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"Bisaya" redirects here. For the ethnic group found in Borneo, see Bisaya (Borneo).

Total population
Regions with significant populations
Visayas, Mindanao, the rest of the Philippines and Overseas Communities
Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Waray,
other Visayan languages,
Tagalog, English, Spanish and other languages.
Christianity: 92% Roman Catholic, 2% Aglipayan, 1% Evangelicals, remaining 5% belongs to United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Iglesia ni Cristo, 1% Sunni Islam, Animism and other religions[1]
Related ethnic groups
Other Filipinos
People from Sulawesi

The Visayans (Visayan languages: Bisaya) are a Filipino ethnic group whose members share great extent of cultural, historical and linguistic affinity stretching across islands within the Visayan Sea. The people are speakers of one or more Visayan languages, the most widely spoken being Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and Waray-Waray. They live in the Visayan island group and in many parts of Mindanao. Some have migrated to other parts of the Philippines, including Luzon. The Visayans, as one ethnolinguistic umbrella and notwithstanding the population exclusive to that of Visayas, are the largest ethnic group in the country numbering at around 33 million as of 2010.

Kabisay-an refers both to the Visayan people collectively and the lands occupied by them. The Anglicized term Visayas (via Hispanized plural form of Bisaya), is commonly used to refer to the latter. Based on loose definitions, the unofficial boundaries of Visayas traditionally comprise of the following provinces commonly known where Visayans or people with Visayan culture reside: Aklan, Iloilo, Antique, Guimaras, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Siquijor, Bohol, Southern Leyte, Leyte, Biliran, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Samar, Romblon and Masbate.

According to H. Otley Beyer and other anthropologists, the term Visayan was first applied only to the people of Panay and to their settlements eastward in the island of Negros, and northward in the smaller islands, which now compose the province of Romblon. In fact, at the early part of Spanish colonialization of the Philippines, the Spaniards used the term Visayan only for these areas. While the people of Cebu, Bohol, and Leyte were for a long time known only as Pintados. The name Visayan was later extended to these other islands because, as several of the early writers state albeit erroneously, their languages are closely allied to the Visayan "dialect" of Panay. [2] The impression of these similarities was in fact carefully analyzed by David Zorc, who while able to linguistically classify the Austronesian subfamily termed Visayan languages, noticed their overall connections as one dialect continuum. However, these must not be confused to dialects since not all Visayan languages contain a unified set of features.[3]

Grabiel Ribera, captain of the Spanish royal infantry in the Philippine Islands, also distinguished Panay from the rest of the Pintados Islands. In his report (dated 20 March 1579) regarding a campaign to pacify the natives living along the rivers of Mindanao (a mission he received from Dr. Francisco de Sande, Governor and Captain-General of the Archipelago), Ribera mentioned that his aim was to make the inhabitants of that island "vassals of King Don Felipe... as are all the natives of the island of Panay, the Pintados Islands, and those of the island of Luzon..." [4]


Classical Period

Main articles: Confederation of Madja-as and Rajahnate of Cebu

The earliest settlements in the Visayan islands were from valley-dwelling Austronesians and highland-dwelling Negrito dated around 30,000 BC. These early settlers were mostly Animist tribes. In the 12th century, Hindu-Animist descendants from the late empire of the Sri Vijaya, Majapahit and Brunei,[5] settled the islands. By the 14th century, Arab traders and their followers who ventured into Maritime Southeast Asia, converted some of these tribal groups to Islam. These tribes practiced a mixture of Islam, Hinduism and native Animist beliefs. There is also evidence of trade and immigration between other Asian peoples in the area as early as the 9th century. The Tumandok people of the mountainous region of Panay island are the only Visayan group to maintain pre-Hispanic Visayan culture and beliefs, due to their geographic isolation from lowland Visayan groups.

