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Native name: Kabisay-an
Visayas Red.png

Location of the islands within the Philippines
Location South East Asia
Archipelago Philippines
Major islands Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Negros, Panay, and Samar
Area 61,077 km2 (23,582 sq mi)
Highest elevation 2,435 m (7,989 ft)
Highest point Kanlaon
Regions Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas and Western Visayas.
Largest settlement Cebu City
Population 18,003,940 (as of 2010)[1]
Density 278 /km2 (720 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups

Visayans (Aklanon, Boholano/Bol-anon, Caluyanon, Capiznon, Cebuano, Eskaya, Hiligaynon, Karay-a, Masbateño, Porohanon, Romblomanon, Waray), Ati

and other ethnic groups.

The Visayas /vɨˈsəz/ və-SY-əz or Visayan Islands[2] (Visayan languages: Kabisay-an, Tagalog: Kabisayaan), is one of the three principal geographical divisions of the Philippines, along with Mindanao and Luzon. It consists of several islands, primarily surrounding the Visayan Sea, although the Visayas are considered the northeast extremity of the entire Sulu Sea.[3] Residents are known as the Visayans.

The major islands of the Visayas are Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar.[4] The region may also include the islands of Romblon and Masbate, whose population identify as Visayan.

There are three administrative regions in the Visayas: Western Visayas (pop. 7.1 million), Central Visayas (6.8 million) and Eastern Visayas (4.1 million).[1]


A theory proposed by some scholars[5] states that the term Visayas was derived from the name of a 7th-century thalassocratic Malay Srivijaya Empire. In Sanskrit, sri (श्री) means "fortunate," "prosperous," or "happy" and vijaya (विजय) means "victorious" or "excellence". In the 12th century, parts of the Sulu Archipelago and the Visayas Islands were either subject or tributaries of the empire.[6]


The early people in the Visayas region were Austronesians and Negritos who migrated to the islands about 6,000 to 30,000 years ago.[citation needed] These early settlers were animist tribal groups. In the 12th century, settlers from the collapsing empires of Srivijaya, Majapahit and Brunei, led by the chieftain Datu Puti and his tribes, settled in the island of Panay and its surrounding islands.[citation needed] By the 14th century, Arab traders and their followers, venturing into Maritime Southeast Asia, converted some of these tribal groups to Islam. These tribes practiced a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Animism beliefs. There is evidence of trade among other Asian people. The Visayans were thought to have kept close diplomatic relations with Malaysia and Indonesian kingdoms since the tribal groups of Cebu were able to converse with Enrique of Malacca using the Malay language when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1521.

After the Magellan expedition, King Philip II of Spain sent Miguel López de Legazpi in 1543 and 1565 and claimed the islands for Spain. The Visayas region and many tribes began converting to Christianity and adopting western culture. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the effects of colonization on various ethnic groups soon turned sour and revolutions such as those of Francisco Dagohoy began to emerge.

Various personalities who fought against Spanish Colonial Government arose from the islands. Among the notable ones are Graciano Lopez Jaena from Iloilo,[7] León Kilat, from Negros Oriental, Venancio Jakosalem Fernandez, from Cebu,[8] and two personalities from Bohol by the name of Tamblot, who led the Tamblot Uprising in 1621 to 1622 and Francisco Dagohoy, the leader of the Bohol Rebellion that lasted from 1744 to 1829.[9]

In 2005, Palawan Island was transferred to Region VI (Western Visayas) by Executive Order 429.[10] However this planned reorganization was held in abeyance.[11] Hence, Palawan currently remains (as of June 2013) part of Region IV-B.

Historical legends and hypotheses[edit]

Historical documents written in 1907 by Visayan historian Pedro Alcántara Monteclaro in his book Maragtas tell the story of the ten leaders (Datus) who escaped from the tyranny of Rajah Makatunaw from Borneo and came to the islands of Panay. The chiefs and followers were said to be the ancestors (from the collapsing empires of Srivijaya and Majapahit) of the Visayan people. The documents were accepted by Filipino historians and found their way into the history of the Philippines. As a result, the arrival of Bornean tribal groups in the Visayas is celebrated in the festivals of the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan and Binirayan in San José, Antique. Foreign historians such as William Scott maintains that the book contains a Visayan folk tradition.[12] Panay boasts of the Hinilawod as its oldest and longest epic.

A contemporary theory based on a study of genetic markers in present-day populations is that Austronesian people from Taiwan populated the region of Luzon and headed south to the Visayas, Borneo, Indonesia, then to Pacific islands and to the east of the Indian Ocean.[13] The study, though, may not explain inter-island migrations, which are also possible, such as Filipinos migrating to any other Philippine provinces.

