Visayans (Visayan: Mga Bisaya; local pronunciation: [bisaja]) (or Visayan people), are a Philippine ethnolinguistic group native to the whole Visayas, the southernmost islands of Luzon and most parts of Mindanao. They are the largest ethnic group in the geographical division of the country, numbering at more than 33,463,654. Those particularly within the Visayas broadly share a sea-based culture with strong Roman Catholic traditions merged with cultural elements through centuries of interaction and inter-migrations mainly across the seas of Visayan, Sibuyan, Camotes and Bohol, and in some secluded areas merged with ancient animistic-polytheistic influences (i.e. Folk Catholicism). Most Visayans are speakers of one or more Bisayan languages, the most widely spoken being Cebuano, followed by Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) and Waray-Waray.[2]

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.
Visayan people
Kabisay-an / Mga Bisaya
Visayan couple, Boxer Codex
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Visayas, large parts of Mindanao, southernmost parts of Luzon, the rest of the Philippines and overseas communities
Bisayan languages, Filipino, other Philippine languages,
English and Spanish
Christianity: 85% Roman Catholic, 2% Aglipayan, 1% Evangelicals, remaining 5% belongs to United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Iglesia ni Cristo, 8% Sunni Islam, Animism and other religions[1]
Related ethnic groups
Tausūg people, Zamboangueño people, Tagalog people, Austronesian people and other Filipinos


Kabisay-an refers both to the Visayan people collectively and the islands they have inhabited since prehistory. The Anglicized term Visayas (adapted from the, in turn, Hispanized Bisayas) is commonly used to refer to the latter.

In Northern Mindanao, Visayans (both Mindanao natives and migrants) are also referred to by the Lumad as the dumagat ("sea people", not to be confused with the Dumagat Aeta). This was to distinguish the coast-dwelling Visayans from the Lumad of the interior highlands and marshlands.[3]

The following regions and provinces in the Philippines have a sizeable or predominant Visayan population:

Regions and provinces with significant Visayan populations
MIMAROPA & Bicol Western Visayas Central Visayas Eastern Visayas Zamboanga Peninsula Northern Mindanao Caraga Region Davao Region SOCCSKSARGEN

According to H. Otley Beyer and other anthropologists, the term Visayan (Spanish: bisayo) 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,[4] while the people of Cebu, Bohol, and western Leyte were for a long time known only as Pintados.[5] The name Visayan was later extended to them around the beginning of 1800s because, as several of the early writers state (especially in the writings of the Jesuit Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro published in 1801),[6] albeit erroneously, their languages are closely allied to the Visayan "dialect" of Panay. The impression of these similarities was in fact carefully analyzed by David Zorc, who, while able to linguistically classify the Austronesian subfamily termed Bisayan languages, noticed their overall connections as one dialect continuum. These should not, however, be confused as dialects, given the lack of mutual intelligibility.[7]

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 ..."[8]


Classical period

The Visayans first encountered Western Civilization when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reached the island of Homonhon, Eastern Samar in 1521.[10] The Visayas became part of the Spanish colony of the Philippines and the history of the Visayans became intertwined with the history of the Philippines. With the three centuries of contact with the Spanish Empire via Mexico and the United States, the islands today share a culture[11] tied to the sea[12] later developed from an admixture of indigenous lowland Visayans, Han Chinese, Indian, Hispanic and American influences.