Left to right: [1] Images from the Boxer Codex illustrating an ancient kadatuan or tumao (noble class) Visayan couple of Panay, [2] the Pintados ("The Tattooed"), another name for Visayans of Cebu and its surrounding islands according to the early Spanish explorers, [3] possibly a tumao (noble class) or timawa (warrior class) couple of the Pintados, and [4] a royal couple of the Visayans of Panay.

Although still a matter of speculation, a highly-celebrated epic on the origins of the present-day Visayan people is about the Ten Datus of Borneo. It was said that they originated from an area occupied by the thalassocratic empire of Sri Vijaya during the early 13th century. In an attempt to escape the despotic rule of a Rajah Makatunaw and the subsequent fall of the empire, the chieftains, led by Datu Puti, fled eastwards to what is now the island of Panay. The island at that time was ruled by an Ati chief Marikudo who was later given a golden sadok and a necklace for his wife, Maniwantiwan, in purchase of the Borneans of Panay for new settlement.[6] It was said that the name for the inhabitants, Bisaya, was derived from their original land, Sri Vijaya.[7]

The Visayans first encountered Western Civilization when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reached the island of Cebu in 1521. The Visayas became part of the Spanish colony of the Philippines and the history of the Visayans became intertwined with the history the Philippines. With the four centuries of contact with Spain, Mexico and the United States, a common lowland Christian Filipino culture emerged (other Filipino cultures include that of the Muslim Filipinos, Lumads, Badjaos and Igorots). The Visayans share this culture with the Ilocanos, Kapampangans, Tagalogs, and Bicolanos. These ethnolinguistic groups form the majority of the Filipino population and have embraced Democracy, Christianity, the Latin alphabet, western ways of dressing and education, and English as a secondary language. Many Visayans also spoke Spanish during the Spanish period.

Colonization and Independence

Main article: Negros Revolution

The 16th century marks the beginning of the Christianization of the Visayan people, with the baptism of Rajah Humabon and about 800 native Cebuanos. The Christianization of the Visayans and Filipinos in general, is commemorated by the Sinulog festival and the feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child), the brown-skinned depiction of the Child Jesus given by Magellan to Rajah Humabon’s wife, Hara Amihan (baptized as Queen Juana). By the 17th century, Visayans already took part in religious missions. In 1672, Pedro Calungsod, a teenage indigenous Visayan catechist and Diego Luis de San Vitores, a Spanish friar, were both martyred in Guam during their mission to preach Christianity to the Chamorro people.

By the end of the 19th century, the Spanish Empire weakened after a series of wars with its American colonies. The surge of newer ideas from the outside world thanks to the liberalization of trade by the Bourbon Spain fostered a relatively larger middle class population called the Ilustrados or "the Enlightened Ones." This then became an incentive for the new generation of educated political visionaries to fulfill their dreams of independence from three centuries of colonial rule. Some prominent leaders of the Philippine Revolution in the late 19th century were Visayans. Among leaders of the Propaganda movement was Graciano López Jaena, the Ilonggo who established the propagandist publication La Solidaridad (The Solidarity). In the Visayan theater of the Revolution, Pantaleon Villegas (better known as León Kilat) led the Cebuano revolution in the Battle of Tres de Abril (April 3). One of his successors, Arcadio Maxilom, is a prominent general in the liberalization of Cebu.[8] Earlier in 1897, Aklan fought against the Spaniards with Francisco Castillo and Candido Iban at the helm. Both were executed after a failed offensive.[9] Martin Delgado and Juan Araneta led the rebellion in neighboring Iloilo. With the assistance of Aniceto Lacson, Negros Occidental was freed. The latter would be called the Negros Revolution or the Cinco de Noviembre. The other half of Negros was rallied by Diego de la Viña.[10] Movements in Capiz were led by Esteban Contreras with the aid of Alejandro Balgos, Santiago Bellosillo and other Ilustrados.[11][12] Meanwhile, Leandro Locsin Fullon spearheaded the liberalization of Antique.[13] Most of these revolutionaries would continue their fight for independence until the Philippine–American War. There was also a less heard and short-lived uprising called the Igbaong Revolt which occurred in Igbaong, Antique steered by Maximo and Gregorio Palmero. This revolt, however, was secularly-motivated as they clamored for a more syncretic form of religion based on ancient Visayan rituals and Christianity.[14]

