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Day 6, July 14: West Coast Bajau of Malaysia

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Day 6, July 14: West Coast Bajau of Malaysia

Modernity for Malaysia - Day 06, Sunday, July 14

Modernity for the West Coast Bajau of Malaysia

The West Coast Bajau people live in Sabah, the northern-most Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. They number about 65,000. Outsiders refer to them as “Bajau”, but among themselves they just say “Sama”. Their language is related to other Sama-Bajau languages spoken in the Philippines, the east coast of Sabah, and Sulawesi (Indonesia).

The people and their identity

The West Coast Bajau were originally boatdwellers whose lives were centred on the sea. Nowadays most of these creative people have adopted an agrarian lifestyle, cultivating wet rice and other crops. They also rear livestock and horses — they are sometimes called the “Cowboys of the East”. They have a rich tradition of horse pageantry, where horse and rider alike are adorned with colourful costumes.

They take pride in their culture and their language. However, intermarriage with neighbouring groups, and the migration of young people to the cities in search of jobs, makes it harder to sustain their heritage, language and culture. Like so many peoples in this area, modernity is taking over.

Religion and society

The West Coast Bajau are predominantly Muslim. Religion plays an important role in their identity and community life. Many village events are tied to Islamic practices and the Islamic calendar. Families have a mosoduo (reading of prayers), which is often accompanied by a community meal.

The concept of sedekah (giving alms) is an important part of these meals as it means participants can gain spiritual rewards and benefits. The biggest celebration of the year is the festival of Aidilfitri (Eid al-Fitr) — popularly known as Hari Raya Puasa, or simply Hari Raya (Day of Celebration) in Malaysia. This marks the culmination of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.

Despite the influence of Islam, many of these Bajau still, to varying degrees, hold tightly to their animistic beliefs and practices. They are sensitive to a world of spirits, which they fear may cause sickness or other misfortune. Recitation of Qur’anic passages is seen as a powerful antidote against evil forces. Some attempt to harness spiritual power so they can cure themselves and others.

Prayer ideas:

* Pray that God would reveal His Son in dreams and visions to this unreached people group.

* Pray that local believers from neighbouring ethnic groups would be motivated to cross language and culture barriers to reach the West Coast Bajau.

Further Reading