Bisaya Languages & History.

Top 3 Most Spoken Bisaya languages:

1. Cebuano 20 million
2. Hiligaynon 10 million
3. Waray 3 million

Who Are the Bisaya  (Visayan) People?

Bisaya is a general term use to describe different Bisaya Ethnic groups and different Bisaya languages who live in the different Bisaya islands in the Philippines.

This is the Map of the BISAYA islands (Visayas or Bisayas) showing the Bisaya islands of Panay, Romblon, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, Leyte, and Samar where different Bisaya people live and speak different Bisaya languages such as Hiligaynon, Aklanon, Cebuano, Capiznon, Kinaray-a, Bantoanon, Romblomanon, Waray,  Surigaonon, Cuyonon, etc.

Bisaya is a group of related languages belonging to the Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) family

Spoken in the central and southern Philippines, it is comprised of roughly 25 languages, some near extinction with under 1,000 native speakers and others spoken by millions. Bisaya includes Cebuano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Aklanon, Capiznon, Kinaray-a, Bantoanon, Romblomanon, Cuyonon, Waray, Surigaonon, Butuanon, Tausog, etc. Spoken by approximately 28 million people, the Bisaya language family has the largest number of native speakers in the Philippines. The next two are the Tagalogs and Ilokanos. (

Bisaya Islands and Bisaya Languages

The densely populated Visayan island group constitutes an ethnolinguistic region defined by the dominance of the three major Visayan languages: Cebuano , Hiligaynon, and Waray-Waray.

Cebuano speakers live mainly on Cebu, Bohol, eastern Negros, and western Leyte. The Hiligaynon are concentrated on Panay, western Negros, and Masbate, while the Waray-Waray are found mainly on Samar and eastern Leyte.

The two major Visayan urban centres are Cebu City on Cebu and Iloilo City on Panay. Area 22,289 square miles (57,728 square km). Pop. (2000) 15,872,692; (2010) 18,417,821. Source Britannica


BISAYA (Bisayans or Visayans) are people who trace their Ethnic roots or bloodline in different Bisaya islands (Visayas islands). Many people who claim they are BISAYA do not even have Bisaya blood at all. Their parents and grandparents are not even from the BISAYA islands originally. They are from Luzon. If you can trace that your ancestors are from the BISAYA Islands then you are a genuine Bisaya blood.

There are different Bisaya Languages

These Languages are: Hiligaynon, Aklanon, Cebuano, Capiznon, Kinaray-a, Bantoanon, Romblomanon, Waray,  Surigaonon, Cuyonon, etc.

Many Cebuano-speaking people do not know the Ethnic and Language history of Bisaya Islands they assume that the Cebuano language is the only Bisaya or Binisaya language which is false. Hiligaynon, Aklanon, Cebuano, Capiznon, Kinaray-a, Bantoanon, Romblomanon, Waray,  Surigaonon, Cuyonon are also BISAYA languages. Remember Cebu is not the only island in the BISAYA region, the other BISAYA islands that also speak Bisaya languages are Panay, Romblon, Guimaras, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, Leyte, Biliran and Samar. Panay, Romblon, Guimaras, Negros, Bohol, Siquijor, Leyte, Biliran and Samar.

Different Bisaya languages are spoken by Bisaya people in the 6 Major BISAYA Islands are:

1. The Bisaya Island of Panay

Languages of the Bisaya People in Panay are: Hiligaynon (Iloilo and Roxas), Karay-a, (Iloilo and Antique) Aklanon (Aklan), and Capiznon (Capiz).

2. The Bisaya Island of Negros

Languages of the Bisaya People in Negros are: Cebuano (Negros Oriental) and Hiligaynon (Negros Occidental)

3. The Bisaya Island of Cebu

Language of the Bisaya People in Cebu province is Cebuano

4. The Bisaya Island of Bohol

Language of the Bisaya People in Bohol is Boholano (local version of Cebuano language)

5. The Bisaya Island of Leyte

Languages of the Bisaya People in Leyte are: Waray (Northern Leyte) and  Cebuano (Southern Leyte)

6. The Bisaya Island of Samar

Languages of the Bisaya People in Samar are: Waray (Eastern Samar) and Cebuano (Southern Samar)

