Introduction / History
The Bisaya of Malaysia are located in western Sabah along the northern coast of Brunei Bay and also in northern Sarawak along the rivers which flow into Brunei Bay. Inhabiting the middle reaches of the Limbang River, they are often called "people of the middle" or "people of the river".
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Bisayan culture and language are quite similar to that of the Sabah Dusun and related groups in Brunei and Sarawak. In fact, some believe that the culture area should be labeled Bisaya-Dusun. The Bisayan language, Basaya, is a part of the North Indonesian branch of the Austronesian language family.
The Bisaya in Malaysia live among the much larger Malay groups. However, local Malays are important to the Bisaya, as they supply them with buffalo, boats, seafood, and Malay medicines. Although they have borrowed some customs from surrounding peoples, the Muslim Bisaya remain culturally unique.
The Bisaya are primarily farmers, with rice being their staple crop. Chilies, maize, cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant, and other vegetables are also grown. Fruit trees provide bananas, coconuts, and breadfruit. Fish is another important part of the Bisaya diet, as is the meat from wild pigs, deer, and pheasants. Women gather plants and jungle products for food, medicines, resin, and other supplies.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Bisaya villages are located along river banks, and each has a number of rice granaries. True Bisaya villages consist of permanent settlements of two or more houses, one of which is a "long house." These rectangular structures are built on piles 10-15 feet above the ground. Each has a veranda for receiving guests and performing major ceremonies. Each long house also includes four or more apartments for family members.
The family members of a long house share house repairs, observe the same taboos, and share major rituals; however, in no other way do they act as a corporate group. On the other hand, the close-knit family members living in each apartment pool resources and share a common hearth, rituals, and prayers for crops.
First marriages among the Bisaya are usually arranged by the parents when the children are very young. Although polygyny (having multiple wives) exists among the wealthy, most men marry only one woman. Upon marrying, a couple moves either to the same apartment as one of their parents or to an apartment of a close kinsman in the same house as the parents. Only after the birth of the first child may a couple live in their own apartment. Divorces are obtained easily by both sexes, and the children of a divorce have a choice between parents.
The Bisaya celebrate various ceremonies throughout the year. The major agricultural ceremony is the harvest temorok, in which the wealthy contribute large amounts of food. The makan selamat is a health feast shared with the Malays as a preventive measure or as a thanksgiving feast at the ending of an epidemic.
Most Bisaya are Muslims, adhering to traditional Islamic practices and beliefs. Theirs is a religion of works based on the belief in one god, Allah. Their religious duties include praying five times a day, fasting, and giving alms to the poor.
What Are Their Needs?
Some of the Bisaya are animists, believing that non-human objects have spirits. Spirits of the dead are thought to appear at certain public ceremonies, and river spirits, tiger spirits, and sky spirits are also a part of their belief system. The dukun, or herbalist-curer, acts as a witch doctor. A spirit medium uses trances at public ceremonies to cure people. The Bisaya believe that disease is caused by "soul loss", and it is the spirit medium's job to retrieve that soul. They believe that souls of the dead go to one of seven villages that are located behind the sun.
The Bisaya have few Christian resources available to them, and most of them have never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. There is a real need for Bible resources to be translated into their language. Prayer and further evangelism will be required to win the Bisaya to Christ.
Ask the Lord of the harvest to send missionaries who will invest their lives in the Bisaya of Malaysia.
Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are focusing on the Bisaya.
Pray that God will anoint the words of the Bisaya believers as they share Christ with their own people.
Ask God to raise prayer teams who will begin daily intercession for the Bisaya.
Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong Bisaya church for the glory of His name!
Scripture Prayers for the Bisaya, Sabah in Malaysia.
Bethany World Prayer Center