Widely known as the “Sea Gypsies” of the Sulu and Celebes Seas, the Badjao are scattered along the coastal areas of Tawi Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, and some coastal municipalities of Zamboanga del Sur in the ARMM. Amongst themselves, they're known as Sama Laus (Sea Sama) and are found living on houseboats where they make their livelihood solely on the sea as expert fishermen, deep sea divers, and navigators. They come to shore to barter their harvests for farmed produce such as fruits and cassava, as well as, replenish their supplies and/or make repairs to their houseboats. Unique to their cultural rituals is the concept of life and their relationship to the sea: For example, as a childbirth ritual, a newly born infant is thrown into the sea and members of the clan dive to save the newborn. Other traditions such as marriages are prearranged by the parents for their sons and daughters; the process similar to other ethnic groups, in that, a dowry is often presented to the parents of the woman a man wishes to marry. And, only the Badjao leader can consecrate a marriage. Therefore a leader is chosen based on individual inherent virtues, wisdom, and “charisma”...an inate ability to attract followers.
Sadly, due to the ongoing conflict in the region between revolutionary Muslim groups and the government, many Badjao have migrated to Sabah in Malaysia and Sulawesi and Kalimantan in Indonesia. As a result, they now comprise the second-largest ethnic group in Sabah, despite the fact that many of them are illegal immigrants. There, the Badjao speak nearly (10) languages of the Sama-Bajau subgroup of the Western Malayo-polynesian language family.