HYI Working Paper Series: Aoyama Waka

Living in the City as Sama-Bajau: the Case of Papa Melcito’s Family (Waka Aoyama, The University of Tokyo)

AbstractThis manuscript is a direct self-translation of Chapter Seven, originally entitled “Papa Melcito’s family: economic predicament and changing religious practices,” 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. I am very grateful to the University of Tokyo Press for permitting this translation to be included in the Harvard-Yenching Institute working paper series. 

This manuscript is a direct self-translation of Chapter Seven, originally entitled “Papa Melcito’s family: economic predicament and changing religious practices,” 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 to fit the given space, with careful effort to retain the original content. The basic unit of analysis is the household. However, the term “family” (pamilya) was chosen for the chapter titles, as it is the term that the informants used in daily life. In this particular case, Papa Melcito’s household contained two families, including Papa’s own family consisting of him and his wife, and another family consisting of their married daughter, her husband, and their six children. 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. Papa Melcito’s family lived in Hong Kong during my research from 1998 to 2000. The survey on the subjective evaluations of 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 socio-economic and other criteria that the Sama-Bajau raters claimed. Based on such results, we call the livelihood group that Papa Melcito’s family belongs to “Pearl and shell vendors group (Type II).” In this group, males who were of an income-producing age engaged in selling pearls and shells along the beaches or in the streets, while females, if not staying at home, peddled “ukay-ukay” (second-hand clothing). Christianity made inroads into this particular house group.  Once the members converted to Christianity, evangelical missionary groups provided them with assistance through their local non-Bajau pastors. Such resources helped them improve their standard of living to the point where they felt ashamed of being “Bajau” which had connotations of being a marginalized group engaged in hand-to-mouth subsistence activities or in outright mendicancy. This image was actively projected by their fellow “Bajau” in the lower-status community within Hong Kong to promote their begging activities. Papa Melcito’s household, which we will study in detail in this chapter, had not yet converted to Christianity and its standard of living was rapidly declining. Papa did not hesitate to project his “Badjau” identity rather negatively as a strategy for his mendicancy. He and his wife used to live in a houseboat. The household members identified themselves as Sama-Dilaut.

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