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Coordinates: 11°00′N 123°30′E / 11.000°N 123.500°E / 11.000; 123.500
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Native name:
Location of the Visayas within the Philippines
LocationSoutheast Asia
Major islands
Area71,503 km2 (27,607 sq mi)
Highest elevation2,465 m (8087 ft)
Highest pointMount Kanlaon
Largest settlementCebu City (pop. 964,169)
  • Visayan (natively "Bisayâ")
Population21,155,014 (2021)[1]
Pop. density292/km2 (756/sq mi)
Ethnic groups

The Visayas (/vɪˈsəz/ viss-EYE-əz), or the Visayan Islands[2] (Visayan: Kabisay-an, locally [kabiˈsajʔan]; Filipino: Kabisayaan [kɐbɪsɐˈjaʔan]), are one of the three principal geographical divisions of the Philippines, along with Luzon and Mindanao. Located in the central part of the archipelago, it consists of several islands, primarily surrounding the Visayan Sea, although the Visayas are also considered the northeast extremity of the entire Sulu Sea.[3] Its inhabitants are predominantly the Visayan peoples.

The major islands of the Visayas are Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Samar.[6] The region may also include the provinces of Palawan, Romblon, and Masbate whose populations identify as Visayan and whose languages are more closely related to other Visayan languages than to the major languages of Luzon.

There are four administrative regions in the Visayas: Western Visayas (pop. 4.73 million), Negros Island Region (pop. 4.76 million), Central Visayas (6.54 million) and Eastern Visayas (4.5 million).[7]



The exact meaning and origin of the name of the Visayas is unknown. The first documented use of the name is possibly by Song-era Chinese maritime official Zhao Rugua as the Pi-sho-ye, who raided the coasts of Fujian and Penghu during the late 12th century using iron javelins attached to ropes as their weapons.[8][9][10]

Visayans were first referred to by the general term Pintados ("the painted ones") by the Spanish, in reference to the prominent practice of full-body tattooing (batok).[11] The word "Bisaya", on the other hand, was first documented in Spanish sources in reference to the non-Ati inhabitants of the island of Panay. However, it is likely that the name was already used as a general endonym by Visayans long before Spanish colonization, as evidenced by at least once instance of a place named "Bisaya" in coastal eastern Mindanao as reported by the Loaisa (c.1526), Saavedra (c.1528), and the Villalobos (c.1543) expeditions. It is likely that the reason the Spanish did not use the term generally until the later decades of the 1500s is due to the fact that people were more likely to identify themselves with more specific ethnic names like Sugbuanon.[12]

In Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (1609) by Antonio de Morga, he specifies that the name "Biçaya" is synonymous with Pintados.[13]

"South of this district lie the islands of Biçayas, or, as they are also called, Pintados. They are many in number, thickly populated with natives. Those of most renown are Leite, Ybabao, Çamar, Bohol, island of Negros, Sebu, Panay, Cuyo, and the Calamianes. All the natives of these islands, both men and women, are well-featured, of a good disposition, and of better nature, and more noble in their actions than the inhabitants of the islands of Luzon and its vicinity.

They differ from them in their hair, which the men wear cut in a cue, like the ancient style in España. Their bodies are tattooed with many designs, but the face is not touched. They wear large earrings of gold and ivory in their ears, and bracelets of the same; certain scarfs wrapped round the head, very showy, which resemble turbans, and knotted very gracefully and edged with gold. They wear also a loose collarless jacket with tight sleeves, whose skirts reach half way down the leg. These garments are fastened in front and are made of medriñaque and colored silks. They wear no shirts or drawers, but bahaques of many wrappings, which cover their privy parts, when they remove their skirts and jackets. The women are good-looking and graceful. They are very neat, and walk slowly. Their hair is black, long, and drawn into a knot on the head. Their robes are wrapped about the waist and fall downward. These are made of all colors, and they wear collarless jackets of the same material. Both men and women go naked and without any coverings, and barefoot, and with many gold chains, earrings, and wrought bracelets.

Their weapons consist of large knives curved like cutlasses, spears, and caraças. They employ the same kinds of boats as the inhabitants of Luzon. They have the same occupations, products, and means of gain as the inhabitants of all the other islands. These Visayans are a race less inclined to agriculture, and are skilful in navigation, and eager for war and raids for pillage and booty, which they call mangubas. This means "to go out for plunder."

