Recently, I visited a Badjao community in Brgy. Malitam 2, Batangas City, Philippines, along with a good friend, Atty. Maria Claribel Ochoa, to distribute our late holiday gifts-new year treats to them. Although there really are Badjaos who spit, shout, and curse you if you fail to give them alms, this is a different kind of community. The community we visited is comprised of families who send their sons and daughters to school, and participate willingly in government programs. Badjao are also called ‘sea gypsies’ since they traditionally lived on boats, and relied on fishing to sustain a living. Today, they have a big community in Malitam.
When I agreed with to visit the place, I never thought I would be as mesmerized as I was. We rode the back of a tricycle. The road to their community is not flat and cemented. It was rocky, dusty, and had irregular depressions as if there were movements of the waves.
The community, however, is like an oasis in the desert. On its side flows part of the Calumpang River. The scenery looks as refreshing as a dip in the sea but it is not just nature that made my jaw drop. As I turn my head to see the village, I saw wooden houses, and children running as wild as horses not caring about dust and dirt.
Beyond the simplicity, and what most would call lack of hygiene, I saw colors, I heard laughter, and I smelled the salty air. They greeted us with smiles and eagerness. There are a lot of things that make these sea gypsies unique but there are three things I will never forget about them.
- Their wedding ceremonies
When we reached the place and while waiting for the gift-giving to begin, we were told there was a wedding ceremony on going. Yes, we were wedding crashers, as my friend would describe it.
A Badjao wedding is a three-day affair. There was a lot of dancing. The event is indeed like a feast since the whole town is invited. Ladies and young girls all wore their best clothes, had make up on, and danced their traditional wedding dance, Igol. (I am not sure how the word is spelled.)
- Their love for color and silver
It is not just their feast that caught my eyes. They are fond of colors and silver too! Their dresses and malongs have all the bright colors of the rainbows. Their jewelries are made of silver, and these pieces are not just plain accessories. The designs are very intricate like what this girl is wearing in the photograph below.
- Their personality
I had a very unforgettable experience with Badjaos, the ill-mannered group of Badjaos, because they ganged up on me when I was in elementary. This community, however, is very different. They greeted us with warm smiles, they said thank you for our visit and our gifts, and even offered to dance for us.
At the end of our visit, I looked again at the village. My perception of Badjaos definitely changed. The trauma I experienced as a kid is still there but I know there is another group that would welcome whatever I could offer. Would I go back? Absolutely.
P.S. Thank you to my boyfriend for all the help in preparing the gifts. He was supposed to join us but due to last minute changes in schedule, he was not able to come. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Tita Edgie, her co-worker, and the barangay councilman for all their assistance during our visit.