Nomadic: The Sea Gypsies of Manila

All photos taken by Denielle Recalde.

It’s been a great privilege to be part of a study that aims to fight for the rights of other people — of one of the wonderful tribes that settles in the Philippines.

Most of us had in mind the image of them begging on the streets, asking for alms or the ones riding the jeepneys or buses to give us their envelopes with notes saying that they are Badjaos and they need help. Yes, the wonderful tribe I am describing is the Badjaos.

Personally, the thought I had for them before our study was more of negative than positive. My thoughts for them was just coming from what my eyes was seeing — nothing deeper. Yes, I would like to help and as much as possible give them something when I see them but a part of me argues from within. Can’t they work? Can’t they exert their efforts of begging to efforts of working? And most of the times, when I hear other people argue the same sentiments (or even adding up other more sentiments about people asking for alms), I just fall into a deeper confusion whether if I am to help or not.

This is just one of the proofs that if you do not know what you are standing for, then you are the ones much probably to be swayed. Now looking back to the root cause of the things I am fighting for, I go back to what God’s Word is saying about this matter. From His commands, I weigh and read between the lines of His statements “help” and “be wise’’.

How is it to help wisely?

Every query and question was cleared the moment I had a personal encounter with the sea gypsies.

What happened on the day of our interview with our participants was more than words waiting to be typed, printed and put into a study.

It was actually more like written lives waiting to be read by many people, wanting to be known, trying to speak out to be heard loud and clear.

The life of the Badjaos were indeed far from the picture of their hands asking for alms. Their real image was like the sea waiting to be explored deeper. The beauty lies on the depths within.

I found another heart for the people inside of me the moment I talked with them. I felt like I could spend days with them, just being with them, living and knowing these nomadic people.

If any one of you asks why they are rampant in Manila, it is because they migrated here from Zamboanga (mostly from Zamboanga, if not, Mindanao) to escape wars and unlikely circumstances there. There were lack of job opportunities, poverty, and it is hard to send children to school back in Mindanao.

The chaos must have been overwhelming for them to actually move out of their place. They left the comforts of the seas and took the risk of living in a land faraway. They were hoping for a better life in Manila. But at some point, it breaks my heart that it had not been any easier for them living in here. They had to take the lowest state to survive a day and make a living.

Do you know that they prioritize the same things we do? They just want the safety of their family (one of the reasons why they left Zamboanga). The Badjaos are peace-loving people. Instead of fighting, they flee.

And they just also wanted to send their kids to school — thing that they barely experienced (or not at all) in Mindanao. They say that it is both difficult living in Zamboanga and Manila but for them, they will choose to stay here than to go back in Zamboanga because of Manila’s wide opportunities of income. Some of them are not beggars. Others work as merchants, pedicab drivers, street sweeper, etc. Some of them live in the streets, sleep in their pedicab, strive to rent houses and others. But what I’ve seen is this: this nomadic tribe really strives and makes all the effort to survive life in a fast-phasing community.

With their life, three points have been revealed to me.

All of us are in need. It’s not an excuse not to help, in fact it is a reason to actually help. We are all in need whatever state of life we are in right now. And we will never surpass the fact that we will always be in need. As long as we are alive, we will not stop needing. The question is, while you are in need, what did you do with the other people around you needing? It’s given: we are all in need. But will you be the one to offer help?

We can love and serve by meeting the people’s needs and healing their hearts first before actually sharing the Gospel. I have seen how any problem in this world can be solved through one solution: the Gospel. But at that moment with the Badjaos, I was asking the Lord how could I help them. Certainly, it’s not talking to them and getting in the conversation the Gospel right away. God said, “Meet their needs.” Meet their needs. It is what the Badjaos need at that time, for their needs to be met. Apparently, these people needs help. We can love and serve by meeting the people’s needs and healing their hearts first before actually sharing the Gospel to them. Meeting the needs of others meets the needs of our souls.

God loves every tribe, every kind of person. This fact is what touched me the most. Even before the study was made, even before I found another heart for the people inside of me, the God I am serving has loved the Badjaos long ago that actually, 2000 years ago, He lived to die for these nomadic tribe. God loves them equally as He loves you and me.

‘And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’ (Revelation 5:9)

We people are limited. And that makes us in need of Someone limitless, who can hold it all for us. I may not always be able to extend my hand for help but I may have peace in the fact that a bigger Hand has got it all covered. And in His palms I lay the life of the sea gypsies living in the land.

I am very pleased to say that I am proud of the Badjaos. We are wrong when we look down on them because they are these small tribe that knows how to aim big. The beauty of their tribe and culture cannot be surpassed by the overwhelming modernization of Manila. I hope and I pray that this simple message reaches the knowing of many people and the awareness of the authorities so that the Badjaos will be given more focus, attention and help. Let us appreciate the life of these nomadic people because equally, your rights are their rights, too.

The Badjao children living in Barangay 704 Zone 77 Malate, Manila.