Each man is often attributed the title sunan in Javanese, which may derive from suhun, in this context meaning "honoured"
Most of the wali were also called raden during their lifetimes, because they were members of royal houses. (See "Style and Title" section of Yogyakarta Sultanate for an explanation of Javanese nobility terms.)
The graves of Wali Sanga are venerated as locations of ziarah (ziyarat) or local pilgrimage in Java.The graves are also known as pundhen in Javanese.
Some Muslim mystics came to Java from Gujarat, India via Samudera Pasai (part of what is now Aceh). The earliest wali songo was Maulana Malik Ibrahim (originally from Samarkand) who arrived on Java in 1419 CE.
Tracing the lineage back further than Maulana Malik Ibrahim is problematic. Although silsila are listed in various Javanese royal chronicles (such as Sejarah Banten) to denote ancestral lineage, the term in Sufism refers to a lineage of teachers. Some of these spiritual lineages are cited by van Bruinessen in his study of the Banten Sultanate, particularly in regard to Sunan Gunung Jati who was an initiate of various Sufi orders.
Although popular belief sometimes refers to the wali songo as "founders" of Islam on Java, the religion was present by the time the Chinese Muslim admiral Zheng He arrived during his first voyage (1405-1407 CE).
Most of the wali songo had some Chinese ancestry; for example, Sunan Ampel (Chinese name Bong Swi Ho), Sunan Bonang (Ampel's son, Bong Ang), and Sunan Kalijaga (Gan Si Cang).
Some of the family relationships described below are well-documented; others are less certain. Even today, it is common in Java for a family friend to be called "uncle" or "brother" despite the lack of blood relationship.
* Maulana Malik Ibrahim also known as Sunan Gresik: Arrived on Java 1404 CE, died in 1419 CE, buried in Gresik, East Java. Activities included commerce, healing, and improvement of agricultural techniques. Father of Sunan Ampel and uncle of Sunan Giri.
* Sunan Ampel: Born in Champa in 1401 CE, died in 1481 CE in Demak, Central Java. Can be considered a focal point of the wali songo: he was the son of Sunan Gresik and the father of Sunan Bonang and Sunan Dradjat. Sunan Ampel was also the cousin and father-in-law of Sunan Giri. In addition, Sunan Ampel was the grandfather of Sunan Kudus. Sunan Bonang in turn taught Sunan Kalijaga, who was the father of Sunan Muria. Sunan Ampel was also the teacher of Raden Patah.
* Sunan Giri: Born in Blambangan (now Banyuwangi, the easternmost part of Java) in 1442 CE. His father Maulana Ishak was the brother of Maulana Malik Ibrahim. Sunan Giri's grave is in Gresik near Surabaya.
* Sunan Bonang: Born in 1465 CE in Rembang (near Tuban) on the north coast of Central Java. Died in 1525 CE. Brother of Sunan Drajat. Composed songs for gamelan orchestra.
* Sunan Drajat: Born in 1470 CE. Brother of Sunan Bonang. Composed songs for gamelan orchestra.
* Sunan Kudus: Died 1550 CE, buried in Kudus. Possible originator of wayang golek puppetry.
* Sunan Kalijaga: Buried in Kadilangu. Used wayang kulit shadow puppets and gamelan music to convey spiritual teachings.
* Sunan Muria: Buried in Gunung Muria, Kudus. Son of Sunan Kalijaga and Dewi Soejinah (sister of Sunan Giri), thus grandson of Maulana Ishak.
* Sunan Gunung Jati: Buried in Cirebon. Founder and first ruler of the Banten Sultanate.