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KISSAH AND DAWAT: The Cry and Comfort Zone of the Sama

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 31 March) — In recent consultation fora and public hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a singular voice emerged from nowhere crying about the absence of representation. Whose voice is this so bold to speak dissent in fora and hearings calling for unity? An unnerving call in a sea of calm concurrence.

Suddenly, the spotlight was on the Sama.

The Sama Cry

The Sama people are known to be pacifist or at the very least reluctant to engage in confrontation. They prefer to resolve any issue at hand, clear up things and move on with their peaceful lives. As they say in Tawi-Tawi, where most of the Sama people in this country reside, “peace is the language of our heart”. But the Sama heard in such fora was quite different from this peaceful stereotype.

Why did the Sama speak out? Maybe, the basket of angst is full to the rim. Can you blame the Sama? The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be phased out soon, but the Sama never had the chance to demonstrate her leadership.

The regional leadership has been rotated but the Sama never had their share nor did they have a fair share in the political appointments, appointments to bureaucracy and resources.

The Sama feels threatened even in one’s own province where migration of displaced people from conflict zones is changing both the demographics and the political landscape in Tawi-Tawi, when the limited posts in public offices are taken by perceived outsiders.

Perhaps the Sama had enough of being taken for granted. The Sama feels the need to remind their fellow Moros who they are and the role they play in the collective history of the Bangsa.

The Sama reminds the Moro that the latter was the first Muslim in this country and Tawi-Tawi was the heart of the new faith before it spread northward.

The Sama reminds the Moro that the first and oldest mosque in this country is right in the Sama homeland of Tawi-Tawi.

As the Moro is now proud in commemorating the Jabidah Massacre as a marker for the secessionist movement, the Sama reminds that it started in Camp Sophia in Simunul and not in Corregidor.

The Sama reminds the Moro that when the heat of Martial Law become too much even for seasoned Moro fighters, it was through Tawi-Tawi that safe conduct to Sabah was made possible and Tawi-Tawi mainland was safe haven for many tired souls. A gentle reminder in case these were forgotten.

Da Munda’ – The Sama Comfort Zone

Who really are the Sama, is the question on the minds of many Moros and Filipinos alike. It is a misnomer to equate Sama as being from Tawi-Tawi only. For one, Tawi-Tawi while dominated by the Sama, has always interacted with other peoples and cultures; but it is not the only Sama homeland. The “Sama” word is a nomenclature or an umbrella term for several groups of people, not one but many; but they are da munda’, a cultural concept of unity, of comfort and safety, in a sea of pluralism and uncertainty.

While the majority Sama are in Tawi-Tawi, there are indigenous (not migrant) Sama population in Siasi, Pangutaran and Tongkil in Sulu. There are indigenous Sama in Basilan, mostly in the Tabuan Lasa and Pilas islands. There are indigenous Sama in Zamboanga City and as far as Sibuco in Zamboanga Norte. From Tongkil to Sibuco, most of them are known as Bangingi, a Sama-subgroup.

The Bajaw forms a distinct subgroup within the Sama nomenclature and they are more dispersed throughout the country due to economic migration and search for security. While working for a project based in Davao City in 2005, I met a young man who ascribed himself as Isama, a new identity born out of the intermarriage between the Bajaw and the Binisaya in Samal Island.

The Abaknon of Capul Island in Western Samar is a Sama subgroup whose language Inabaknon is part of the Sama-Bajaw language family. Like the Isama of Samal Island, they were influenced by and became mostly Catholics, but the language and culture upon which they Abaknon and Isama identities were based from is distinctively Sama.

Regardless of origin and location, there is another cultural concept dear to these peoples, that sense of togetherness, “Sama-Sama”, resulting to that collective sense of belonging and strengthen the idea of the larger Sama-Bajaw community wherever they maybe in the world.

The Sama culture is maritime and marine (Please refer to Prof Dr Akifumi Iwabuchi’s paper on “Marine Culturology” for the subtle difference between the concepts – https://ia800602.us.archive.org/17/items/B-001-003-640/3.pdf)

In the Philippines, two bodies of water are considered traditional fishing grounds  While we may not know now the Sama fishers and gatherers who have benefited from the richness of the Sulu Sea, there remains a marker in its northern region that is undoubtedly Sama: the Tubbataha Reef, from the Sinama words “tabba” meaning shallow and “taha” meaning long or wide, thus “tabba taha” is a long or wide shallow sandbar or reef that is typical site for Sama fishers and gatherers.

In fact, the Sama’s comfort zone transcends modern-day nation-state construct. As the largest maritime people in insular Southeast Asia, it is widely dispersed in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Papua New Guinea. We will talk about this transnational phenomenon in another article.

When the Sama finally spoke, I sense it was not meant to brag, but more to remind; not to fight but to appeal; it was not to beg, but to commend; not to argue but to dialogue.

There is no doubt about the Sama commitment to Bangsamoro, as a popular Sinama love song goes,

Minsan alungay in nyawa (Even if soul be lost)
Nandal pagkasilasa (Will sacrifice for love)
Subay dayang tahati nu (This my love, thee should know)
Maglabi-labi lasa ku (My love exceeds)
Ngalibis bohe’ mata ku (My tears fall)
Tobtob ma ka’a entom ku (Thee alone I long for)

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue).


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