Modern Age

Main article: Ceboom

There have been three Philippine Presidents from the Visayan region: the Cebuano Sergio Osmeña, the Ilonggo Manuel Roxas and the Boholano Carlos P. García. In addition the Visayas has produced three Vice-Presidents, four Senate Presidents, eight Speakers of the House, six Chief Justices, and five Presidential Spouses including Imelda Marcos, a Waray. The then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is also half Cebuano. In international diplomacy the Visayas has produced a United Nations Undersecretary general, the Negros Occidental native Rafael M. Salas who served as the Head of the UNFPA. In the lines of religion, there have been two Visayan Cardinals, namely Julio Rosales from Cebu and Jaime Sin from Aklan. The first Visayan and second Filipino that was canonized is Pedro Calungsod.

Throughout centuries, Spaniards, Japanese, Chinese, and other groups have settled in Visayan cities like Bacolod, Cebu, Dumaguete, Tagbilaran, Iloilo, Ormoc and Mindanao cities like Cagayan de Oro and Davao. Many of them have intermarried with Visayans and their descendants have taken on Visayan as their primary language. Many highland Negritos, locally called as ati, have also been assimilated into mainstream Visayan society.

Visayans have likewise migrated to other parts of the Philippines and abroad. A large part of Mindanao is populated by Visayans. In Metro Manila, many are of Visayan descent. The Visayans have also followed the pattern of migration of Filipinos abroad and some have migrated to other parts of the world starting from the Spanish and American period and after World War II. Most are migrants or working as overseas contract workers.


Main article: Visayan languages

Visayans refer to their respective languages as Binisaya or Bisaya. The table below lists the Philippine languages classified as Visayan by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Although all of the languages indicated below are taxonomically classified as Visayan, not all speakers identify themselves as ethnically Visayan. The Tausūg, a Moro ethnic group, only use Bisaya to refer to the predominantly Christian lowland natives of which Visayans are widely considered to belong to. This is a similar case to the Ati to delineate ethnic Visayans from fellow Negritos.

Language Speakers Date/source
Aklanon 394,545 1990 census
Ati 1,500 1980 SIL
Bantoanon(Asi) 200,000 2002 SIL
Butuanon 34,547 1990 census
Caluyanon 30,000 1994 SIL
Capiznon 638,653 2000
Cebuano 1 20,043,502 1995 census
Cuyonon 123,384 1990 census
Hiligaynon 1 7,000,000 1995
Inonhan 85,829 2000 WCD
Kinaray-a 377,529 1994 SIL
Malaynon 8,500 1973 SIL
Masbatenyo 350,000 2002 SIL
Porohanon 23,000
Ratagnon 2 2000 Wurm
Romblomanon 200,000 1987 SIL
Sorsogon, Masbate 85,000 1975 census
Sorsogon, Waray 185,000 1975 census
Surigaonon 344,974 1990 census
Tausug 2 900,000 2000 SIL
Waray-Waray 2,437,688 1990 census
Total 33,463,654

1 Philippines only.
2 Philippines only; 1,022,000 worldwide.



According to a survey made in 2000, majority or 86.53% of the population of Western Visayas were Roman Catholics. Aglipayan (4.01%) and Evangelicals (1.48%), followed, while 7.71% belonged to other religious affiliations.[15] According to the same survey, 92% of the household population in Central Visayas were Roman Catholics. This was followed by Aglipayans (2%) and Evangelicals (1%). The remaining 5% belonged to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Iglesia ni Cristo or other denominations.[1] For Eastern Visayas, majority of the total household population in were Roman Catholics. More than 93% of the total household population were from the aforementioned followed by Aglipayan (2%) and Evangelicals (1%). The remaining 15% were in Iglesia ni Cristo, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Islam and other religions.[16]


Visayans are known in the Philippines for their festivities such as the Ati-atihan, Dinagyang,[17] Pintados-Kasadyaan, Sangyaw, Sinulog festivals. Most Visayan festivals have a strong association with Roman Catholicism despite apparent integration of ancient Hindu-Buddhist-Animist folklore particularly the tradition of dances and the idols in the image of the Child Jesus commonly named as the Santo Niño. The oldest Catholic religious image in the islands still existing today is the Santo Niño de Cebú.

