AskDefine | Define Visayan

Dictionary Definition

Visayan n : a member of the most numerous indigenous people of the Philippines [syn: Bisayan]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A person of Bisaya descent.

Proper noun

  1. A member of the Bisaya, the largest ethnic group in the Philippines.
  2. The group of some 21 languages of this people.


Extensive Definition

The Visayans or (Visayan languages, Filipino: Bisaya) are the largest ethnolinguistic group of Philippines. They primarily live in the Visayas and northeastern Mindanao but others have migrated elsewhere in the Philippines, including Manila. Several linguistic groups in the Philippines comprise the Visayans: The largest of these groups are the speakers of Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Waray-Waray. These languages, commonly mistakenly referred to as dialects, are all classified as Austronesian. More than 40% of Filipinos have Visayan ancestry or identify as Visayan.


Visayans commonly identify themselves based on language or ancestry. For instance, a Cebuano of Chinese or Spanish ancestry may call himself Bisaya because his mother tongue, Cebuano, is a Visayan language. Others base their Visayan identity on their ancestry; a Manileña of Visayan parentage, for instance, may identify herself as Bisaya in spite of not speaking any of the Visayan languages. Ancestry could also be seen as the basis for having several Visayan languages. From this point of view, one is not a Bisaya because the language one speaks is Binisiya. It is the other way around; the language one speaks is Binisaya because one is Bisaya. Thus, several ethnolinguistic groups can equally claim that their language is Binisaya since they are all equally Bisaya.


Pre-colonial era

The most popular legend on the origins of the Bisaya is the migration of the Ten Bornean Datus to Panay. This legend corroborates the theory that the Bisaya migrated from the lands which are now called Malaysia and Indonesia. The legend of the Ten Bornean Datus, has been doubted by recent scholarship due to the migration theory placing the origins of Austronesian Filipinos, including the Bisaya, in Taiwan.
Some scholars have proposed that the identity of the Bisaya has roots in an ancient political unity—that of the ancient Srivijaya empire, a thalassocracy which came to power in the coastal areas of Southeast Asia between the fifth and fifteenth centuries AD.
Muslim traders brought Islam to Southeast Asia in the twelfth century. By the fourteenth century, Islam made inroads in the Visayas, although most Visayan tribes were still animists when the Spaniards arrived. There have also been economic ties between Visayans and the Chinese since the ninth century.

Spanish colonial era

The Bisaya first encountered Western Civilization when Magellan reached Samar in March 16, 1521. The Visayas eventually became part of the Spanish colony of the Philippines, and from then onwards, the history of the Bisaya is intertwined with the history the Philippines. With the four centuries of contact with Spain, Mexico and the United States, a common low-land Christian Filipino culture emerged. The Bisaya share this culture with the Ilocanos, Kapampangans, Tagalogs, and Bicolanos. These ethnolinguistic groups form the bulk of the Filipino nation, and have embraced Democracy, Christianity, western ways of dressing and education, and Spanish and English as secondary languages.
The sixteenth century also marks the beginning of the Christianization of the Visayans, with the baptism of Rajah Humabon and 800 Cebuanos. The Christianization of the Visayans, and Filipinos in general, is commemorated by the Sinulog mardi gras and the feast of the Sto. Niño, the brown-skinned depiction of the Child Jesus given by Magellan to Rajah Humabon’s wife, Queen Juana. By the seventeenth century, Visayans already took part in evangelical missions; in 1672, Blessed Pedro Calungsod, a teenage Bisaya catechist, was martyred in Guam during a mission to catechize the Chamorros.

The Philippine Revolution and American colonial period

Some prominent characters of the Philippine Revolution in the late 19th century are Visayans. Among leaders of the Propaganda Movement is Graciano Lopez-Jaena, the Ilonggo who established La Solidaridad. A Cebuano from Negros Oriental, Pantaleon Villegas, under the nom de guerre of León Kilat, led the Cebuano chapter of the Katipunan in the battle of Tres de Abril. One of Leon Kilat’s successors, Arcadio Maxilom, is a prominent general in the Philippine-American War in Cebu. Prior to the Philippine Revolution, the most popular battles between Visayans and Spaniards are those of Lapu-Lapu, the datu of Mactan who killed Magellan in 1521; Juan Ponce Sumuroy, the Waray who led a revolt in Samar in 1649; and Francisco Dagohoy, the Bol-anon who led an 85-year revolt in the island of Bohol which began in 1744.

Post-Philippine Independence

There have been three Philippine Presidents from the Visayas: the Cebuano Sergio Osmeña (1878—1961); the Ilonggo Manuel Roxas and the Boholano Carlos P. Garcia (1896—1971).
Throughout the centuries, many Chinese and Spaniards have migrated to major 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 Binisaya as their primary language (see Chinese Filipino and mestiso). Many high-land Negritos have also been assimilated into mainstream Bisaya society.
There has also been a lot of migrations of Visayans to other parts of the Philippines and abroad. A large part of Mindanao is now populated by Visayans. (In the pre-Christian era, Visayans were concentrated in Northern Mindanao. Most of Mindanao, outside of Muslim territory, was then scarcely inhabited.) In Manila, a large percentage of the population is of Bisaya ancestry; in the wider metropolitan area, the majority are of Bisaya ancestry. The Visayans have also followed the pattern of migration of Filipinos abroad; many have migrated to the United States since the early 1900s, and a lot are working as contract workers in the Middle East and as seamen aboard transoceanic vessels.


Kabisay-an, the Visayan homeland

Kabisay-an refers both to the Bisaya people collectively and the lands occupied by them. The English translation, Visayas, is used only to refer to the latter. From a geopolitical standpoint, the Philippine region of the Visayas is comprised of the following islands: Panay, Romblon, Guimaras, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, Leyte, Biliran and Samar.


The Bisaya all refer to their respective languages as Binisaya (see Visayan languages). Binisaya literally means "the way of the Bisaya" and is used to refer to bisaya-style cooking and indigenous herbal medicine, aside from the languages. There is some confusion to the usage and meaning of Bisaya and Binisaya. This probably stems from the inadequacy of English and Tagalog, the two languages with official status in the Philippines, to translate Bisaya and Binisaya accurately. Bisaya and Binisaya are both translated as "Visayan" in English and "Bisaya" in Tagalog.
The table below lists the Philippine languages classified as Bisayan by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Although all of them belong to the same language family of Bisayan, not all speakers identify themselves as Bisaya. The Tausug, for instance, only use Bisaya to refer to Christian Visayans.


Visayans are known for their festivals, such as the Ati-atihan, Sinulog, Sandugo and the MassKara festivals.


Most Visayans are Roman Catholic due to the fact the first churches in the Philippines were established in the Visayas. The people are also known to have a devotion to the Santo Niño or the Child Jesus. However, a sizeable number of Visayans practice ancestor worship exemplified by the practice of providing "souls" for dead relatives so as to accompany him or her to the next life. Others engage in various practices rooted in shamanism such as putting hexes on foes and wearing talismans to protector the wearer from bad spirits.


See also

Visayan in Cebuano: Bisaya
Visayan in French: Bisaya
Visayan in Italian: Bisaya
Visayan in Russian: Висайя
Visayan in Serbo-Croatian: Visajanci
Visayan in Tagalog: Mga Bisaya
Visayan in Waray (Philippines): Bisaya
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