Prayer Profile
The Bajau of the Philippines

[IMAGE] 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.

There are two major groups of Bajau in the Philippines: the Bajau Kagayan and the Sea Gypsy Bajau. Today, only a small number of Bajau are boat dwellers (known as the Sea Gypsies). Their numbers have declined rapidly during the last century. Apart from the 47,000 located in the Philippines, other Sea Gypsy Bajau can be found in Indonesia.

The origins of the Bajau are 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 their loyalties are generally towards the smaller sub-groups.

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 tend to be fluid in makeup and are generally organized around smaller family alliance groups. These are comprised of anything from two to six closely related boat dwelling families. Their members regularly fish and anchor together, often sharing food and pooling labor and resources.

The boats that are used as family dwellings vary in size and construction. While the boats in Indonesia and Malaysia average 10 meters in length, those in the Philippines tend to be more of a smaller dug-out type of double canoes. Each boat typically shelters a nuclear family and maybe one or two additional relatives, averaging, in all, five or six persons. The family is both a domestic group and an independent economic unit.

The marine life exploited by the Bajau fishermen is diverse, including over 200 species of fish. Fishing activity varies with the tides, winds, currents, migrations of fish, and the monthly lunar cycle. 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 who prefer flight to physical confrontation. 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. Variation 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-dwelling communities 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?
Few Christian resources exist to reach the Bajau. There are currently no missions agencies working among them and no known Bajau believers. Only through prayer can the Bajau come to know Jesus.

Prayer Points
  • Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among the Bajau of the Philippines.
  • 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 for the remainder of the Bible to be translated into the Bajau language.
  • Ask the Lord to establish strong local churches among the Bajau by the year 2000.

See also the following related groups:
of Indonesia, the Bajau and Joloano Sulu;
of Malaysia, the Bisaya, Northern Sinama, Southern Sama, and Tausug;
of the Philippines, the 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: Philippines
  • Their language: Bajau (Moken)
  • Population: (1990) 42,500
    (1995) 47,300
    (2000) 52,200
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Shafite) 100%
  • Christians: 0%
  • Church members: 0
  • Scriptures in their own language: Portions
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 0
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 2,800 (6%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 0 (0%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 2,800 (6%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 44,500 (94%)
  • Country: Philippines
  • Population: (1990) 60,779,000
    (1995) 67,581,300
    (2000) 74,575,400
  • Major peoples in size order: Tagalog 20.5%
    Visayan 19%
    Ilocano 11.1%
    Hilgaynon 9.3%
    Waray-Waray 4.6%
  • Major religions: Christian (all types) (92.2%)
    Muslim 6%
    Ethnic religionist 0.6%
  • Number of denominations: 151

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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