HYI Working Paper Series: Aoyama Waka
Living in the City as Sama-Bajau: the Case of Bilaiya’s Family (Waka Aoyama, The University of Tokyo)
Abstract: This manuscript is a direct self-translation of Chapter Six, originally entitled “Biraiya’s family: prayers of a mother and daughters peddling secondhand clothes,” from my Japanese book, An Ethnography of Poverty: Socioeconomic Life of Five Sama Families in Davao City, Philippines, published by the University of Tokyo Press in 2006. A few parts have been modified, however, to fit in the given space with careful effort to retain the original contents. The basic unit of analysis is the household. Considering the term that the informants used in daily life, however, the term “family” (pamilya) was chosen for the titles of the chapters with the five cases included in the original Japanese version. In this particular case, Biraiya’s household contained three families, including Biraiya’s own one with her husband and unmarried daughters and two families of her married daughters’. There are two communities of the Sama-Bajau in Isla Bella (pseudonym), Davao City, which I refer to frequently in my narrative: Hong Kong and Japan Pikas. In order to avoid any confusion with Hong Kong, the city-state in the People’s Republic of China, I write its name in italics. Biraiya’s family lived in Hong Kong during my research from 1998 to 2000. The survey on the subjective evaluations on social inequality among the Sama-Bajau residents in Isla Bella that the author conducted in 1999 revealed the fact that there were five livelihood groups, which could be ranked according to the socio-economic and other criteria that the Sama-Bajau raters claimed. Based on such results, we call the livelihood group that Biraiya’s family belongs to “Secondhand clothes business group” as their main source of income was secondhand clothes business locally called “ukay-ukay.” In this group, males who were of an income-producing age engaged in selling pearls and shells either in a resort hotel or in the streets, while females peddled “ukay-ukay”. Members of this land-based Sama group, originally from Jolo, maintained their way of life as Sama, especially regarding religious practices. They practiced higher work ethics and they more actively participated in the market economy in the larger society than the other three kinship groups we studied in Hong Kong area from 1998 to 2000. Moreover, they were good at coordinating resources within each household as well as across the households that comprised this kinship-based group, which made it easier for them to regulate their daily economic activities and achieve a higher standard of living within the research site. They emphatically claimed to us that they were not “genuine” Bajau, or Sama Dilaut. However, they were aware that being called “Bajau” in Davao City could be effectively used in the small businesses they ran, especially in the shell and pearl selling business as the image of “Bajau” provokes beautiful pearls in Sulu in the local context. Thus, male members of this group strategically called themselves “Bajau” to create a better market for their goods and to let them manipulate the price. Female members of this population acquired the fundamentals of business through business projects offered by NGOs where they had chances to participate as the “Bajaus” when they were still in Jolo; applying the knowledge and skills they learned previously, they actively engaged in the business of peddling ukay-ukay (secondhand clothes). If the opportunity arose, this kinship-based group did not hesitate to present themselves as “Bajau” to receive aid from the government in Davao City. The language commonly used among the kinship group members was Sinama, while children of school age were also fluent in Cebuano.