THE WISDOM OF ANCIENT NOMADS tribute to the badjaos

A Tribute to the Badjaos or Sea Gypsies of Sulu
Filipino Genesis 01
This is the maiden issue of a new series entitled ‘FILIPINO GENESIS’
By Bernie Lopez
Send to friends –
Permission is granted to re-publish with credits and notification.


Discerning  the Spirituality of Ancient Nomads
To nomads and wanderers, like the Badjaos, the best way to fight violence is with a calm peaceful spirit. To them, material survival is peripheral, spiritual survival essential. To them, territory is nothing compared to freedom. They will not fight for a piece of land, but simply seek new edens in their wanderlust. The spirit of the Badjaos or Sea Gypsies of the Sulu Seas has been elusive to the best anthropologists, whose perspective has been boxed by civilization, education, and intellectual condescending bias.
in our superiority complex
we want to educate ancient people
we forget that they can educate us
in their ancient wisdom
It was rush hour. I was riding a jeepney in Alabang. A young girl, about 15 years old, hopped in. She had dirty clothes and un-shampooed hair. She gave an envelope to each passenger, now a new trend in begging. It was better than the hard-sell stretching of a hand. When a passenger did not accept the envelope, she simply put it on his or her lap. I found that irritating and rude. To avoid getting the envelope, I waved my hand and gave a non-verbal facial expression to show my irritation. She just smiled, turned away, and finally sat behind the driver.
She sang a strange song softly, hardly audible in the din of traffic. But I knew from the tune that she was a red-blooded sea gypsy of the Badjao tribe. I have been to their area as a journalist. They come from remote islands in Southern Palawan and the Sulu sea, the backdoor to Borneo. Extreme poverty has forced the Badjaos to the big cities hundreds of kilometers away to beg. Badjao children swim in the violent swirl of giant ships maneuvering in urban ports to dive for coins thrown by passengers, as shown in this old photo.
Badjao boy diving for coins dangerously close to a giant passenger vessel. Cebu City.

The driver cursed and shouted at her to get out of the jeepney. He hit the steering wheel violently in anger, and made a move as if to go down and drag her out just to scare her. The girl simply smiled, not embarrassed, and stood her ground. She was used to being treated that way in the cities. Her gentle spirit was beyond the reach of the angry driver. No one could hurt her unless she willed it. The cruel outside world was at the tips of her finger. She stopped singing out of respect for the angry driver. She had no grudge against him. The angrier the driver, the calmer she became. No one could touch her soul. The other passengers looked at her with amazement. My irritation instantly turned into awe.
Finally she stood up. I frantically searched for a coin and found a five peso piece. I gave it to the Princess of the Sulu Sea, no envelope. She hardly looked at me and simply nodded slightly to show her thanks. Other passengers started filling up the envelope with coins. It was a big haul, if I may say. One old lady gave her a twenty peso paper bill, a jackpot for a beggar. The driver did her a big favor.
And so it was that thoughts lingered as I walked home. I had done extensive research on Badjaos years ago. Together with the Agtas of the Cordilleras, they were the last remnants of a vanishing race of pure nomads, people who have not shed off their wanderlust. They are the Filipino’s ancient forgotten heritage. The Agtas were the nomads of the mountains. The Badjaos were the nomads of the sea. The Princess was the nomad of the city.
I saw the glint of wanderlust in the Princess eyes. I could sense her adventure spirit. She could not have come here hundreds of kilometers from where she came from without money if she was not adventurous. Badjao children normally stow away in crowded passenger ships. In a sense, she was caught between two forces, two conflicting worlds – her spiritual world of nomadic hunter-gatherer survival and the material world of income survival she knew nothing about.
Among the Eskimos of the Aleutian islands, the nomads of the icy tundras, survival dictated that the first to eat were the hunters right in the kill zone. They got the best part of the still-warm meat and ate the best parts, the heart, the liver, raw and bloody. Among the Badjaos of the Sulu Sea, the survival logic was the exact opposite. The hunters were the last to eat the fish catch, after the women and children had their fill. For the Princess, survival was pooling all they could beg for among her small group into an evening banquet of rice and, say, almost rotten tomatoes with salt. They live for the day. Long term meant a week and they do not even think of that. One step at a time, that was how they survived.
What was amazing was their resilient communal spirit. They knew individualism was folly and communalism was wisdom and the key to survival. Together, this small band of Badjaos under the leadership of the Princess, partook of a quiet dinner in a dark corner behind the huge mall.
The Badjaos were so peaceful that if warlike Tausugs or Samals encroached on their turf, they simply left. I saw this in the Princess when confronted by the violent driver. The Badjaos valued peace and freedom more than the land. They will not fight for it. They had no sense of territory because their ancestors were bred for eons by vast unchartered seas. Now that the world was getting crowded, they have not adopted to territory and are in crisis. They roam freely forever and become victims of crowdedness. They have no place to go, yet they like it that way, even though they have become extremely poor in a crowded world of settlers. The material world was peripheral to their spiritual survival.
Badjaos live in makeshift houseboats. In Sitangkay, a tiny island close to Borneo, they run during a storm to the ‘safety’ of their boats rather than the safety of the land. The only time they stay on land was to bury their dead and to play basketball in the courts of the Christian settlers.
Once I asked a Badjao boatman how long it would take to get to our island destination. He dipped his hand into the sea, feeling how strong the current was, then pointed to the sky. I guessed he was trying to say we would get there about 2 p.m. Crude but sophisticated, wordless but crystal clear, ingenious celestial and ocean-tide navigation. Pure nomadic wisdom.
Anthropologists have gained little headway in learning about the Badjao mystique. They are hard to educate or influence. They are not really stubborn, only different in the way they view the world.
There are valuable lessons the Princess gives us in our extremely materialistic world of cellphones and computers, of anger and violence. The Princess is giving us a message, this beautiful girl cloaked in dirt with a radiant smile, a soft song, and a peaceful spirit that defied violence. Never be fooled by externals. Dig deeper into her inner world. She is a Princess. We just have to somehow open ourselves and understand. She and her small band of followers are children of the universe.
For the terminally ill –
read e-book Stories of Healing by Sister Raquel
read healing guidelines and schedules at this site – 
%d bloggers like this: