Ancient Warays: The true identity of the Visayan bandits who raided China's coast from 1174 to 1190 AD?

Ancient Warays: The true identity of the Visayan bandits who raided China's coast from 1174 to 1190 AD?

According to one historian, the ancient Waraynons may have been the true identity of the Pi-Sho-Ye, or Visayan raiders, who raided the coasts of Fukien, China, from 1174 to 1190 AD.

The Waray people, also known as Waraynons, are known to be fierce, furious, and fearless, and they may have terrorized China in the 12th century A.D.

Efren B. Isorena speculated in his article "THE VISAYAN RAIDERS OF THE CHINA COAST, 1174-1190 AD" that the people living on the island known today as Samar were the tattooed bandits or Pi-sho-ye who terrorized China's southeastern coasts.

Please keep in mind that the term "Ancient Waraynons/Ancient Warays" in this article only refers to people who lived on the pre-Hispanic islands of Leyte and Samar. It should not be taken literally as "direct terminology" for the people who lived on the said islands at the time.

The bandits who raid the Fukien coast are known as Pi-Sho-Ye, a term coined by a Chinese government official named Chau Ju-Kua. Ju-Kua is a well-educated scholar appointed as Fukien's Royal Port Inspector of Foreign Trade. In his recorded account written in the twelfth century, he mentioned the Pi-sho-Ye, which states:

The language of Pi-sho-ye cannot be understood, and traders do not resort to the country. The people go naked and are in a state of primitive savagery like beasts. The savages come to make raids and, as their coming cannot be foreseen, many of our people have fallen victims to their cannibalism, a great grief to the people.

During the period shun-hi (1174-1190 AD) their chiefs were in the habit of assembling parties of several hundred to make sudden attacks on the villages of Shui-au and Wei-t’ou in Tsuan-chou-fu, where they gave free course to their savage instincts, slaying men without number and women too after they had raped them.

They were fond of iron vessels.… one could get rid of them by closing the entrance door, from which they would only wrench the iron knock-er and go away… When attacking an enemy, they are armed with javelins to which are attached ropes of over a hundred feet in length, in order to recover them after throwing; for they put such value on the iron of which these weapons are made, that they cannot bear to lose them.

They do no sail in junks or boats, but lash bamboo into rafts, which can be folded up like screens, so, when hard pressed, a number of them can lift them up and escape by swimming off with them (Chau Ju-Kua 1965: 85).

Isorena explained that for the Visayan raiders to land unnoticed on the coast of Fukien, they must travel from the Eastern Philippine Sea because the western coast is heavily patrolled due to the Southeast Asian trade route established by the Song Dynasty from 1174 to 1190.

"The backbone of this new trade network was the China to Java route. Significantly, this new route passed through the Philippines and pulled the western side of the archipelago into the network. The success and prosperity of the trade depended heavily on the ability of local principalities to curb piracy," Isorena added.

Those who benefit from the trade network are the ones who police it. This means that the various kingdoms (in the Philippines) that are part of the network, such as Maynila, Sugbu, Mindoro, Panay, Butuan, and coastal kingdoms in Mindanao, are the ones patrolling the Philippine Seas in the west and strongly discouraged any group from using the route for piratical or slave-raiding expeditions, as previously mentioned.

The Pi-Sho-Ye can only travel north along the "northward current in the eastern Philippine Sea that begins east of Samar and moves toward Japan." From here, Visayan raiders can sail to Formosa and prepare for an assault on the Fukien coast.

It's likely one of the reasons Isorena identified Samareños as the Pi-Sho-Ye who terrorized the coast of Fukien in China. He explained that according to Francisco Ignacio Alcina's accounts from the 1600s, people in Ibabao (the prehispanic name for Samar's entire eastern coast) believed their ancestors were masters of the sea, capable of raiding nearby villages and traveling to the coasts of China.

"If Alcina's informants in seventeenth-century Ibabao are correct. Some families claimed to remember when they launched maritime raids against Bicolandia's coastal villages, and they even remembered old stories about expeditions to China," Isorena discussed.

"The people of Ibabao were known to resort to raids for the smallest of reasons, such as making a good impression on a woman. One important aspect of the pangayaw of Ibabao was that it was carried out by people from among the more influential and powerful. This suggests that it was motivated by social, political, and economic factors," he continued.

Isorena believed that Ancient Samareños was the best candidate for the Pi-Sho-origins Ye's because they enjoyed feasting in conjunction with pangayaw (meaning: "raid" or "to sail to battle").

In the ancient Philippines, he observed, feasting was generally associated with elite life-crisis events or events critical to the political economy, such as trading and warfare.

Isorena noticed that in the month of June, a feast honoring the dead that is not related to Catholic's All Souls Day is held in Borongan's Barrio Calico-an, which is thought to be the site of an ancient settlement. 

"Villagers were responsible for all expenses and were the ones who hosted the prominent people from their own village. It is important to note that this feast did not coincide with the Catholic's All Souls Day, which falls on November 1st," he penned.

He went on to connect this to a raiding party in the twelfth century, writing:
"By June, a twelfth-century raiding party would have been back home in its own village. There would have been no better way to celebrate their return and to honor those who had perished on the journey than to offer a feast."

Isorena wrote at the end of his paper: "The Spanish conquest effectively ended pangayaw...[but] the people of Ibabao [Samar] were still known to construct and use the balangay until late in the seventeenth century. However, the balangay boat had not been used for pangayaw for a long time. The balangay may have been used for an extended period of time because it was such an important symbol of Ibabao society."

He later concluded that given Samar's position in relation to the then-existing pattern of regional trade, the enduring currents in the Philippine Sea and the opportunity they provided for raiding, the technical capability of the balangay boat as a vessel for transoceanic travel, and the "cultural personality" and traditions of the Ibabao of Samar, a logical argument can be made for a Visayan origin of the Pi-Sho-Ye.

However, he believes that much more work is required to fully establish and know the identity of the Pi-Sho-Ye. His research only puts the reported maritime raids on China's Fukien coast between 1174 and 1190 A.D. into context. Further archaeological work in present-day Eastern Samar could put his theories to the test using artifacts or oral histories.


Whether you believe in Pi-Sho-Ye, the ancient Warays of Samar and Leyte Islands were historically fierce and furious. They were known to command the Visayan Seas alongside their Pintados brothers, and they raided many coastal villages of various kingdoms in present-day Cebu, Bohol, Luzon, and Mindanao.

If Northern Europe has Vikings, the ancient Philippines has the seafaring Waray-Warays. Still, when they became devout Christians and obedient to the Spanish throne, as Aganduro Moriz observed when observing the Indios of Bisayas, the ferocious Warays became gentle as they no longer raided and captured captives from other areas.

They transformed into the total opposite of who they were. They were disarmed, which is why the Waray-Warays could not repel Moros raiding parties in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Despite the Waraynons' cultural shift from fierce to religious, outsiders continue to associate us with negative connotations, as popularized by the notorious "Waray-Waray gang" in the 1950s and Nida Blanca's "Waray-Waray" movie with its catchy theme song, a mistranslation of the folk song "Waray-Waray."

Nonetheless, Waraynons should be proud of their strong nature, particularly the fact that they can extend their "unrestrained lively will" to the coasts of China, as Isorena claimed. RDV


  1. This is true since the warays are known as fierce that fierceness runs in their blood by generation through generation, that even the Spaniards feared them. Warays are known as mabangis in tagalog and never back out from a fight, I've grew up in Samar and witness that a waray fights in a bloody fist fight. Even in Mindanao warays are known as fierce that many of them are sent to the places where there are Abbu Sayaffs for the purpose of war

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