Spanish colonization

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 Ati-Atihan Festival of Aklan, the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo, and the Sinulog festival the feast of the Santo Niño de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu), 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.[13]

Visayan women presumed to be part of the Philippine Reservation during the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

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, Pantaleón 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.[14] Earlier in 1897, Aklan fought against the Spaniards with Francisco Castillo and Candido Iban at the helm. Both were executed after a failed offensive.[15] Martin Delgado and Juan Araneta led the rebellion in neighboring Iloilo. With the assistance of Aniceto Lacson, Negros Occidental was freed while Negros Oriental was liberated by Diego de la Viña. The latter would be called the Negros Revolution or the Cinco de Noviembre.[16] Movements in Capiz were led by Esteban Contreras with the aid of Alejandro Balgos, Santiago Bellosillo and other Ilustrados.[17][18] Meanwhile, Leandro Locsin Fullon spearheaded the liberalization of Antique.[19] 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 Visayan animist traditions and Christianity.[20]

Federal State of the Visayas

At the peak of the Philippine Revolution, anti-colonial insurgencies sprung from Luzon up to the Visayas. Despite military support from the Tagalog Republic led by Emilio Aguinaldo, Visayan revolutionary leaders were skeptical toward the real motives of the Tagalogs.[21] Such ethnic animosity was notable to the point that local Visayan leaders demanded forces sent from the north to surrender their armaments and were prohibited to leave revolutionary bases. Moreover, this apprehension led to the full declaration of the Federal State of Visayas on December 12, 1898.[22] This short-lived federal government, based in Iloilo, was an accumulation of revolutionary movements across Panay and Negros. The following were the elected officials four days prior to the declaration:[23]

General-PresidentAnecito Lacson
TreasurerEusebio Luzurriaga
Executive SecretaryMelecio Severino
Secretary of WarJuan Araneta
Secretary Of InteriorSimeón Lizares
Secretary of Public WorksNicolás Gólez
Secretary of JusticeAntonio Jayme Ledesma
Secretary of Agriculture and CommerceAgustín Amenablar

The federation was immediately formed upon the merger of the Cantonal Government of Negros,[24] the Cantonal Government of Bohol and the Provisional Government of the District of Visayas (based in Panay) which included Romblon. It was said to be based on American federalism and Swiss confederacy. Despite their skepticism towards Malolos, the Visayan government proclaimed its loyalty to the Luzon-based republic while maintaining their own governance, tax collection and army. Apolinario Mabini, then the prime minister of the Malolos republic convinced the Visayan leaders that the Malolos Constitution was only provisional and that the governments in Visayas and Mindanao were promised the power to co-ratify it.[25][26]

American colonization

After the 1898 Treaty of Paris, the American colonial government saw the integral part of indigenous elites particularly in Negros in local affairs. This was a different move compared to the previous Spanish imperialists who created a racial distinction between mestizos and native Austronesians (indios). As such, this paved the way for a homogenous concept of a Filipino albeit initially based on financial and political power. These said elites were the hacienderos or the landed, bourgeois-capitalist class concentrated within the sugar cane industry of Negros. The Americans' belief that these hacienderos would be strategic elements in their political hold within the newly acquired colony bolstered the drafting of a separate colonial constitution by and for the sugar industry elites. This constitution likewise established the Negros Cantonal Government. This ensured that the island of Negros would be governed by an indigenous civilian government in contrast to the rest of colonist-controlled areas governed by the American-dominated Philippine Commission.[27]

During this period, the eastern islands of Samar, Leyte and Biliran (including Marinduque) were directly governed by the Malolos Republic through Vicente Lukban and later by Ambrosio Mojica.[28] Meanwhile, prior to the full abolition of the federal government on November 12, 1899, Emilio Aguinaldo appointed Martin Delgado as the civil and military governor of Iloilo on April 28, 1899 upon American invasion of Antique. The federal government, much to its rejection of the Cebuano leaders who supported the Katipunan cause, was dissolved upon the Iloilo leaders' voluntary union with the newly formed First Philippine Republic.[29] Other factors which led to Aguinaldo forcing the Visayans to dissolve their government was due to the federation's resistance from reorganizing its army and forwarding taxes to Malolos.[30]


Present-day Cebu City, the "Queen City of the South;" Metro Cebu is the de facto economic center of Central Philippines

