Have you met a Gudjao lately?

I met not just one, but an entire family, I think, during a short respite at Balai Dive Resort in Anilao, Batangas organized by The Carewell Community Foundation.

After a hearty breakfast prepared by the able and friendly staff of Balai, I went up to our casita to get my camera. I thought it might come in handy while taking a stroll around the resort. Looking down from the porch, I saw my Carewell friends crowding around a young man who seemed to be selling trinkets.

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This man turned out to be no ordinary hawker but an excellent salesman!

My curiosity piqued, I went down to check what was going on. The man was a hawker, and his wares were mostly pearl earrings and bracelets. “Not for you those blings,” my inner voice spoke. A fair reminder since I have a few pieces of jewelry that have not been used for a long while and are just kept in a box somewhere.

But Manong was determined to shake my resolve not to buy. He went on to show one item after another, claiming that the pearls were from Tawi-Tawi and that I could be sure they’re of good quality. I tried engaging Manong in small talk not only to divert his attention, but also because I wanted to connect his heavy accent with his looks. He had sunburnt skin and sported a man bun, a tuft  of hair held together by an elastic band.

Me: Galing pa yan ng Tawi-Tawi? Mga Badjao ba kayo? (Badjaos are members of an ethnic group found in the islands way down South; also known as “Sea Gypsies” because of their seaborne lifestyle)

Manong: Hindi po, ma’am. Gudjao po kami.

I was dumbfounded. Was there another ethnic group I didn’t learn about in school?

Manong: Ang mga Badjao po, mga tamad. Nanghihingi lang ng limos. Ayaw mag-trabaho. Kami po tumatawid pa ng dagat para maghanap-buhay kahit pa kami mahirapan. Kaya ang dapat itawag sa amin, Gudjao.

And with that, the haze cleared. Manong was wordplaying with “Good” and “Bad,” referring to the Bad-jao as the group of people who normally roam the city streets around the Christmas season to beg. The Good-jao (which I took for Gudjao) refers to the same ethnic group, but of the more independent and hardworking type. The realization made me want to buy something.

I asked Manong if he had other items as I was still unsure if I wanted anything for myself. From his bag, he pulled out a string necklace with a tortoise pendant. Still not for me, but I was sure my son would love the ethnic look. Manong Goodjao made a sale from this tightwad that morning.

Whoever taught Manong his selling skills has done an excellent job. Bent on making me spend more, he kept pushing other items. Failing to convince me with the features of his products, he tried the emotional-appeal pitch. He said he needed to sell more so he could buy bread for his kids as they have not had breakfast yet. “Pambili lang ng tinapay, ma’am.”

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This girl. named Neneng, was with Manong Gudjao. She had copper-toned hair and beautiful bluish-gray eyes. Her pockets were bulging with fruits of the talisay tree that she and her siblings gathered along the shore. They used stones to crack the fruits and get the edible kernels inside.

I knew then what I had to do. I went up to Balai’s dining hall and looked for a kitchen staff. Finding one, I asked to buy any bread left from the breakfast served to us earlier. He quickly put some pieces in a brown bag but refused to receive payment when I told him whom I was giving the goodies to.

Manong was profuse in his thanks when I gave him the bag. He did not only thank me for what he received. He also wished that heavenly blessings be showered upon me and everyone in my group; that we may all be safe on our trip back to Manila; and that we may meet each other again when we return to the resort in the future.  Yes, all those heartwarming expressions in beautiful, though differently accented Tagalog.

How many new people we meet every day could make us feel so light and blessed?

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Neneng and her siblings shortly before their family set out to sea for another destination.

After a couple of hours Manong and his group were on their boat again, sailing far into the sea. I said a short prayer for their safety and thanked God for this meaningful encounter with some wonderful Goodjaos.


“I don’t pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.”

(Theodore Roosevelt)  

3 thoughts on “Have you met a Gudjao lately?

  1. Very nice story, I enjoyed reading it. Goodjao is a term that has been used by missionaries in recent decades to describe members of the Badjao tribe who have become Christians. It is quite possible that this is also where the Badjao you encountered picked this term up. Missionaries also use this tactic to make other members in the community who are reluctant to accept Christianity to be more willing to convert, this often works because they are now seen as being inferior to those who are now being referred to as good rather than bad. Personally I am against this practice. Here is something I wrote on the subject a while back.

    Badjao/Goodjao? What Difference Does it Make?
    I have noticed a trend among many individuals and organizations who work among the Badjao to refer to them as “Goodjao” and in many cases encourage members of this tribe to call themselves by that name. This is based on a couple of things: a lack of knowledge about the meaning of the name “Badjao” and assuming that the definition of the word “Bad” is universal throughout the world. Many may feel that this is a harmless practice, but let me explain why it concerns me.

    The name is spelled in various ways: “Badjao,” “Badyaw,” or “Bajau.” They are also known by other names such as: “Sama Dilaut,” “Laut,” or “Orang Laut”. Badjao (Badyaw/Bajau) is a Malay-Bornean word that means “”people of the seas”.”

    The word “Bad” in the English language is considered to mean something negative and this is also true in many other languages and cultures. However, the word “Bad” in some languages can have an entirely different meaning. Here are a few examples of this; in Dutch and Swedish it means “Bath”, in Gujarati it means “Following”, in Hindi it means “After” and finally in Somali it means “Sea” just as it does in the case of our friends the Badjao.

    By referring to the Badjao as “Goodjao”, we are inadvertently causing the people, especially the children, to feel a sense of shame towards their tribes given name and their community whether it be consciously or subconsciously. After all, “Good” is the opposite of “Bad”, just as “Light” is to “Dark”. Would it not be logical then for the Badjao to think that if they are now being called, or being encouraged to call themselves “Good”, that they must have once been “Bad” in the negative sense of the word?

    My reason for writing this is to remind those who do transcultural work that we must always respect the language and culture of the people we are serving. In the case of the Badjao, rather than us potentially causing them to have feelings of doubt or uncertainty about themselves by calling them by another name, lets instead encourage them to be proud of not only themselves, but also of their history and their traditions. After all, the Badjao are brave divers, skilled fishermen and extraordinary weavers. The Badjao are of royal blood, lords and ladies not of the land, but of the sea.

    1. Thank you so much for this heartwarming and very enlightening feedback.

      May I please know if you are the same Joseph Zanetti who authored the book “Among the Sea Gypsies” and founded the Badjao Outreach Ministries?

      1. You are welcome and I appreciate your positive blog post about the Badjao since a lot of what is found online and in the media paints these people in a negative light. As for your question, I am the same Joseph. I am constantly researching and trying to find content that relates to the Badjao and it was while doing this that I stumbled across your blog.

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