Meanwhile, the Sandugo Festival of Tagbilaran, Bohol is a celebration of one of the most significant parts of pre-Philippine history. This festival revolves around the theme of the reenactment of the blood compact between the island's chieftain, Datu Sikatuna, and the Spanish explorer, Miguel López de Legazpi, which is known among Filipinos as the Sandugo. The arrival of the ten Bornean datus as mentioned in the legend of Maragtas is celebrated in Binirayan Festival in Antique.[18]

The MassKara Festival of Bacolod, Negros Occidental explores more on the distinct cultural identity of the city. Since Bacolod is tagged as the City of Smiles due to its fun-loving and enduring people, the city government inaugurated the festival in 1980.[19][20]



Some of the earliest known works documented by a Spanish Jesuit named Ignacio Francisco Alzina during the Spanish colonial Philippines. Among these literary pieces from ancient Eastern Visayas were candu, haya, ambahan, canogon, bical, balac, siday and awit which are predominantly in Waray. There were also narratives called susmaton and posong. It was also described that theater played a central role in performing poetry, rituals and dances.[21] The Western Visayans also shared nearly the same literary forms with the rest of the islands. Among their pre-Hispanic works were called the bangianay, hurobaton, paktakun, sugidanun and amba. These were all found to be in Old Kinaray-a. Some of the widely known and the only existing literature describing ancient Visayan society are as the Hinilawod and the Maragtas which was in a combination of Kinaray-a and Hiligaynon.[22][23] The Aginid: Bayok sa Atong Tawarik is an epic retelling a portion of ancient Cebu history where the Chola dynasty minor prince Sri Lumay of Sumatra founded and ruled the Rajahnate of Cebu.[24] It also has accounts of Rajah Humabon and Lapu-Lapu.[25][26]

It was found by Filipino polymath José Rizal in Antonio de Morga's Sucesos delas islas Filipinas that one of the first known native poet in much of pre-Philippines known to Europeans was a Visayan named Karyapa.[27] During the golden age of native Philippine languages at the onset of Japanese occupation, numerous Visayan names rose to literary prominence. Acclaimed modern Visayan writers in their respective native languages are Marcel Navarra, the father of modern Cebuano literature, Magdalena Jalandoni, Ramon Muzones, Iluminado Lucente, Francisco Alvardo, Eduardo Makabenta, Norberto Romuáldez, Antonio Abad, Augurio Abeto, Diosdado Alesna, Maragtas S. V. Amante, Epifanio Alfafara, Jose Yap, Leoncio P. Deriada, Conrado Norada, John Iremil Teodoro and Peter Solis Nery.

Don Ramon Roces of Roces Publishing, Inc. is credited for the promulgation of Visayan languages in publications through Hiligaynon and Bisaya.

Cinema, television and theater

Main article: Cebuano theater

From the 40's to 70's, Visayan movies particularly Cebuano experienced a boom. In the mid 40's alone, a total of 50 Visayan productions were completed. The decade after, nearly 80 movies were filmed.[28] This wave of success has been bolstered by Gloria Sevilla, billed as the Queen of Visayan movies,[29] who won the prestigious Best Actress award of the 1969 FAMAS for the film Badlis sa Kinabuhi and the 1974 Gimingaw Ako.[30] Among the other veteran actors who gained recognition from Visayan films were Caridad Sanchez, Lorna Mirasol, Chanda Romero, Pilar Pilapil and Suzette Ranillo.