. . . The language of all the Pintados and Biçayas is one and the same, by which they understand one another when talking, or when writing with the letters and characters of their own which they possess. These resemble those of the Arabs. The common manner of writing among the natives is on leaves of trees, and on bamboo bark.

— Antonio de Morga, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (1609) translated in Morga's Philippine Islands (1907) by Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson, [13]



From the 1950s to 1960s there were spurious claims by various authors that "Bisaya" is derived from the historical empire of "Sri Vijaya" which came from the Sanskrit term "Śrīvijaya" (श्रीविजय), arguing that the Visayans were either settlers from Sri Vijaya or were subjects of it. This claim is largely based only on the resemblance of the word Bisaya to Vijaya.[12] But as the linguist Eugene Verstraelen pointed out, Vijaya would evolve into Bidaya or Biraya, not Bisaya, based on how other Sanskrit-derived loanwords become integrated into Philippine languages.[14][15]

The name has also been hypothesized to be related to the Bisaya ethnic group of Borneo, the latter incidentally recounted in the controversial Maragtas epic as the alleged origins of the ancestral settlers in Panay. However historical, archeological, and linguistic evidence for this are still paltry. The languages of the Bisaya of Borneo and of the Bisaya of the Philippines do not show any special correlation, apart from the fact that they all belong to the same Austronesian family. Similarly there are claims that it was the name of a folk hero (allegedly "Sri Visaya") or that it originated from the exclamation "Bisai-yah!" ("How beautiful!") by the Sultan of Brunei who was visiting Visayas for the first time. All these claims have been challenged and remain as mere speculations and folk etymologies.[12]



Visayas region is located in central Philippines, with a total land area of 71,503 km2 (27,607 sq mi). It consists of several islands, including Samar, Negros, Panay, Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, Guimaras, Biliran, Siquijor, Panaon and Bantayan. Some of the largest cities in the region include Cebu City (population 1,024,945 in 2023), Bacolod City (population 648,773 in 2023), and Iloilo City (population 491,641 in 2023).[16]

List of islands by population


The following numbers are derived from the 2015 Philippine census.



After the defeat of the Magellan expedition at the Battle of Mactan by Lapu-Lapu, King Philip II of Spain sent Miguel López de Legazpi in 1543 and 1565 to colonize the islands for Spain. Subsequently, the Visayas region and many kingdoms began converting to Christianity and adopting western culture. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the effects of colonization on various ethnic groups turned sour and revolutions such as those of Francisco Dagohoy began to emerge.

1920 map of the Visayas

Various personalities who fought against the Spanish colonial government arose within the archipelago. Among the notable ones are Teresa Magbanua, Graciano Lopez Jaena[17] and Martin Delgado from Iloilo, Aniceto Lacson, León Kilat and Diego de la Viña from Negros, Venancio Jakosalem Fernandez from Cebu,[18] 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.[19] Negros briefly stood as an independent nation in the Visayas in the form of the Cantonal Republic of Negros, before it was absorbed back to the Philippines because of the American takeover of the archipelago.

The short-lived Federal State of the Visayas was established as a revolutionary state during the Philippine Revolution. It designated Iloilo City as the Visayas capital and was composed of three governments: the Provisional Government of the District of Visayas (Panay), the Cantonal Government of Negros, the Cantonal Government of Bohol, and the island of Cebu, which was under revolutionary control.[20]

On May 23, 2005, Palawan (including its highly urbanized capital city of Puerto Princesa) was transferred from Mimaropa (Region IV-B) to Western Visayas (Region VI) under Executive Order No. 429, signed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was the president at that year.[21] However, Palaweños criticized the move, citing a lack of consultation, with most residents in Puerto Princesa and all Palawan municipalities but one, preferring to stay in Mimaropa (Region IV-B). Consequently, Administrative Order No. 129 was issued on August 19, 2005, that the implementation of E.O. 429 be held in abeyance, pending approval by the president of its Implementation Plan.[22] The Philippine Commission on Elections reported the 2010 Philippine general election results for Palawan as a part of the Region IV-B results.[23] As of 30 June 2011, the abeyance was still in effect, with Palawan and its capital city remaining under Mimaropa (Region IV-B).

