Prayer Profile
The Southern Sama of Malaysia

[IMAGE] The Southern Sama of Malaysia live along the coastal strips of northeastern Sabah on the island of Borneo. They are a subgroup of a much larger group of Sama. They speak the Sama Sibutu dialect of the Sama-Bajau language.

The term Sama, or Samal, covers a diverse grouping of Sama-Bajau speaking peoples located from the central Philippines to the eastern shores of Borneo and from Sulawesi to Roti, eastern Indonesia. As a whole, they are a highly fragmented people lacking political unity. Individual Sama groups identify themselves by dialect and geographic location.

The Sama were originally located in the islands and coastal areas separating southwestern Mindanao from the northeastern islands of Sulu. It is thought that they originally migrated in the first millennium A.D. as a result of expanding Chinese trade. Most moved south and west, settling along the main Sulu Archipelago, Cagayan Sulu, and the eastern Borneo coast.

What are their lives like?
The Sama are a maritime people, with fishing being their major economic activity. They also engage in seafaring trade and some farming. Throughout much of the area, copra (dried coconut meat yielding coconut oil) is the major cash crop. However, copra holdings are small, and most families are unable to support themselves entirely from copra sales. Thus, trade also occupies a central place in Sama society. Maritime groups were historically valued for their navigational skills as seafarers and suppliers of dried fish, trepang (sea cucumbers), pearls, pearl shells, and other items.

Settlements consist of densely clustered houses situated along well-protected stretches of shoreline. In some places, houses are built directly over the sea, but in other places, they are located along the beach front. If over the water, they are connected by planks or narrow bridges. Built on stilts one to three meters above the ground or high-water mark, houses usually have one rectangular room with an attached kitchen.

Households are grouped into larger units called tumpuks (clusters), which are located near one another and are related by close kinship ties. Within the village, one household head is acknowledged as the tumpuk spokesman. In some instances, the tumpuks coincide with the parishes, whose members belong to a single mosque.

Fishing, boat building, and iron working are primarily male occupations, while weaving mats and marketing pottery are jobs for women. Both men and women engage in farming and trade. The Sama are known for their traditional dances, songs, percussion and xylophone music, dyed mats and food covers, and wood carvings.

What are their beliefs?
The Sama are almost all Sunni Muslims. Those who are knowledgeable in religious matters, such as the imans (Islamic leaders) and other mosque officials, are called paki or pakil. They preside over all important ceremonies and act as religious counselors. Friday prayers are performed in the parish mosque, climaxing a weekly cycle of daily prayers. Also, an annual religious calendar is observed, celebrating Ramadan (yearly Islamic fast) and the birthday of Mohammed.

The Sama 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.

What are their needs?
The Southern Sama of Malaysia are practically 100% Sunni Muslim. There are no missions agencies currently working among them, and Christian resources in their language are few. Only portions of the Bible have been translated into Sama Sibutu. Missionaries and Christian media personnel are desperately needed to reach the Southern Sama. Intercession must be made if they are to have an opportunity to hear the Gospel.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to call missionaries who will go to Malaysia to share Christ with the Southern Sama.
  • Pray that all of the Bible will be translated into Sama Sibutu.
  • Pray that Christian radio broadcasts, evangelical literature, and the Jesus film will be made available to the Southern Sama.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Southern Sama through dreams and visions.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Southern Sama towards the Gospel.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Southern Sama bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Southern Sama of Malaysia by the year 2000.

See also the following related groups:
of Indonesia, the Bajau and Joloano Sulu;
of Malaysia, the Bisaya, Northern Sinama, and Tausug;
of the Philippines, the Bajau, Bajau Kagayan, Central Sama, Kalagan, Magindanaw, Northern Sinama, Pangutaran Sama, Southern Sama, Tausug, and Yakan.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Southern Sama
  • Country: Malaysia
  • Their language: Sama Sibutu
  • Population: (1990) 22,100
    (1995) 24,900
    (2000) 27,500
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 2
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: None
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 2,200 (9%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 700 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 1,500 (6%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 22,700 (91%)
  • Country: Malaysia
  • Population: (1990) 17,891,500
    (1995) 20,139,900
    (2000) 22,298,700
  • Major peoples in size order: Malay 33.2%
    Han Chinese (Hokkien) 8.7%
    Tamil 7.2%
    Han Chinese (Hakka) 7.1%
  • Major religions: Muslim 50.5%
    Chinese Folk-religionist 24.3%
    Christian 8.9%
  • Number of denominations: 41

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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