According to Visayan folk traditions, the Visayas were populated by Malays from the collapsing empires of Srivijaya and Majapahit migrating from Borneo to Mindanao and to the Visayas, while other Malays crossed to Palawan through Sabah. Other Malays were suggested to have crossed from Samar island to the Bicol region in Luzon. The theory suggests that those ancient tribal groups who passed through Palawan may have migrated to what is now the island of Luzon.

A supplementary theory was that at that period, the Malay people were moving north from Mindanao to the Visayas and to Luzon.

Administrative divisions[edit]

A map of the Visayas colour-coded according to the constituent regions.
  Central Visayas
  Eastern Visayas
  Western Visayas
The major islands, from west to east, are Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar.

Administratively, the Visayas is divided into 3 regions, namely Western Visayas, Central Visayas and Eastern Visayas. Each region is headed by a Regional Director who is elected from a pool of governors from the different provinces in each region.

The Visayas is composed of 16 provinces, each headed by a Governor. A governor is elected by popular vote and can serve a maximum of three terms consisting of three years each.

As for representation in the Philippine Congress, the Visayas is represented by 44 Congressmen elected in the same manner as the governors.

Western Visayas (Region VI)[edit]

Western Visayas consists of the islands of Panay and the western half of Negros. The regional center is Iloilo City. Its provinces are:

Central Visayas (Region VII)[edit]

Central Visayas includes the islands of Cebu and Bohol and the eastern half of Negros. The regional center is Cebu City. Its provinces are:

Eastern Visayas (Region VIII)[edit]

Eastern Visayas consists of the islands of Leyte and Samar. The regional center is Tacloban City. Its provinces are:

Cities and Municipalities[edit]

Below is a list of cities and major towns in the Visayas by population.

Municipality Province a Region Population
(2010) b
(km²) c
(per km²)
Legal Class d Income
Class d
Cebu City Cebu Region 7 866,171 315.00 2749.75 Highly urbanized city Special class Capital of Cebu; regional center of Region 7
Bacolod Negros Occidental Region 6 511,820 162.67 3146.37 Highly urbanized city 1st class Capital of Negros Occidental
Iloilo City Iloilo Region 6 424,619 78.34 6213.33 Highly urbanized city 1st class Capital of Iloilo; regional center of Region 6
Lapu-Lapu Cebu Region 7 350,467 58.10 6032.13 Highly urbanized city 1st class
Mandaue Cebu Region 7 331,320 25.18 13158.06 Highly urbanized city 1st class
Tacloban Leyte Region 8 221,174 201.72 1096.44 Highly urbanized 1st class Capital of Leyte; regional center of Region 8
Talisay Cebu Region 7 200,772 39.87 5035.67 Component city 3rd class
Ormoc Leyte Region 8 191,200 613.60 311.6 Independent component city 1st class
Kabankalan Negros Occidental Region 6 167,666 697.35 240.43 Component city 1st class
Bago Negros Occidental Region 6 163,045 401.20 406.39 Component city 2nd class
Toledo Cebu Region 7 157,078 216.28 726.27 Component city 3rd class
Roxas Capiz Region 6 156,197 95.07 1642.97 Component city 2nd class Capital of Capiz
Cadiz Negros Occidental Region 6 151,500 542.57 279.23 Component city 2nd class
Sagay Negros Occidental Region 6 140,740 330.34 426.05 Component 3rd class
San Carlos Negros Occidental Region 6 129,981 451.50 287.89 Component city 2nd class
Silay Negros Occidental Region 6 120,999 214.80 563.31 Component city 3rd class
Dumaguete Negros Oriental Region 7 120,883 33.62 3595.57 Component city 3rd class Capital of Negros Oriental
Danao Cebu Region 7 119,252 107.30 1111.39 Component city 3rd class
Bayawan Negros Oriental Region 7 114,074 699.08 163.18 Component city 2nd class
Carcar Cebu Region 7 107,323 116.78 919.02 Component 4th class
Himamaylan Negros Occidental Region 6 103,006 367.04 280.64 Component city 3rd class
Baybay Leyte Region 8 102,841 459.30 223.91 Highly urbanized city n/a
Naga Cebu Region 7 101,571 101.97 996.09 Component city n/a
Talisay Negros Occidental Region 6 97,571 223.73 436.11 Component city 4th class
Tagbilaran Bohol Region 7 96,792 331.80 291.72 Component city 3rd class Capital of Bohol
Catbalogan Samar Region 8 94,317 274.22 343.95 Component city n/a
Guihulngan Negros Oriental Region 7 93,675 388.56 241.08 Component city n/a
Escalante Negros Occidental Region 6 93,005 192.76 482.49 Component city n/a
Victorias Negros Occidental Region 6 88,299 133.92 659.34 Component city 4th class
Catarman Northern Samar Region 8 84,833 464.43 182.66 Municipality 1st class Capital of Northern Samar
Maasin Southern Leyte Region 8 81,250 211.71 383.78 Component city 4th class Capital of Southern Leyte
Passi Iloilo Region 6 79,633 251.39 316.77 Component city 3rd class
Tanjay Negros Oriental Region 7 79,098 267.05 296.19 Component city 4th class
Kalibo Aklan Region 6 74,619 45.75 1631.02 Municipality 1st class Capital of Aklan
Bais Negros Oriental Region 7 74,722 319.64 227.51 Component city 3rd class
Bogo Cebu Region 7 69,911 103.52 675.34 Component city 4th class
Sipalay Negros Occidental Region 6 67,403 379.78 177.48 Component city 4th class
Borongan Eastern Samar Region 8 64,457 475.00 135.7 Component city n/a Capital of Eastern Samar
La Carlota Negros Occidental Region 6 63,852 137.29 465.09 Component city 4th class
San Jose de Buenavista Antique Region 6 63,852 137.29 465.09 Municipality 1st class Capital of Antique
Naval Biliran Region 8 48,799 108.24 450.84 Municipality 2nd class Capital of Biliran
Jordan Guimaras Region 6 34,791 126.11 275.88 Municipality 3rd class Capital of Guimaras
Siquijor Siquijor Region 7 25,231 82.06 307.47 Municipality 3rd class Capital of Siquijor


