Mothers Day: Inday and the Balangiga Uprising

The 1901 Balangiga Massacre

This battle was described as the “worst defeat of United States Army soldiers since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876”
Mildred German

Unceded Territories – As the world celebrates the annual Mothers Day during every month of May, it still sparks the question in me, in addition to this special day which honours mothers, “Why can’t it be Mothers’ Day everyday?

Flowers and greeting cards, breakfasts-in-bed, dining reservations or take-out meals are  top sales during Mothers’ Day. All these shopping and record-breaking sales are proving even Mothers Day is a celebration also generated by consumerism.

However, this annual celebration honouring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers in society, Mothers Day is one of the events being celebrated in many parts of the world. Motherhood and mothers remain as inspiration in storytelling, arts, and music.


As Filipinos love arts, singing and music, motherhood and mothers remain a top inspiration. Filipino songs touching on the topic of motherhood and mother-children relationships are plenty.

Particularly, hums and lullabies are some of the lovely songs any adult can sing and relate within the bittersweet thoughts of the safe and peaceful cradle our mothers brought in our childhoods, leaving many listeners teary-eyed.

These nostalgic memories of childhood and soothing melodies are encapsulated via our mothers’ lullabies, that these lullabies might be permanently etched in our minds that can serve as a refuge in times of worries.


Priests and officials pose with one of bells following the handover ceremony.Bullit Marquez / AP

An example of a teary-eyed lullabye, which resonates with mothers and motherhood is “Inday”. Inday is inspired by a Waray-Waray song and hum of a weary mother who lost her daughter / child during the Balangiga Massacre.

“Inday, inday nakain ka han kasunog han Balangiga; pito katuig an paglaga, an aso waray kitaa!” (Girl, oh girl! Where were you when Balangiga was set on fire? For seven years it kept on burning, but no one ever saw the smoke!) Inday, inday nakain ka han kasunog han Munyika; pito katuig an paglaga, an aso waray kitaa! (Girl, oh girl! Where were you when your Doll was set on fire? For seven years it kept on burning, but no one ever saw the smoke!)- Inday, a Waray Waray song.

Amidst the Balangiga Massacre, Inday also narrates the story of a distraught mother during the massacre by the American military in the early 1900s. She only found her child’s toy doll while the villages burned to the ground. It was a military order concentrated on the genocide of the Waray Waray people that occured during the Philippine-American War.

The 1901 Balangiga Massacre was a military operation planned by the American troops, amidst a battle that occurred during the Philippine-American War between Philippine forces and American troops, in Balangiga, a municipality in the province of Eastern Samar, Philippines.

The Balangiga villagers of Eastern Samar are known as the country’s first known guerillas. Stories of the bolo-and-machete-wielding battles and the unusual attack tactics that  included much tuba (palm wine) brought in to ensure that the American soldiers would be drunk the day after and hours before the attack.

Also, “women / mothers” would be carrying small coffins to the town plazas, where the military would order to open one of the coffins for checks. As the body of a dead child believed to die of cholera lay on the opened coffin, the coffins were allowed to pass as believed as victims of the cholera pandemic. Unbeknownst to the enemies, the other coffins hid the bolos and other weapons used by the villagers and the guerillas.

When the Balangiga villagers ambushed the nearby American military camp, they fought hundreds of American soldiers, and also captured about 100 rifles and 25,000 rounds of ammunition. This attack by the Waray-Waray villagers has been described as the “worst defeat of United States Army soldiers since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876”.


This battle was described as the “worst defeat of United States Army soldiers since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876”.

“I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me… The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness…”— American General Jacob H. Smith

In retaliation to the Waray Waray ambush of the American infantry, American General Jacob H. Smith ordered that Samar be turned to a “howling wilderness”, to burn the villages to the ground, and that they shoot any Filipino male above ten years of age, and those capable of bearing arms.

In addition, Brigadier General Robert P. Hughes commanded the instigation of an aggressive policy of food deprivation and property destruction on the island to force the end of Philippine resistance. Part of this strategy was to close three key ports on the southern coast, Basey, Balangiga and Guiuan.

The American soldiers also seized three church bells from the town church and moved them back to the United States as war trophies. The American infantry had taken all three bells when they left Balangiga on 18 October 1901. The bells were used by the villagers to signal the surprise attack.

These attacks and the subsequent retaliation remains one of the longest-running and most controversial issues between the Philippines and the United States, that the Inday song itself still hums, “For seven years it kept on burning, but no one ever saw the smoke!”.


Ironically, Balangiga and the Waray Waray people still can smile without the bells.

Petitions to have the bells taken by the Americans to be brought back to the Philippines were dismissed by the USA for many decades. For the Americans, the bells served as their retaliation and trophy to the “insulting attacks” of the Waray Waray people versus the American infantry.

The Balangiga bells not only remind how the Americans torched the town of Balangiga and systemically massacred Waray Waray children and people, but also it reminds of the knee-shaking fear of the Americans of the Waray Waray people.

The Bells of Balangiga were returned to the Philippines in 2018. The song Inday still succeeds. From the “no one ever saw the smoke”, the story of the 1901 Balangiga Massacre remains alive and popular for its guerilla tactics and stories. To date the story of the Balangiga Bells keeps inspiring fellow Filipinos in the struggle for emancipation.

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