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Ma-i or Maidh (also spelled Ma'I, Mai, Ma-yi or Mayi; Baybayin: ᜋᜁ; Chinese: 麻逸; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: má it) was an ancient sovereign state located in what is now the Philippines, notable in Philippine historiography for being the first place in the Philippines ever to be mentioned in any foreign account.[1](p119)[6]


Before 971 AD[1][2]–After 1339 AD
(last[1][2] historical reference)
StatusSovereign state which conducted trade with Brunei, and with the Song and Yuan Dynasties[3]
CapitalUnder debate.[1]
Possibilities include Bulalacao, on the island of Mindoro or Bay, Laguna
GovernmentBarangay state[4]
• Established
Before 971 AD[1][2]
• Mentioned in a Song Dynasty list of states conducting trade in the south seas[1]
971 AD
• Noted by Song Dynasty records as having brought trade goods to the southern chinese coast[1]
982 AD
• Described in detail in an account of countries couducting trade with the Tang Dynasty[1]
1339 AD
• Disestablished
After 1339 AD
(last[1][2] historical reference)
CurrencyBarter ("caldrons, pieces of iron, red cloth or taffetas of various color stripes, ivory, and "tint or the like"")[5]
Preceded by
Prehistory of the Philippines
Today part of Philippines
Traditional Chinese麻逸
The world in 1200 AD. Shows Ma-i Huangdom and its neighbors.

Its existence was first documented in 971 AD, in the Song Dynasty documents known as the History of Song,[1][2] and it was also mentioned in the 10th century records of the Sultanate of Brunei.[7] Based on these and other mentions until the early 14th century, contemporary scholars believe Ma-i was located either in Bay, Laguna[1] or on the island of Mindoro.[8]

Research by Fay Cooper Cole for the Field Museum in Chicago in 1912 showed that the ancient name of Mindoro was Mait, [9] and for most of the 20th century, historians generally accepted the idea that Mindoro was the political center of the ancient Philippine polity. [1](p119) But recent articles such as the 2005 study of Filipino-Chinese historian Go Bon Juan suggested that the historical descriptions better match Bay, Laguna (pronounced Ba-i), which is written similarly to Ma-i in Chinese orthography.[1](p119)


Possible sitesEdit

For many years, scholars believed that Ma-i was likely to have been on the island of Mindoro within the Municipality of Bulalacao as there is an old settlement there named Mait.[2][10] But recent scholarship casts doubt on this theory, arguing that historical descriptions better match Bay, Laguna (whose name is pronounced Ba-i), which once occupied a large territory on the eastern coasts of Laguna de Bay.[1]

Both sites have names which sound similar to Ma-i. The pre-colonial name of Mindoro was "Ma-it",[2][11] whereas historical variants of the name of Bay, Laguna include "Bae", "Bai", and "Vahi".[12]

An earlier theory, put forward in 1914 by Craig 1914 and asserted by local historians,[13] also suggested Malolos, Bulacan as a potential site of Ma-i.

Documentary sourcesEdit

The Chinese and Bruneian records both describe trade relations with Ma-i.

Ma-i is first mentioned in Volume 186 of official history of the Song Dynasty, which lists Ma-i among the southern sea nations with whom Chinese merchants traded[6] in the year 971 AD (the fourth year of Kai Bao of Song).[1](p119) The document describes the government's efforts to regulate and tax this "luxurious" trade.[1](p119) Historian W.H. Scott describes this entry as "the first positive reference to political states in or near the Philippines."[6]

In 1980, historian Robert Nicholl argued that the nation of "Maidh", referred to in the tenth century records of the Sultanate of Brunei, refer to Ma-i,[14] although Scott does not recognize this as a positive identification.[7]

Later references to Ma-i, all describing trade, include:


The majority of these sources only mention Ma-i briefly, either affirming that Ma-i was one of the nations conducting trade in the "south seas" area,[1] or repeating hearsay about the supposed location of Ma-i.[2] W.H. Scott notes that of the documents describing Ma-i, only the Zu Fan Zhi and the Daoyi Zhilüe provide substantial details.[17] Filipino Chinese historian Bon Juan Go, in turn, notes that only the Wenxian Tongkao and Volumes 186 and 489 of the History of Song provide definitive dates.[1]

