopement or abduction. Divorce often occurs during the first two or three years of marriage, and remarriage is relatively easy for both partners. After that, divorce tends to be infrequent. Following marriage, a couple is expected to set up a separate household within two or three years. New houses are generally built close to the family of the bride.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, slave raiding was characteristic of most areas of Bajau settlement, and local populations absorbed large numbers of slaves. Many of these slaves eventually gained their freedom, with some of them rising to positions of prominence and wealth.

What Are Their Beliefs?
The Bajau Kagayan are Sunni Muslims of the Shafiite branch. Claims to religious piety and learning are an important source of individual prestige, and salip (descendants of Mohammed) are shown special honor. Variation of Islamic practices are associated with the relative status of different groups.

Every parish is served by a set of mosque officials. These include an imam, who leads members in prayer; a bilal, who performs the call to prayer; and a hatib, who gives the Friday mosque reading.

What Are Their Needs?
Few Christian resources exist to reach the Bajau Kagayan. There are currently only two known believers among this people group. Only intercession can break the chains that have kept the Bajau Kagayan bound.

Prayer Points

Traditional Dances of bajau

The Sama are known for their traditional dances, songs, percussion and xylophone music, dyed mats and food covers, and wood carvings. The Sama are almost all Sunni Muslims. They still retain some of their traditional ethnic religious beliefs. Spirits of the dead are thought to remain in the vicinity of their graves, requiring expressions of continued concern from the living. Some graves have reportedly become the sources of miracle working power. During the month of Shaaban, it is said that God permits the souls of the dead (roh) to return to this world. To honor them, the living offer special prayers to the dead and clean the graves.




The Bajau people are well known for the weaving and needlework skills. The Bajau women of Kota Belud make embroidered panels sewn into their long black wrap-skirt.  The Bajau and Iranun of Kota Belud weave the traditional headgear called kain dastar which is also worn by almost every indigenous group in Sabah


Costume of Women

badu sipak    Brightly coloured satiny blouse, usually yellow. The flared sleeves show the cuffs of an underblouse in contrasting hue. The flared sleeves are two inches longer than the out-stretched arms and hands. Used for weddings. Betawi buttons in front, sometimes also on the sleeves.

badu sampit    Brightly coloured long-sleeved satiny blouse, used for formal occasions.

kain mogah    Long handwoven wrap-skirt, with horizontal stripes, usually red and black, with supplementary weft motifs. Worn at weddings.

olos berangkit    Full-length black wrap-skirt with a wide vertical panel of berangkit in front. The motifs are stylised: bunga kapas (cotton flower) and pucak rebung (bamboo shoot). This exclusive wedding garment has become very rare nowadays.

selendang         Scarf over the shoulders.



mandapun         Flat cloth-covered collar-ornament accentuating the neckline decorated with stylized leaves in silver, goldleaf or substitute.

sarempak         Two-piece head decoration in the shape of a ship made of gilded silver or modern substitute. Small ornaments dangling down from both ends are called garigai. The ornament is fitted around the hairbun on top of the head, three fingers away from the hairline.

galang             Silver bangles.

subang             old or silver ear pendants.

keku             Long tapered, gold, silver or brass fingercovers worn by the bride.

ingkot pangkat     Lat Silver coin belt with a wide buckle.

Costume of Men

badu             Brightly coloured satiny blouse, usually green, with flared sleeves showing cuffs of underblouse in contrasting hue. The flared sleeves are two inches longer than the out-stretched arms and hands. Used for weddings. Betawi buttons in front, sometimes also on the sleeves.

Suar             Trousers made of similar material in contrasting colour and red trimming. Black for weddings.

tanjak         Headdress of folded kain dastar (used for weddings). Podong, used by horseman.

ingkot pangkat    Silver coin belt with a wide buckle with an attachment called supu which is a round silver Bajau cigarette case.

selendang    Sash tied around the waist.