Visayans: The Vikings of the Far East

Karakoa

THE VIKINGS OF THE FAR EAST

They painted their bodies with fearsome tattoos called patiks. They spread terror by sailing their dragon warships known as karakoas. And they wielded terrifying blades, such as balaraws, kalis, talibongs, and kampilans.

Truly, the Vikings of the Far East are the ancient Visayans. And these painted warriors rightfully belong to the best martial races in the history of Southeast Asia, for not only they had stormed the coastal territories of the 12th-century China and the precolonial Morolands, but also, they had crossed blades against the European invaders.

VISAYAN RAIDS IN CHINA

Chau Ju-Kua, a maritime trade superintended in Ch’üan-chou, chronicled raiders that he identified the Pi-sho-ye who repeatedly pillaged the coast of Fukien, particularly the villages of Shui-au and Wei-t’ou, in 1174-1190.

THE PI-SHO-YE RAIDERS
Early Chinese accounts reveal that the Pi-sho-ye raiders were beastly naked savages, had a language that could not be understood, slayers of men and women, and rapers and cannibals — and most of all — they were tattooed and dark-skinned.

RAIDING FOR IRON
In surprise attacks, the Pi-sho-ye raiders came by their bamboo landing craft, pillaging in parties of several hundred, and they sacked villages for iron items — even door knockers were not spared. And their iron-bladed spears were secured with ropes so to keep their precious spears during raids.

NOTORIOUS SLAVERS
Wang Ta-yüan chronicled that these Pi-sho-ye raiders were also notorious slavers. And a mere mention of their name would make the Chinese islanders of the Eastern Ocean flee in fear. He added that the Pi-sho-ye raiders would sell their captured slaves for two gold tahils each.

IDENTIFYING THE PI-SHO-YE RAIDERS

Phonetically syllabic sounding, Pi-sho-ye is similar with Vi-sa-ya or Bi-sa-ya; while the nakedness and the tattoos descriptions are easy clues to pinpoint the painted people of the ancient Philippines who proudly displayed their tattoos as if clothes — and historian William Henry Scott stated that these Pi-sho-ye raiders are indeed the Visayans.

THE VISAYAN ETHNIC GROUPS
Nonetheless, the Visayas is an archipelago that is composed of major islands and numerous Visayan ethnic groups, such as the modern-day Aklanon and Ilongo of Panay, Hiligaynon of Negros, Cebuano of Cebu, Boholano of Bohol, and Waray of Leyte and Samar, and even, the Visayans of the coastal Mindanao.

THE VISAYAN SUSPECTS
Which of them are the Pi-sho-ye raiders? Possibly, all of them might be the Pi-sho-ye raiders — or perhaps, some of these Visayan ethnic groups had banded in raiding the coast of Fukien for 16 years.

VISAYAN RAIDS IN THE PRECOLONIAL PHILIPPINES

When the Chinese fortified their coastal defenses and strengthened their maritime fleets, the last of the Pi-sho-ye raids were reported in the year 1190. However, these Visayan raiders did not stop in their Viking-like activities, for they continued plundering their neighboring islands — the precolonial Philippines.

VISAYAN ATTACKS IN BIKOLANDIA
When the Castilian churches were established in the Philippines, Jesuit priest and chronicler Father Fracisco Alcina learned from a Visayan native from Samar that he and his people used to raid Albay and Catanduanes of the Bicol region.

VISAYAN PLUNDERS IN THE MOROLANDS
Another account mentioned that a Boholano princess had required her suitors to raid China and the precolonial Morolands, such as Jolo, Mindanao, and Ternate.

VISAYAN ASSAULTS IN SAMAR
The precolonial Visayans also raided neighboring Visayan lands: there is a document mentioning Juan Flores, a Spanish castaway of the Villalobos Expedition, who perished in Samar along with other early Filipinos in a Visayan raid.

VISAYAN VICTORY OVER THE EUROPEAN CONQUEST
The world-famous Battle of Mactan has cemented the Visayan warriors as a force to reckon with. In 1521, Datu Kali Pulako, also known as Lapulapu, led his Visayan warriors in defeating the Spanish forces and killing their Portuguese leader, Captain Ferdinand Magellan.

THE MANGAYAW PRACTICE

Taking wives, seizing slaves, initiating alliances, plundering resources, and revenge were some reasons for the Viking-like enterprises of the Visayan raiders, and they called this mangayaw — which means “to raid an enemy territory”.

Mangayaw is a common practice among the ancient Filipinos, not only the Visayans. We can observe that mangayaw is a way of life for them, and this archaic term is seen in all major languages of the Philippines.

CASTILIAN INTRUSION

However, when the Castilians had successfully conquered Luzon and the key islands of the Visayas, the Spaniards prohibited the mangayaw practice to their newly Christianized territories.

VISAYANS BECOME THE SLAVES
Hence, the once-notorious Visayan raiders had slowly turned into the victims of the unconquered Moro slavers who were staunch enemies of the Castilian colonists. Soon after, the once-feared Visaya name became synonymous to a “slave” or “the country of slaves”.

MORO RAIDS IN THE VISAYAS
Historical documents show that in the 16th-18th centuries, the Moro slavers raided and depopulated Castilian-controlled Visayan lands, such as Panay, Negros, Cebu, Leyte, Romblon, and Siquijor — and once, the whole of Biliran’s population was taken into slavery.

BECOME RAIDERS ONCE MORE
A Spanish chronicler described that this chapter of Philippine history was “written in blood and tears and nourished in pain and suffering”. And in 1621, some Visayans pleaded with a Castilian officer that they should be freed and have arms so they could defend themselves as they did before the coming of the Spaniards. We can assume that this plea was not granted, for the Moros had gained control of Philippine waters in the 1730s, spreading fear in coastal Luzon and the Visayas.

CONCLUSION

We can learn that in the ancient mangayaw world, it is either be the slave or the slaver — this means that being a warrior is a requirement for every preconquest Filipino. However, the Castilians disrupted this mangayaw way of life; hence, the early Christianized Visayans suffered terribly. Now, echoes of the past have revealed to us that the Visayans are the descendants of a martial race that is once greatly feared in the Far East.

REFERENCES

  • Isorena, Efren B. “The Visayan Raiders of the China Coast, 1174-1190 AD.” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 32, no. 2 (2004): 73-95.
  • Non, Domingo M. “Moro Piracy during the Spanish Period and Its Impact.” Southeast Asian Studies 30, no. 4 (1993): 401-419.
  • Rausa-Gomez, Lourdes. “Sri Vijaya and Madjapahit.” Philippine Studies 15, no. 1 (1967): 63-107.
  • Scott, William Henry. Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994.
  • ———. Cracks in the Parchment Curtains and Other Essays in Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publisher, 1982.
  • ———. Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History: Revised Edition. Quezon City: New Day Publisher, 1984.

Illustration Sources: The image detail at the top is from “Corcoa” in The Discovery and Conquest of the Molucco and Philippine Islands by Bartolomé Leonardo Argensola (1708), translated by John Stevens; the image remix is brought to you by Datu Press®.

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