On May 29, 2015, the twin provinces of Negros Occidental (including its highly urbanized capital city, Bacolod) and Negros Oriental were joined to form the Negros Island Region under Executive Order No. 183, signed by President Benigno Aquino III. It separated both, the former province and its capital city from Western Visayas and the latter province from Central Visayas.

On August 9, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 38, revoking the Executive Order No. 183 signed by his predecessor, President Benigno Aquino III, on May 29, 2015, due to the reason of the lack of funds to fully establish the NIR according to Benjamin Diokno, the Secretary of Budget and Management.

On June 13, 2024, the Negros Island Region was re-established, with the inclusion of Siquijor.

Mythical allusions and hypotheses

Ati-Atihan Festival, a celebration of the purported arrival of "Borneans" in Panay

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 (From Vijayapura a Srivijayan vassal state in Borneo)[24] is celebrated in the festivals of the Dinagyang in Iloilo City, Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan, and Binirayan in San Jose de Buenavista, Antique. Foreign historians such as William Henry Scott maintains that the book contains a Visayan folk tradition.[25]

A contemporary theory based on a study of genetic markers in present-day populations is that Austronesian peoples from Taiwan populated the larger island of Luzon and headed south to the Visayas and Mindanao, and then to Indonesia and Malaysia, then to Pacific Islands and finally to the island of Madagascar, at the west of the Indian Ocean.[26] The study, though, may not explain inter-island migrations, which are also possible, such as Filipinos migrating to any other Philippine provinces. There has even been backmigration to the island of Taiwan, as the historian Efren B. Isorena, through analysis of historical accounts and wind currents in the Pacific side of East and Southeast Asia, concluded that the Pisheye of Taiwan and the Bisaya of the Visayas islands in the Philippines, were closely related people as Visayans were recorded to have travelled to Taiwan from the Philippines via the northward windcurrents before they raided China and returned south after the southwards monsoon during summer.[27]

Culture and festivals

Sinulog festival, one of the grandest festivals in the Philippines held in Cebu

Visayans are recognized as hospitable, religious, fun, and robust people. They love to party and celebrate birthdays, graduation, baptism, weddings, and holidays. Visayans like to sing (Karaoke) while drinking and dancing during this celebration. They love to cook traditional foods like Suman, Sapin- Sapin, and Bibingka made with sticky rice during Halloween. They visited their dead loved ones at the cemetery. Aside from celebrations, Visayas has sweet and delicious mangoes that you can find in Guimaras near Iloilo City. White Beach Resort is called Boracay. It is a well-known beautiful beach located in Western Visayas at Caticlan Province. Many foreign people love to visit this beach, which is full of fun summer activities and beachside restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops. You can also find the Seafood Capital of the Philippines, located at Roxas, City Province of Capiz. You can taste fresh seafood daily, like shrimp, crabs, prawns, seashells, and fish.

Visayans honor their traditions and culture by celebrating festivals as they are known to be Roman Catholic or Christianity in religion. These festivals are celebrated in tribute to their saints, to share peace and happiness, to give thanks for the abundant harvest, and to advertise their products. Visayans are known for their different festivals celebrated in other cities of Visayan Island.[28][29]

Sinulog Festival is celebrated every third Sunday in January in Cebu City. This festival is a tribute to their saint, Senior Santo Nino de Cebu. The Sinulog festival includes parades, fluvial processions, dances, Cebu beauty pageants, and sometimes arts contests. Some other parts of Cebu provinces participated in the celebration by performing traditional dances and decorating a float, or Higantes, to represent their patron.

Ati-Atihan Festival is celebrated every third Sunday in January, like Sinulog Festival. It is held in Kalibo, Aklan, on Panay Island, where the first indigenous people settled, called Aestas, or Ati's. This festival devotes to the mystery of baby Jesus and Indigenous people. The people who participated painted their bodies and face and wore indigenous costumes and props. This festival plays music, drums, and parades for several days.