^a Highly urbanized cities (HUCs) and independent component cities are legally independent from any province, although they are often grouped with the province they belonged to prior to becoming cities. The province indicated for such cities, as grouped by the National Statistical Coordination Board, is in italics.
^b Population figures are from the 2010 Census Website.
^c Land area figures are taken from the National Statistical Coordination Board
^d Information on income class (as of June 2012) are from the National Statistical Coordination Board.


Languages spoken at home are primarily Visayan languages despite the usual misconception that these are dialects of a single language. Major languages include Hiligaynon or Ilonggo in much of Western Visayas, Cebuano in Central Visayas, and Waray in Eastern Visayas. Other dominant languages are Aklanon, Kinaray-a and Capiznon. Filipino, the national language based on Tagalog, is widely comprehensible but seldom used. English, an official language, is more widely known and is preferred as the second language most especially among urbanized Visayans. For instance, the latter is frequently used in schools, public signs and mass media.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Population and Annual Growth Rates for The Philippines and Its Regions, Provinces, and Highly Urbanized Cities" (PDF). 2010 Census and Housing Population. National Statistics Office. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  2. ^ "Visayan Islands" Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  3. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Sulu Sea. Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. P.Saundry & C.J.Cleveland. Washington DC
  4. ^ On May 23, 2005, Palawan and Puerto Princesa City were moved to Western Visayas by Executive Order No. 429.[1] However, on August 19, 2005, President Arroyo issued Administrative Order No. 129 to hold the earlier EO 429 in abeyance pending a review.[2] As of 2010, Palawan and the highly urbanized city of Puerto Princesa still remain a part of the MIMAROPA region.
  5. ^ Jovito S. Abellana, "Bisaya Patronymesis Sri Visjaya" (Ms., Cebuano Studies Center, ca. 1960)
  6. ^ Rasul, Jainal D. (2003). Agonies and Dreams: The Filipino Muslims and Other Minorities. Quezon City: CARE Minorities. pp. 77.
  7. ^ Dr. Robert L. Yoder, FAPC."Graciano López Jaena". Universitat Wien. Retrieved 2013-07-26.
  8. ^ "Venancio's Leon Kilat". Retrieved 2013-07-26.
  9. ^ "The Dagohoy Rebellion". Retrieved 2013-07-26.
  10. ^ President of the Philippines. "Executive order No. 429". Office of the Press Secretary. Archived from the original on 2007-03-18. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  11. ^ President of the Philippines (August 19, 2005). "Administrative Order No. 129". Office of the Press Secretary. 
  12. ^ Scott 1984, pp. 81–103.
  13. ^ Cristian Capelli et al. (2001). "A Predominantly Indigenous Paternal Heritage for the Austronesian-Speaking Peoples of Insular Southeast Asia and Oceania" (PDF). American Journal of Human Genetics 68 (2): 432–443. doi:10.1086/318205. PMC 1235276. PMID 11170891. 


Coordinates: 11°00′N 123°30′E / 11.000°N 123.500°E / 11.000; 123.500

  1. ^ "Executive Order No. 429". President of the Philippines. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  2. ^ "Administrative Order No. 129". President of the Philippines. Retrieved 2009-05-18.