Since Philippine independence from the United States, there have been three Philippine Presidents from the Visayan regions: the Cebuano Sergio Osmeña, the Capiznon 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. Current president Rodrigo Duterte, who is of Visayan ethnicity, also has Leyteño roots. 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 Samar and Jaime Sin from Aklan. The first Visayan and second Filipino that was canonized is Pedro Calungsod.[31]

Throughout centuries, non-Visayan groups, most notably foreigners such as the Chinese, have settled in predominantly-Visayan cities in Visayas like Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete and Cebu and Mindanao such as Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Davao and General Santos.[32][33] These Filipino-Chinese have been assimilated to mainstream society. One factor would be the limited number of Chinese schools in the Visayas which help maintain the Chinese identity and a stronger sense of a distinct community.[34] Many of them, particularly the younger generation, have been de-cultured from Chinese traditions, share values about family and friends with other Filipinos, and do not write or speak Chinese well.[35][36]

Meanwhile, Negritos, locally called Ati, have also been assimilated into mainstream Visayan society.

Visayans have likewise migrated to other parts of the Philippines, especially Metro Manila and Mindanao. 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.


Ethnic Visayans predominantly speak at least one of the Bisayan languages which are commonly referred 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 classified as "Visayan" by linguistic terminology, not all speakers identify themselves as ethnically or culturally Visayan. The Tausūg, a Moro ethnic group, only use Bisaya to refer to the predominantly Christian lowland natives which Visayans are popularly recognized as.[37] This is a similar case to the Ati, who delineate Visayans from fellow Negritos. Conversely, the Visayans of Capul in Northern Samar speak Abaknon, a Sama–Bajaw language, as their native tongue.

Language SpeakersDate/source
Aklanon394,5451990 census
Ati1,5001980 SIL
Bantoanon(Asi)200,0002002 SIL
Butuanon34,5471990 census
Caluyanon30,0001994 SIL
Cebuano 120,043,5021995 census
Cuyonon123,3841990 census
Hiligaynon 17,000,0001995
Inonhan85,8292000 WCD
Kinaray-a377,5291994 SIL
Malaynon8,5001973 SIL
Masbatenyo350,0002002 SIL
Ratagnon22000 Wurm
Romblomanon200,0001987 SIL
Sorsogon, Masbate85,0001975 census
Sorsogon, Waray185,0001975 census
Surigaonon344,9741990 census
Tausug 22,175,0002012 SIL
Waray-Waray2,437,6881990 census

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




Prior to the arrival of Catholicism, precolonial Visayans adhered to a complex Hindu-Buddhist and animist system where spirits in nature were believed to govern all existing life. Similar to other ethnic groups in the Philippines such as the Tagalogs who believed in a pantheon of gods, the Visayans also adhered to deities led by a supreme being. Such belief, on the other hand, was misinterpreted by arriving Spaniards such as Jesuit historian Pedro Chirino to be a form of monotheism.[38] There are Kaptan and Magwayan, supreme god of the sky and goddess of the sea and death, respectively. They in turn bore two children, Lihangin, god of wind, and Lidagat, goddess of the sea. Both aforementioned gods had four children, namely Likabutan, the god of the world, Liadlaw, the god of the sun, Libulan, the god of the moon, and Lisuga, the goddess of the stars.[39] People believed that life transpires amidst the will of and reverence towards gods and spirits. These deities who dwell within nature were collectively called the diwata.[40] Meanwhile, spirits were referred to as umalagad (called anito in Luzon).[41] These refer to ancestors, past leaders or heroes also transfigured within nature. Beside idols symbolizing the umalagad were food, drinks, clothing, precious valuables or even a sacrificial animal offered for protection of life or property. Such practice was a form of ancestor worship. Furthermore, these rituals surrounding the diwata and umalagad were mediated by the babaylan who were highly revered in society as spiritual leaders. These intercessors were equivalent to shamans, and were predominantly women or were required to have strong female attributes such as hermaphrodites and homosexuals. Old men were also allowed to become one.[42] One notable example is Dios Buhawi who ruled a politico-religious revolt in Negros Oriental at the beginning of the Philippine Revolution.[27]


