HYI Working Paper Series: Aoyama Waka

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

Abstract: This manuscript is a direct self-translation of Chapter Eight, originally entitled “A Kapirin family: the life of a fisherman’s household and protection of ‘Tuhan’,” 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 five cases included in the original Japanese version. In this particular case, the Biraiya household contained three families, including Biraiya’s own family consisting of her husband and unmarried daughters, and two other families consisting of her married daughters and their families.

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. Kaluman’s family lived in Hong Kong during my research from 1998 to 2000.

A survey on subjective evaluations on social inequality among Sama-Bajau residents in Isla Bella that the author conducted in 1999 revealed that there were five livelihood groups, which could be ranked according to socio-economic and other criteria that the Sama-Bajau raters claimed. The composite score of the community status of the Kapirin group was 0.6.999, which placed them 94th from the top of the 184 households in our survey. This middle ranking, however, does not mean that their standard of living was considered decent by their Sama Bajau neighbors. Rather, they were viewed to be “poor” as “ordinary Bajau” should be. This kinship group, or “kampong” in their own vocabulary, consisted of twenty-seven households. Those households consisted mostly of relatives who lived physically close to one another in the same corner of the neighborhood.

Based on such results, we call the livelihood group that Kaluman’s family belongs to “Bubu” (fish trap) and “palangre” (long-line) fishing group. Males of an income-producing age engaged in fishing, although this was not profitable enough for them to support their households. This lack of income resulted in females having to work in the “ukay-ukay” (secondhand clothes) business. Some females and children occasionally did begging as well. These kinship groups were generally careful and selective in regard to contact with outsiders. They had less information about the availability of government assistance and other aid agencies than the kinship groups in higher community statuses had. Although they expressed willingness to keep their way of life, in which fishing activities and their indigenous beliefs played important roles, it was rather uncertain how long they could maintain them, considering their low incomes and assets. It remained unclear exactly where they had come from, yet most of the members of these kinship groups claimed to be land-based Sama, or in other words, not the “Bajau” (Sama Dilaut). The language most often used in this group was the Sinama language, regardless of age and gender. 

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