Dinagyang Festival is celebrated in Iloilo City on the fourth Sunday of January.  This festival marked the baby Jesus Senior Sto. Nino. At Ati-Atihan Festival in Aklan, Dinagyang also has Ati's dancing to celebrate the entry of Malay in Panay Island, colorful costumes, and a Pageant for Miss Iloilo; Sadsad is a procession with a decorated float. Schools and businesses in Barangays in this city participate in dancing competitions at this festival.[30]

Administrative divisions

A map of the Visayas, color-coded according to the constituent regions (before 2024)
  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 4 regions, namely Western Visayas, Negros Island Region, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas.

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.

Western Visayas (Region VI)


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

Negros Island Region (NIR)


Negros Island Region consists of the islands of Negros and Siquijor. The interim regional centers are Bacolod and Dumaguete. Its provinces are:

Central Visayas (Region VII)


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

Eastern Visayas (Region VIII)


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

Scholars have argued that the region of Mimaropa and the province of Masbate are all part of the Visayas in line with the non-centric view. This is contested by a few politicians in line with the Manila-centric view.[31][32]


Population of Visayas
YearPop.±% p.a.
1903 2,863,077—    
1918 3,810,750+1.92%
1939 5,590,104+1.84%
1948 6,414,595+1.54%
1960 7,642,073+1.47%
1970 9,032,454+1.68%
1975 10,133,392+2.33%
1980 11,112,523+1.86%
YearPop.±% p.a.
1990 13,041,947+1.61%
1995 14,158,443+1.55%
2000 15,528,346+2.00%
2007 17,159,481+1.39%
2010 18,003,940+1.76%
2015 19,373,431+1.41%
2020 20,583,861+1.20%
Source: Philippine Statistics Authority[1][33]



Languages spoken at home are primarily Visayan languages despite the usual misconception that these are dialects of a single macrolanguage. Cebuano is the largest native language spoken on Visayas Island, where approximately 20 million natives speak it.[34] Major languages include Hiligaynon or Ilonggo in 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 understood but occasionally used. English, another official language, is more widely known and is preferred as the second language most especially among urbanized Visayans. For instance, English rather than Tagalog is frequently used in schools, public signs, and mass media.

Cebuano versus Bisaya


Although the word Bisaya has been adapted into the Cebuano terminology for centuries, it should never be equated with the word Cebuano. Even if its origin still has a lot of issues up to the present time, the word Bisaya is commonly used to refer to the inhabitants who originated (born) in any of the islands within the Visayas region. These inhabitants may be currently living in the Visayas region or migrated to other islands in the Philippines including Luzon and Mindanao. It is therefore not accurate to exclusively identify Bisaya with Cebuano because that precludes all the other inhabitants of the region.

All Cebuanos can be called Bisaya, but not all Bisaya can be called Cebuanos. Furthermore, Bisaya should not be referred to as a language and should never be equated with the Cebuano language, although the majority of the Visayan inhabitants speak the Cebuano language. The most commonly used Cebuano term to have a reference to the Visayan group of languages is "Binisaya". It is an adjective that is also used to describe anything that pertains to being Visayan. For example, "binisaya'ng awit" is translated into English as "Visayan song".

In Mindanao, migrant ethnic individuals from Luzon as well as indigenous peoples assimilated into a society of Cebuano-speaking majority (Hiligaynon-speaking majority in the case of Soccsksargen) over many years, identifying themselves as Visayans upon learning Cebuano despite many of them still know and retain their non-Visayan roots and some speak their ancestor's language fluently at least as their second or third languages.[35]

