Within the Sulu sea basin alone, the majority of the coastal people belong to the Sama cultural community. The term "Sama" is a derivative of the word "Sama-sama" meaning togetherness. Hence, the 171,065 (OSCC, 1987 ) Sama may be described as a cohesive and peace loving people. They express themselves through verbal discussions and less through physical violence.
Each Sama sub-group is identified geograohically according to the name of their coastal settlement. This include: Sama Simunul, Sama Balimbing, Sama Tawi-tawi, Sama Sibutu and Sama Ubian. Each of them have varied ancestral background, outlooks in life, economic life ways and types of social up-bringing.
The Sama Simunul claim to have descended from a mixture of Arab and native blood. They point to the color of their skin and physical traits as evidence of such descent.
The Sama tawi-tawi are said to have come originally come from Johore. Their ancestors are believed to have crossed the ocean through small outriggers. Their forefathers were powerful men, having the supernatural powers to invite unseen spirits called Jin to do things for them.
The Sama Sibutu claim to have descended from another makmudin named mukthar. The descending lineage of Tuan Mukthar considered this Sama group as belonging to the Datu class. Like the Sama Tawi-tawi, the Sama Sibutu also possess the limuh (knowledge) of Jinism or spiritism.
The Sama Ubian are Sea Dayak in origin. Among the Sama tribe who are generally peace loving, the Sama Ubian are exceptions. They fierce fighters like the Tausugs. Their physical appearance is stocky and short with brown complexion. Their well-built physique may be attributed to their love of aquatic sports, swimming and rowing.
Sama houses are usually built along coastal settlements for two reasons. Sanitation, because of the natural movement of the tide and easy escape from enemies through ready vintas (boats).
Sama society is composed of the Barbangsa, of royal blood nobility, and Mahardika, commoners who are free to exercise their basic rights over their private properties and free to exercise their own professed religion.
Datuship carried both social and political status to an individual. Socially, a datu is clothed with a sense of higher maratapat (prestige). A headman sometimes claims to be a descendant of Kasalipan. He is followed by the people because of his Sharif lineage, couple with his extraordinary limuh (wisdom) and personal traits of honesty, justice and fairness. He acts as an arbiter of conflicts, counsellor of marital problems, and even as a leader of religious celebrations.
From birth to death, the life cycle of the Sama is full of taboos emanating from folk religion and spiritism, interwoven with those of other doctrine. The Sama have the notion that the occurrence of luck and misfortune in the life of an individual is due to their belief in the concept of Kadar Iban Janji or on what has been willed and destined by the Divine.
The Jama Mapun, on the closer examination, may not be a distinct ethnic group. They are rather another Sama sub-goup. Their language, called Pullun Mapun, is just a dialect of the Sama language.
The Jama Mapun inhabit the Cagayan de Sulu and Turtle (Taganak) Islands, and are also found in southern Palawan. The word Jama is a variation of the word Sama, and denotes west, ie, west of Jolo island. The Jama Mapun reffered to Jolo Island as "East" and their own Cagayan de Sulu as "West" a concept derived from the time of the Jama Mapun had a strong client relationship with the Sulatanate of the Sulu centered in Jolo. The Jama Mapun earned their laivelihood much like the other Sama groups except that some also cultivated upland rice. The latter activity is mainly done in Southern Palawan.