Prayer Profile
The Bisaya of Malaysia

[IMAGE] The Bisaya of Malaysia are located in western Sabah along the northern coast of Brunei Bay and also in northern Sarawak along the rivers which flow into Brunei Bay. Inhabiting the middle reaches of the Limbang River, they are often called "people of the middle" or "people of the river."

The Bisayan culture and language are quite similar to that of the Sabah Dusun and related groups in Brunei and Sarawak. In fact, some believe that the culture area should be labeled Bisaya-Dusun. The Bisayan language, Basaya, is a part of the North Indonesian branch of the Austronesian language family.

The 14,300 Bisaya in Malaysia live among the much larger Malay groups. However, local Malays are important to the Bisaya, as they supply them with buffalo, boats, seafood, and Malay medicines. Although they have borrowed some customs from surrounding peoples, the Muslim Bisaya remain culturally unique in their usage of them.

What Are Their Lives Like
The Bisaya are primarily farmers, with rice being their staple crop. Chilies, maize, cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant, and other vegetables are also grown. Fruit trees provide bananas, coconuts, and breadfruit. Fish is another important part of the Bisaya diet, as is the meat from wild pigs, deer, and pheasants. Women gather plants and jungle products for food, medicines, resin, and other supplies.

Bisaya villages are located along river banks, and each has a number of rice granaries. True Bisaya villages consist of permanent settlements of two or more houses, one of which is a "long house." These rectangular structures are built on piles 10-15 feet above the ground. Each has a veranda for receiving guests and performing major ceremonies. Each long house also includes four or more apartments for family members.

The family members of a long house share house repairs, observe the same taboos, and share major rituals; however, in no other way do they act as a corporate group. On the other hand, the close-knit family members living in each apartment pool resources and share a common hearth, rituals, and prayers for crops.

First marriages among the Bisaya are usually arranged by the parents when the children are very young. Although polygyny (having multiple wives) exists among the wealthy, most men marry only one woman. Upon marrying, a couple moves either to the same apartment as one of their parents or to an apartment of a close kinsman in the same house as the parents. Only after the birth of the first child may a couple live in their own apartment. Divorces are obtained easily by both sexes, and the children of a divorce have a choice between parents.

The Bisaya celebrate various ceremonies throughout the year. The major agricultural ceremony is the harvest temorok, in which the wealthy contribute large amounts of food. The makan selamat is a health feast shared with the Malays as a preventative measure or as a thanksgiving feast at the ending of an epidemic.

What Are Their Belief?
Most Bisaya are Muslims, adhering to traditional Islamic practices and beliefs. Theirs is a religion of works based on the belief in one god, Allah. Their religious duties include praying five times a day, fasting, and giving alms to the poor.

About 9% of the Bisaya are animists, believing that non-human objects have spirits. Spirits of the dead are thought to appear at certain public ceremonies, and river spirits, tiger spirits, and sky spirits are also a part of their belief system. The dukun, or herbalist-curer, acts as a witch doctor. A spirit medium uses trances at public ceremonies to cure people. The Bisaya believe that disease is caused by "soul loss," and it is the spirit medium's job to retrieve that soul. They believe that souls of the dead go to one of seven villages that are located behind the sun.

What Are Their Needs?
The Bisaya have no Christian resources available to them, and most of them have never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. There is a real need for the Bible and evangelistic tools to be translated into their language. Prayer and further evangelism will be required to win the Bisaya to Christ.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord of the harvest to send missionaries who will invest their lives in the Bisaya of Malaysia.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are targeting the Bisaya.
  • Pray that the Bible, the Jesus film, and Christian radio broadcasts will soon be available to the Bisaya.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Bisaya through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that God will anoint the words of the Bisaya believers as they share Christ with their own people.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Bisaya bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin daily intercession for the Bisaya.
  • Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Bisaya church for the glory of His name!

See also the following related groups:
of Indonesia, the Bajau and Joloano Sulu;
of Malaysia, the Southern Sama, 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: Bisaya
  • Country: Malaysia
  • Their language: Basaya
  • Population: (1990) 12,700
    (1995) 14,300
    (2000) 15,900
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 90%)
    Ethnic religionist 9%
  • Christian: 1%
  • Church members: 143
  • 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: 3
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 3,600 (26%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 1,000 (8%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 2,600 (18%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 10,700 (74%)
  • 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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