Because all of these are Chinese Imperial documents, historiographers have to consider the Sinocentric nature of the sources whenever conducting their analysis.[18][19][20]

Villanueva 2009 notes:

These tenth to fifteenth century tributary records provide significant information on the Chinese perceptions of how Philippine local polities were governed, the political landscape of the time, and the trade goods offered and desired by Philippine polities. Chinese travellers' accounts from the early second millenium AD are considered rich sources of information on the political economy of the early polities. However, they are heavily biased because of the traditional worldview of the Chinese Empire as the center of the universe, where all non-Chinese people are considered to be "barbarians" (Junker 1998). The context of these Chinese sources about the nature of Philippine polities must be analyzed carefully. [18]


In 1225, the Zhu Fan Zhi[2][21] noted that "the country of Ma-i is to the north of Borneo" and added that few pirates reach these shores. It also noted that "the people of Ma-i live in large villages (literally "settlements of more than a thousand households") on the opposite banks of a stream."

The 1349 document Daoyi Zhilüe[1] also noted that the settlement of Ma-i consisted of houses arranged on the two banks of a stream. It also noted that "its mountain range is flat and broad", "the fields are fertile," and "the climate is rather hot."

Pre-Colonial History of the Philippines
Barangay government
Ten datus of Borneo
States in Luzon
Caboloan (Pangasinan)
Rajahnate of Maynila
States in the Visayas
Kedatuan of Madja-as
Kedatuan of Dapitan
Rajahnate of Cebu
States in Mindanao
Rajahnate of Butuan
Sultanate of Sulu
Sultanate of Maguindanao
Sultanates of Lanao
Key figures
History of the Philippines
Portal: Philippines

Economic activities and trade practicesEdit

Because all the documents describing Ma-I were primarily concerned with trade, this is the most documented aspect of Ma-I culture.

Exported productsEdit

Both the Song Dynasty records (specifically the Zhu Fan Zhi[22]), and Yuan Dynasty records (specifically the Daoyi Zhilüe[5]) describe the local products as "kapok cotton, yellow bees-wax, tortoise shell, medicinal betel nuts and cloth of various patterns." (The 1225 Zhu Fan Zhi lists "yuta cloth" while the 1349 Daoyi Zhilüe lists "cloth of various patterns.")

Barter items accepted as exchangeEdit

The Zhu Fan Zhi notes that in exchange, the locals accepted products such as "porcelain, trade gold, iron pots, lead, colored glass beads, and iron needles." The Daoyi Zhilüe later lists "caldrons, pieces of iron, red cloth or taffetas of various color stripes, ivory, and 'tint or the like'"[5] as accepted items of exchange.

Administration of tradeEdit

The Zhu Fan Zhi notes that Ma-I's official plaza is its official venue for barter and trade, and note that officials have to be presented with white parasols as gifts:

"When trading ships enter the harbor, they stop in front of the official plaza, for the official plaza is that country's place for barter and trade and once the ship is registered, they mix freely. Since the local officials make a habit of using white umbrellas, the merchants must present them as gifts."[22]

The Zhu Fan Zhi further describes the process of transaction as follows:

The method of transacting business is for the savage traders to come all in a crowd and immediately transfer the merchandise into baskets and go off with it. If at first they can't tell who they are, gradually they come to know those who remove the goods so in the end nothing is actually lost. The savage traders then take the goods around to the other islands for barter and generally don't start coming back until September or October to repay the ship's merchants with what they have got. Indeed, there are some who don't come back even then, so ships trading with Mai are the last to reach home.[22]

The Daoyi Zhilüe similarly describes it:

"After agreeing on prices, the barbarian traders carry off the goods for bartering the native products and bring these products back to the Chinese in the amount agreed on. The Chinese vessels' traders (Filipinos) are trustworthy. They never fail to keep the agreement of their bargains."[5]

Possible use of trade goldEdit

The discovery of small gold ingots (referred to by modern numismatists as Piloncitos), presumed to have been used as currency and "stamped with what looks like the pre-Spanish Baybayin character 'ma'", have led some historians such as Ambeth Ocampo theorize that the writing may be a reference to Ma-i, although numerous other interpretations have also been suggested.[23]