According to 2000 survey, 86.53% of the population of Western Visayas professed Roman Catholicism. Aglipayan (4.01%) and Evangelicals (1.48%) were the next largest groups, while 7.71% identified with other religious affiliations.[43]

The same survey showed that 92% of household populations in Central Visayas were Catholics, followed by Aglipayans (2%) and Evangelicals (1%). The remaining 5% belonged to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Iglesia ni Cristo, various Protestant denominations or other religions.[1]

For Eastern Visayas, 93% of the total household population were Catholics, while 2% identified as "Aglipayan", and 1% as "Evangelical". The remaining 5% belonged to other Protestant denominations (including the Iglesia ni Cristo, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and various Baptist churches) or identified with Islam and other religions.[44]

The Tausugs of Sulu do not or identified themselves less as "Bisaya" (Visayan) despite their language being classified as Visayan, owing to their distinct culture and profession of Islamic faith. The Tausug term "bisaya" is only referred to their Christian Visayan neighbors. Tausugs are overwhelmingly Muslims, particularly in their home provinces of Sulu and Tawi-tawi, while those who migrated to and lived in predominantly Christian cities or provinces already professed Catholic Christianity or "Born-Again" Christianity.


Visayans are known in the Philippines for their festivities such as the Ati-atihan, Dinagyang,[45] 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.

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 monarch, 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.[46]

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 after tragedy struck the region.[47][48]


Some of the earliest known works were 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.[49] 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.[50][51] 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.[52] It also has accounts of Rajah Humabon and Lapu-Lapu.[53]

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.[54] 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.[55]

Cinema, television and theatre

Visayan films, particularly Cebuano-language ones, experienced a boom between the 1940s and the 1970s. In the mid 1940s alone, a total of 50 Visayan productions were completed, while nearly 80 movies were filmed in the following decade.[56] This wave of success has been bolstered by Gloria Sevilla, billed as the "Queen of Visayan Movies",[57] who won the prestigious Best Actress award from the 1969 FAMAS for the film Badlis sa Kinabuhi and the 1974 Gimingaw Ako.[58] Caridad Sanchez, Lorna Mirasol, Chanda Romero, Pilar Pilapil and Suzette Ranillo are some of the industry's veterans who gained recognition from working on Visayan films.

The national film and television industries are also supported by actors who have strong Visayan roots such as Joel Torre, Jackie Lou Blanco, Edu Manzano, Manilyn Reynes, Dwight Gaston, Vina Morales, Sheryl Reyes, and Cesar Montano, who starred in the 1999 biographical film Rizal and multi-awarded 2004 movie Panaghoy sa Suba.[59] Younger actors and actress of Visayan origin or ancestry include Isabel Oli, Kim Chiu, Enrique Gil, Shaina Magdayao, Carla Abellana, Erich Gonzales and Matteo Guidicelli.

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

GMA Network's 2011 period drama teleserye Amaya as well as its 2013 series Indio, featured the politics and culture of ancient and colonial Visayan societies, respectively.


Traditional Visayan folk music were known to many such as Dandansoy originally in Hiligaynon and is now commonly sang in other Bisayan 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.[60] 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.[61]

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 enjoyed acclaim around the 1960s to the early 1990s. Newer singers are Jed Madela, 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 often collaborated with fellow singer, Max Surban. Joey Ayala, Grace Nono and Bayang Barrios are some of the front-runners of a branching musical subgenre called Neotraditional which involved traditional Filipino instruments with modern rhythm and melody.

Rock emerged into dominance within the Philippine music scene in the 1980s. 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.[62] There is the liki from Negros Occidental[63] and the well-known tinikling of Leyte.[64][65] Other Hiligaynon dances are the harito, balitaw, liay, lalong kalong, imbong, inay-inay and binanog.[66]

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.[67] 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


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