Prayer Profile
The Bajau of Indonesia

[IMAGE] The term Bajau is applied to a variety of seafaring peoples whose scattered settlements extend across the South China Sea. They live primarily from the Philippine Islands to the large island of Borneo, and from Sulawesi and the Little Sunda Islands of Indonesia to the Mergui Islands off southern Myanmar. Today, only a small number of Bajau are boat dwellers, or "Sea Gypsies." Their numbers have declined rapidly during the last century.

The Bajau of Indonesia live primarily on the islands and in the coastal districts of Sulawesi. They generally live in settlements near Manado, Ambogaya, and Kendari; on the Baggai, Sula, and Togian Islands; along the straits of Tioro; in the Gulf of Bone; and along the Makassar coast.

The outward spread of the Bajau seems to have been associated with the development of a sea trade in trepang (a sea slug), which is known as a Chinese delicacy.

What are their lives like?
Among the decreasing number of boat dwellers, local Bajau communities consist of scattered groups composed of families whose members regularly return to a common anchorage site. Such communities are generally organized around smaller family alliance groups. These are usually comprised of two to six closely related boat dwelling families. Their members regularly fish and anchor together, often sharing food and pooling labor and resources. Relationships are maintained through intermarriage and frequent visits between groups.

Each houseboat usually shelters a nuclear family, plus one or two additional family members, averaging a total of five or six persons. The family becomes both a domestic group and an independent economic unit.

The houseboats vary in size and construction. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they average about ten meters in length and two meters wide. All of the boats are equipped with roofed living areas made of mats supported by poles. They also have portable clay hearths that are used for preparing family meals.

The marine life exploited by the Bajau fishermen includes over 200 species of fish. Fishing activities vary with the tides, winds, currents, migrations of fish, and the monthly lunar cycles. During moonless nights, fishing is often done by lantern, using spears and hand-held lines. The catch is usually preserved by salting or drying. Today, fishing is primarily for market sale.

Historically, nomadic boat-dwelling communities were without land or other property ashore, except for small burial islands. In addition, community members were allowed access to sources of fresh water, usually a well or spring, and were given the use of the immediate shoreline.

The boat dwelling Bajau see themselves as non-aggressive people. As a result, the politically dominant groups of the region have historically viewed the nomadic boat dwelling Bajau with disdain, considering them timid, unreliable subjects.

What are their beliefs?
The Bajau 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. Variations of Islamic practices are associated with the relative status of different groups. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, some of the Bajau lack mosques and must rely on the shore-based communities for this.

Among the boat-dwellers in particular, community spirit mediums are assembled at least once a year for a public seance and nightly trance dancing. In times of epidemic illness, the mediums are also called upon to remove the spirits causing illness from the community. They do this by setting a "spirit boat" adrift in the open sea beyond the village or anchorage site.

What are their needs?
Although there is currently one missions agency working among the Bajau, very few of the boat dwellers have accepted Jesus as their Savior. Very few Christian resources are available in the Bajau language. More evangelistic tools and additional laborers are needed to minister to these precious people.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among the Bajau of Indonesia.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Bajau through dreams and visions.
  • Ask the Lord to soften their hearts so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Bajau bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Pray that Christian radio broadcasts, evangelical literature, and the Jesus film will be made available to the Bajau.
  • Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into Bajau.
  • Ask the Lord to establish strong local churches among the Bajau by the year 2000.

See also the following related groups:
of Indonesia, the Joloano Sulu;
of Malaysia, the Bisaya, Northern Sinama, Southern Sama, 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: Bajau
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Their language: Bajau (Moken)
  • Population: (1990) 64,500
    (1995) 69,700
    (2000) 75,000
  • Largest religion: Mulsim (Sunni) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 21
  • 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: 1
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 10,500 (15%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 2,100 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 8,400 (12%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 59,200 (85%)
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Population: (1990) 182,811,600
    (1995) 197,587,700
    (2000) 212,730,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Javanese 26.2%
    Javanese Indonesian 10.7%
    Sudanese 10.6%
    Madurese 10.7%
    Sudanese Indonesian 3.1%
    Han Chinese 2.6%
  • Major religions: Muslims 43.7%
    New-Religionists 35%
    Christians 13%
    Ethnic religionists 2.6%
    Hindus 1.9%
    Nonreligious 1.9%
    Buddists 1.0%
  • Number of denominations: 113

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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