See also



  1. ^ a b Census of Population (2015). Highlights of the Philippine Population 2015 Census of Population. Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  2. ^ "Visayan Islands" Merriam-Webster Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/concise/visayan%20islands
  3. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Sulu Sea. Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. P.Saundry & C.J.Cleveland. Washington DC
  4. ^ "Executive Order No. 429". President of the Philippines. Archived from the original on July 7, 2007. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
  5. ^ "Administrative Order No. 129". President of the Philippines. Archived from the original on July 13, 2009. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
  6. ^ On May 23, 2005, Palawan and Puerto Princesa City were moved to Western Visayas by Executive Order No. 429.[4] However, on August 19, 2005, President Arroyo issued Administrative Order No. 129 to hold the earlier E.O. 429 in abeyance pending a review.[5] As of 2010, Palawan and the highly urbanized city of Puerto Princesa still remain a part of the Mimaropa region.
  7. ^ "PSA Makati ActiveStats – PSGC Interactive – List of Regions". Philippine Statistics Authority. June 30, 2015. Archived from the original on October 13, 2008. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  8. ^ Isorena, Efren B. (2004). "The Visayan Raiders of the China Coast, 1174-1190 AD". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 32 (2): 73–95.
  9. ^ Frances Antoinette Cruz, Nassef Manabilang Adiong (2020). International Studies in the Philippines Mapping New Frontiers in Theory and Practice. Taylor and Francis. p. 27. ISBN 9780429509391.
  10. ^ Richard Pearson (2022). Taiwan Archaeology Local Development and Cultural Boundaries in the China Seas. University of Hawaii Press. p. 119. ISBN 9780824893774.
  11. ^ Jocano, F. Landa (July 31, 2009). Sulod Society: A Study in the Kinship System and Social Organization of a Mountain People of Central Panay. University of the Philippines Press. pp. 23, 24.
  12. ^ a b c Baumgartner, Joseph (1974). "The Bisaya of Borneo and the Philippines: A New Look at Maragtas". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 2 (3): 167–170. JSTOR 29791138.
  13. ^ a b Blair, Emma Helen; Robertson, James Alexander (1907). Morga's Philippine Islands. Artur H. Clark Company.
  14. ^ Verstraelen, Eugene; Trosdal, Mimi (1974). "Lexical Studies on the Cebuano Language". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 2 (4): 231–237. JSTOR 29791163.
  15. ^ Verstraelen, Eugene (1973). "Linguistics and Philippine Prehistory". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 1 (3): 167–174. JSTOR 29791077.
  16. ^ "Iloilo City Population 2023". worldpopulationreview.com. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  17. ^ Dr. Robert L. Yoder, FAPC."Graciano López Jaena". Universitat Wien. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  18. ^ "Venancio's Leon Kilat". Inquirer.net. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  19. ^ "The Dagohoy Rebellion". Watawat.net. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  20. ^ "Once, There Was Federal Visayas". Newsbreak. Public Trust Media Group, Inc. August 1, 2005. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  21. ^ President of the Philippines (May 23, 2005). "Executive Order No. 429 s. 2005". Official Gazette. Philippine Government.
  22. ^ President of the Philippines (August 19, 2005). "Administrative Order No. 129 s. 2005". Official Gazette. Philippine Government.
  23. ^ Philippine 2010 Election Results: Region IV-B, Philippine Commission on Elections.
  24. ^ Wendy Hutton (2000). Adventure Guides: East Malaysia. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 31–57. ISBN 978-962-593-180-7. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  25. ^ Scott 1984, pp. 81–103.
  26. ^ 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 11, 2011.
  27. ^ Isorena, Efren B. (2004). "The Visayan Raiders of the China Coast, 1174–1190 Ad". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 32 (2): 73–95. JSTOR 29792550.
  28. ^ "Visayans in Hawaii, UHM Center for Philippine Studies". www.hawaii.edu. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  29. ^ Romulo, Liana (2012). Filipino Celebration A treasury of feast and festival. Tuttle Publishing.
  30. ^ Funtecha, Henry Florida (1992). Popular Festivals in Western Visayas. Center for West Visayan Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, University of the Philippines in the Visayas.
  31. ^ "Nene Pimentel gives details on proposal for federalist government".
  32. ^ "Rappler Talk: Nene Pimentel on federalism, Congress, Duterte's SONA – YouTube". www.youtube.com. Archived from the original on November 7, 2021.
  33. ^ "Population and Annual Growth Rates for The Philippines and Its Regions, Provinces, and Highly Urbanized Cities" (PDF). 2010 Census and Housing Population. Philippine Statistics Authority. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2013. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  34. ^ "The Dialectology of Cebuano". Multilingual Philippines. April 3, 2012. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  35. ^ Galay-David, Karlo Antonio (December 2017). "We Who Seek to Settle Problematizing the Mindanao Settler Identity". Archived from the original on September 14, 2023.


  • Media related to Visayas at Wikimedia Commons
  • Visayas travel guide from Wikivoyage
  • The dictionary definition of visayas at Wiktionary

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