The Metro Manila acting industries were also supported by actors who have strong Visayan roots. Among them are Joel Torre, Jackie Lou Blanco, Edu Manzano, Manilyn Reynes, Dwight Gaston, Vina Morales, Sheryl Reyes, and Cesar Montano who starred in the multi-awarded 2004 movie Panaghoy sa Suba. Younger breed of talents also rose to fame such as Isabel Oli, Kim Chiu, Enrique Gil, Shaina Magdayao, Carla Abellana and Matteo Guidicelli.

Award-winning director Peque Gallaga of Bacolod has garnered acclaim from his most successful movie Oro, Plata, Mata which depicted Negros during World War II. Among his other works and contributions are classic Filipino horror film Shake, Rattle & Roll series, Scorpio Nights and Batang X.

Back in 2011, a teleserye and the first Filipino period drama by GMA Network entitled Amaya, as well as its 2013 sequel Indio, primarily featured ancient Visayan society, politics and mythologies.


Main article: BisRock

Traditional Visayan folk music were known to many such as Dandansoy originally in Hiligaynon and is now commonly sang in other Visayan languages. Another, although originally written in Tagalog, is Waray-Waray which speaks of the common stereotypes and positive characteristics of the Waray people. American jazz singer Eartha Kitt also had a rendition of the song in her live performances.[31] A very popular Filipino Christmas carol Ang Pasko ay Sumapit translated by Levi Celerio to Tagalog was originally a Cebuano song entitled Kasadya Ning Taknaa popularized by Ruben Tagalog.[32]

Contemporary Philippine music was highly influenced and molded through the contributions of many Visayan artists. Many of them are platinum recorder Jose Mari Chan, Pilita Corrales, Dulce, Verni Varga, Susan Fuentes, Jaya and Kuh Ledesma who have enjoyed acclaim around the 60's to the early 90's. Newer singers are Sheryn Regis and Sitti Navarro.

Yoyoy Villame, a Boholano, is dubbed as the Father of Filipino Novelty Songs with his Butsekik as the most popular. Villame (before he died) often collaborated with fellow singer, Max Surban. Joey Ayala and Bayang Barrios are two of the front-runners of a branching musical subgenre called Neotraditional which involved traditional Filipino instruments with modern rhythm and melody.

Rock emerged dominant in the Philippine music scene in the 80's. Among the bands from Visayas are Urbandub and Junior Kilat. Another subgenre also sprung a few years later called BisRock which is a portmanteau of Bisaya and rock.


Ethnic dances from the region are common in any traditional Filipino setting. Curacha or kuratsa (not to be confused with the Zamboangueño dish) is a popular Waray dance. Its Cebuano counterparts are kuradang and la berde.[33] There is the liki from Negros Occidental[34] and the well-known tinikling of Leyte.[35][36] Other Hiligaynon dances are the harito, balitaw, liay, lalong kalong, imbong, inay-inay and binanog.[37]

Visual Arts

The only Boholano and the youngest to receive the National Artist of the Philippines award for visual arts is Napoleon Abueva. He is also tagged as the Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture. Among his works are Kaganapan (1953), the Transfiguration (1979) and the 14 Stations of the Cross around the EDSA Shrine.[38] He is also responsible for the sculpture of the Sandugo monument at Tagbilaran City to give homage to his roots.

A renowned figure in architecture is Leandro Locsin of Silay, Negros Occidental. He was proclaimed as National Artist of the Philippines for architecture in 1990. Locsin worked on many of the buildings in many campuses of the University of the Philippines System. He also designed the main building or the Tanghalang Pambansa of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Ayala Tower One & Exchange Plaza housing the Philippine Stock Exchange at Makati.

See also


External links

  • Visayan Languages
  • Visayan
  • The issues on the use of the word ‘Bisaya’ by Henry Funtecha, PhD The News Today. August 28, 2009 Iloilo City, Philippines.

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