While documents did not definitively describe the religious beliefs of the people of Ma-i,[2] the Zhu Fan Zhi did note the presence of unspecified religious artifacts in Mayi, supposedly as of 1225 AD:

"There are metal images [a] of unknown origin scattered about in the tangled wilds."[22]

Contemporary historiographers do not draw conclusions about the religion of Ma-i's residents based on this text.[18][19][24] In his book "Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History", W.H. Scott notes that a literal translation of the Zhu Fan Zhi text describes "metal buddhas." However, he and Chinese Scholar I-hsiung Ju translate this in 1968 as "metal images" to correct for the linguistic bias of the text.[16]

In his seminal 1984 book Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History, Scott particularly questioned whether the presence of these images reflect actual beliefs by the people of Ma-i:

"The people in Ma-I sound like newcomers [to this port] since they don't know where those metal statues in the jungle come from."[25]

Earlier writers, including Jose Rizal and Ferdinand Blumentritt,[26] accepted the "buddhist connection" more readily. For example, in supporting Blumentritt's proposition that Ma-i was somewhere on Luzon Island, Rizal cites the Zhu Fan Zhi's use of the word "Buddhas" as evidence:

"The gentleness of Tagalog customs that the first Spaniards found, very different from those of other provinces of the same race and in Luzon itself, can very well be the effect of Buddhism."(There are copper Buddha's images)."[26]

Precluding the findings of any Buddhist artifacts in Ma-i, an American archaeologist, Henry Otley Beyer, was able to excavate from Palawan, an island Southwest of Mindoro which is presumably Ma-i, a clay medallion of a Buddhist Bodhisattva. The presence of this Buddhist religious item along with the incorporation of Tantric philosophical and religious ideals in Tagalog vocabulary maybe proofs that indeed Ma-i was practicing Buddhism before the advent of Islam.[27]


The Chinese records made no specific note of the solid food the people of Ma-i ate, but the Daoyi Zhilüe did describe their process for making alcoholic beverages:

"The people boil seawater to make salt and ferment treacle (molasses) to make liquor."[5]


The Zhu Fan Zhi describes the people of Ma-i as covering themselves "with a cloth like a sheet or hide their bodies with a loin cloth."[22] And the Daoyi Zhilüe, written a century later, describes the clothing and coiffure of the people of Ma-i, saying "In their customs they esteem the quality of chastity and uprightness. Both men and women do up their hair in a mallet-like tress. They wear a blue cotton shirt."[5]

Funerary practicesEdit

In 1349, the Daoyi Zhilüe also made observations of funerary practices, describing them thus:

When any woman is burying her husband, she shaves her hair and fasts for seven days, lying beside her dead husband. Most of them nearly die. If after seven days they are not dead, their relatives urge them to eat. Should they get quite well they cherish their chastity by not marrylng again during their whole lives. There are some even, who, when the body of their dead husband is burning, get into the funeral pyre and die.

At the burial of a great chief, two or three thousand (sic. could be twenty or thlrty) male or female slaves are put to death for burying with him.[5]

Diplomatic relationsEdit

Relationship with China and BruneiEdit

Scott 1989 notes that Ma-i's relationship with Song and Yuan Dynasty was defined by trade, not by diplomacy:

Ma-i never sent a tribute mission to China and probably never needed to: it flourished during the Sung Dynasty when the imperial government was encouraging Chinese merchants to carry their goods abroad in their own ships.[22](p63)"

The nature of Ma-i's relationship with Brunei is less clear because of scant documentation, but there is no indication of any relationship other than possible trade.[2]

Relationship with nearby territoriesEdit

The Zhu Fan Zhi mentions a number of territories in its account of Ma-i, saying:

San-hsu, Pai-p'u-yen, P'u-li-lu, Li-yin-tung, Liu-hsin, Li-han, etc., are all the same sort of place as Ma-i[22](p68)

