The Badjaos are popularly known as the "Sea Gypsies" of the Sulu and Celebes seas. They are traditionally boat dwellers whose religion is a form of ancestor worship mixed with varying degree of Islamic practice. The term "Badjao" is a Malay-Borneo word which connotes "man of the seas" or Orang Laut in Bahasa Melayu. The Badjaos call themselves Sama Dilaut(Sea Sama), meaning that the term "Badjao" is most often a term used by outsiders, but accepted by the Badjao. The spelling "Badjao" as used in the Philippines commonly refers to the Sama Dilaut while the spelling "Bajau" is used in Malaysia as the local term for any number of Sama groups<ref>The Bajau, the Badjao, the Samals and the Sama People</ref>.
Badjaos maybe divided into two groups: the Southern and Northern Badjao. The Southern Badjao are located on the islands of Tawi-Tawi, Sibutu and Semporna(Sabah) while the Northern Badjao are located in Siasi, Jolo, Basilan and Zamboanga. Both groups speak dialects of Central Sinama.
The Badjaos are an oppressed tribe. They are referred to as luwa'an by the Tausug which literally means "outcasts<ref>It is a common myth that luwa'an and pala'u mean God-forsaken. Common Misconceptions about Sama</ref>".
Their livelihood depends on the sea- they use numerous methods of fishing (spear fishing, fish traps, hook and line, fish farms etc.), farm seaweeds, gather shells and so forth as their source of food or to sell/barter for other necessities such as clothing, materials for boat construction, mats, and fishing equipment.
Badjaos can be divided into three types based on their form of residence: the sedentary, with commercial pursuits and permanent homes; the semi-sedentary, who spends periods alternately between their houseboats and village homes; and the sea gypsies, who live in houseboats as itinerant fisher folk in search of rich fishing grounds.
Traditionally the Badjaos had no permanent dwellings and lived on their boats throughout the year. Currently only a small population of the Badjao live entirely on houseboats with the majority being found in Sabah. More commonly, the Badjaos are building houses usually 20 to 30 feet long with a width of 15 feet thereby forming a perfect rectangle. Fronting their house is an open platform to raise their boats out of the ocean.
Traditional marriage among the Badjaos is usually arranged by the parents, aunts, and uncles of the bride and groom. The grooms family are expected to pay a dowry. Weddings last for several days and are accompanied by singing, dancing of the pangigal, and lots of traditional Badjao food.
- Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia, Vol.1, Manila: 1992.
- "Badjao"(July 13, 2007) Link no longer available