Contemporary scholars believe that these are the Baipuyan (Babuyan Islands), Bajinong (Busuanga), Liyin (Lingayen) and Lihan (present day Malolos City). Malolos is a coastal town and one of the ancient settlement around Manila Bay near Tondo.[28][29]

While the phrase "subordinates" has sometimes been interpreted to mean that these places are territories of Ma-I, Scott clarifies[20] that:

"The text says, not that these places belong to Ma-i, but they are of Ma-i's 'shu', a word that means type or class as a noun, and subordinate (e.g. shu kuo, tributary state"), as an adjective, being used elsewhere in the Chu Fan Chih in these two senses"[20]

Ma-i after the Yuan Dynasty recordsEdit

No mentions of the country of Ma-i have been found after 1349 (or 1339 depending on the source).[1][30] However, historians generally believe that Ma-i continued to exist under a different name.[1] Early theories for the location of Ma-i include locations in Central Luzon,[31] or the Southern Tagalog area.[26] Many 20th Century Scholars came to accept the idea that Ma-i was located on the island of Mindoro, based on the name of Mait, a place on the island.[30] However, this has been questioned on the basis of physical evidence and an analysis of Chinese orthography,[1] and Bay (pronounced "Ba-i" or "Ba-e" by locals) has once again been suggested as a likely location of Ma-i.[1]

Bay, Laguna as Ma-iEdit

The idea that Ma-i was located somewhere in the Tagalog region was proposed early on by scholars such as Blumentritt and Rizal.[26] Eventually, though, it became popular during the middle and late 20th century[1] to believe that it had become "Mait", a place now located in Mindoro.[30]

In 2004, Chinese Filipino scholar Bon Juan Go questioned this common belief, citing the lack of physical evidence for a large, prosperous settlement on the island of Mindoro.[1] He suggested that Chinese orthogoraphy equally allows for the possibility that Ma-i became Bay, Laguna, whose name is pronounced "Ba-eh" by locals. He notes that Bay is also a match for the physical characteristics of Ma-i,[1] and that numerous artifacts found in the area (including the nearby towns of Victoria Pila and Lumban, Laguna) suggest the presence of a prosperous pre-colonial settlement.[1] Grace P. Odal-Devora notes that this region was the place of the taga-ilaya, whereas the taga-laud who settled downstream on the banks of the Pasig River.[32]

Go suggests that Ma-i, as Ba-e, became less important as the riverine settlements of Namayan, Tondo, and Maynila rose to power, but also noted that Ba-i still nonetheless served as the capital for the province of Laguna de Bay,[1] which would later be split into the provinces of Laguna and Morong (modern day Rizal Province, including coastal towns now administered by the National Capital Region).

Mindoro as Ma-iEdit

Philippine historians of the middle and late 20th century widely believed Ma-i could be equated with "Mait", a place now located in Mindoro,[30] because research by Fay Cooper Cole for the Field Museum in Chicago in 1912 discovered that the ancient name of Mindoro was Mait. [9] Writing in 1984, Scott said that "there [was] no reason to doubt that Mai- or "Ma-yit"- is Mindoro, for Mait was the old name of the island when the Spaniards arrived, and that name is still known to its hill tribes and Fishermen."

This has been contested in contemporary scholarship,[1][33] but textbooks containing this assumption are still widely in use.[1][33]

Later events on the island of MindoroEdit

If, even though it had disappeared from historical writings, Ma-i really was located in Mindoro and it continued to exist until 1500, some believe by it would have been affected by the raids conducted by the Sultanate of Brunei around the year 1498-99, which included a series of raids against the Kingdom of Taytay in Palawan and the island of Mindoro.[30]

If Ma-i continued to exist until the 1570s, then it must have been affected by the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. As described in an anonymous account translated in Blair and Robertson's The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898,[34] Miguel López de Legazpi sent Captain Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo on an expedition to Mindoro in May 1570, to counteract Muslim pirates based on the island who were attacking their new headquarters on nearby Panay Island. Legazpi himself would arrive on Mindoro the next year, 1571. The Spanish conquered and burned two square forts on Lubang Island, each with earthen embankments 2 meters high and a surrounding moat two and a half fathoms wide. Each fort, moreover, had 10 to 12 lantakas, not counting several smaller guns. After destroying these Muslim forts, they despoiled the town of Mamburao while they were at Mindoro.

The Spanish AdventEdit

Whatever happened to Ma-i between the last time it was mentioned by documents at the end of the Tang Dynasty in the 1300s and the beginning of Philippines Spanish in the 1570s, both Mindoro and Bay eventually became part of the Philippine Islands under the dominion of Spain.

Presumed Rulers of Ma-iEdit

Name Title held Date Notes
Unnamed ruler described in the Zhu Fan Zhi as "王" Wang (King)[22] ca. 1225 implied[2] by the text's description as a "country", which in the Chinese worldview of the time should be ruled by a king
Unnamed ruler implied by the description in the Daoyi Zhilüe)[5] ca. 1339 presumably a different ruler from the one described in the Zhu Fan Zhi

Associated Filipino Family NamesEdit

  • Gatmaitan - Ferdinand Blumentritt believed that Ma-i may have been the origin of the Filipino Family name Gatmaitan, which can be broken down into "Gat", meaning leader or lord; the word Mait; and the suffix "-an", which indicates a place name. The ancestor which gave the Gatmaitan family its name was lord of a place named "Mait" or "Maitan"[26]
  • Gatchalian - Misinterpretations of the word "Shi" in the Song dynasty records have led to the family name Gatchalian also being associated with Ma-i. The name can be broken down as "Gat Sa Li-han" (Lord at Li-han), and the records list Li-han as one of the palaces "of Ma-i's Shi." Scott debunks the perception that Li-han is a place ruled by Ma-i, and suggests instead that Li-han is a place "of the same kind" (but of lesser rank) as Ma-i.[2] Also, instead of equating Li-han with Malolos, Scott suggested that Li-han may be Lumban, Laguna.[2]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [lit. "Buddhas"], annotation by Scott 1984


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag Go 2005.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Scott 1989.
  3. ^ a b Scott 1989, pp. 63, 68.
  4. ^ Jocano 1998.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h The Daoyi Zhilüe as translated by Gregorio Zaide and cited by Go, Bon Juan. 2004.
  6. ^ a b c Scott 1989, p. 65.
  7. ^ a b Scott 1989, p. 79.
  8. ^ Scott 1989, p. 70.
  9. ^ a b Cole 1912, p. 19.
  10. ^ a b Patanñe 1996.
  11. ^ Wolters 1999, p. 33.
  12. ^ Jocano 1973.
  13. ^ Malolos Historical Digest, March 2000, Marcial C. Aniag, editor
  14. ^ Nicholl 1980; Nicholl 1983.
  15. ^ Wang 2008.
  16. ^ a b Scott 1989, p. 68.
  17. ^ a b Scott 1989, p. 73.
  18. ^ a b c Villanueva 2009.
  19. ^ a b Junker 1998.
  20. ^ a b c Scott 1989, p. 147.
  21. ^ Philippine Daily Inquirer 2016.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h The Zhu Fan Zhi as translated by Scott, William Henry and I-hsiung Ju in "Prehispanic Source Materials: for the study of Philippine History" (Published by New Day Publishers, Copyright 1984
  23. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth R. "'Piloncitos' and the 'Philippine golden age'". Retrieved 2017-04-28.
  24. ^ Scott 1989, pp. 68, 71.
  25. ^ Scott 1989, p. 71.
  26. ^ a b c d e Rizal, Jose (2000). Political and Historical Writings (Vol. 7). Manila: National Historical Institute.
  27. ^ Malcolm H. Churchill. "INDIAN PENETRATION OF PRE·SPANISH PHILIPPINES : A NEW LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE" (PDF). Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  28. ^ Wang Zhenping (2008). "Reading Song-Ming Records on the Pre-colonial History of the Philippines" (PDF). Journal of East Asian Cultural Interaction Studies. 1: 249–260. ISSN 1882-7756.
  29. ^ de Mas y Sans 1843, p. 164.
  30. ^ a b c d e Scott 1997.
  31. ^ Craig 1914.
  32. ^ Odal-Devora 2000.
  33. ^ a b Rees 2016.
  34. ^ Blair et al., pp. 122–126.