The origin of the different Bisaya tribes in the Philippines

Bisaya is an indigenous people from the northwest coast of East Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Their population is concentrated around Beaufort, Kuala Penyu, Menumbok, Sipitang, Labuan Federal Territory and in Limbang District, Sarawak. The Bisaya tribe has many similarities with the Dusun Tatana tribe, especially in terms of language. It is evident that some of their dialogical language conversations are almost identical if they have a dialogue with each other. Nowadays the Bisaya living in Sabah are Muslim, while the Bisaya living in Sarawak are mostly Christianity. In Brunei, they are referred as Dusun, Jati Dusun and Bisaya (Though they are not to be confused with the Dusun people of Sabah).[5] The Bisaya people are also regarded as a relatives of the Dayak people whereas Bisaya was not brought into Borneo instead they are aboriginal of the land.[6]

Origin and etymology

Several theories have been put forward by various researchers regarding the origins of the name of the Bisaya people. Beyer H.O. in 1926, Hester E.D. in 1954 and Harrison in 1956 suggested that the name may have come from the empire of Sri Vijaya (Sonza, 1972). However, in 1960, Eugene Vestraelen (Professor of Linguistics at the University of San Carlos, Cebu City) cautioned that the linguistic derivation of Vijaya would not be Bisaya but Bidaya, or Biraya.[7]

Another theory was suggested by John Carroll:[8]

According to John Carroll (1961:499-541), the term Visaya might be the Sanskrit Vaisya, denoting the 3rd caste of the Hindu caste system. The Philippine term Bisaya as found in Malay writings meant ‘slave’ or ‘the country of slaves’ and referred to a geographical area of the Philippines where slaves are formerly found and captured.— Joh Carroll, The word Bisaya in the Philippines and Borneo, Sarawak Museum Journal, 1960


These are the 6 main Islands of Bisaya. The people who live here are called Bisaya or Visayans.

The Visayans (Visayan: Mga Bisaya; local pronunciation: [bi-sa-ya]) is an umbrella term for the Philippine ethnolinguistic groups native to the whole Visayas, the southernmost islands of Luzon and most parts of Mindanao. 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 Visayan languages, the most widely spoken being Cebuano, closely followed by Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) and Waray-Waray. Many have, at some point in their lives, migrated to Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces out of necessity brought about by the negative effects of economic centralization in their nation. They comprise the largest grouping in the geographical division of the country, numbering at around 33 million as of 2010.

A lot of people are wondering why majority of the people in Mindanaw speak Bisaya Cebuano and a minority speak Bisaya Ilonggo or Hiligaynon.

In 1940’s, Heavy migration from Bisaya islands specially from the province of Cebu, Iloilo, Antique, Dumaguete, Bohol to Mindanao is due to government-sponsored resettlement programs is the reason why 90% of Mindanao people speak the Cebuano language. Other Bisaya language spoken in Mindanao is Hiligaynon.

Mindanao provinces that speak the Bisaya CEBUANO language: Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, South Cotabato, North Cotabato,Saranggani, Sultan Kudarat.

Bisaya HILIGAYNON aka ILONGGO language is spoken in South Cotabato and Gensan areas.

Top 3 Most Spoken Bisaya Languages:

  1. Cebuano 20 million
  2. Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) 10 million
  3. Waray 3 million

The origin of the term “Visayan “ is unclear. Some sources say it refers to Shri Vijaya, the ancient island Southeast Asian empire to which the original Visayans supposedly belonged. Others consider the term a literal rendering of the Visayan sadya or the Tagalog saya, meaning happiness. The latter version appears to stem from the stereotype that Visayans are a generally laid-back, fun loving and happy-go-lucky people. But as Visayans themselves would put it, they are a hardworking people who just know how to enjoy life. 

Despite two scholars, Juan Francisco and Lourdes Rausa-Gomez, debunking this myth way back in the 1960-70s in scholarly journals and at least one book.

Cebuano, the second largest ethnolinguistic group (after Tagalog) in the Philippines, numbering roughly 16.5 million in the second decade of the 21st century. They speak an Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) language and are sometimes grouped with the Hiligaynon and Waray-Waray under the generic name of Visayan (Bisayan)

Ilonggo is NOT a language

Another misunderstood language is Hiligaynon. A lot of uninformed people refer to Ilonggo as a language which is wrong. 

Ilonggo is NOT a language. Ilonggo means the people who trace their Ethnic roots or bloodline in Iloilo province. 

The Ilonggo people speak the Hiligaynon language. Hiligaynon is also the l language in Bacolod and the Negros Occidental province.

When the people in Bacolod or Negros occidental refer Ilonggo as their language it is just a reference to the Ilonggo people who speak Hiligaynon,  is the same as when people in China refer to Chinese as their language but actually Chinese is the people and their specific languages are Cantonese or Mandarin etc. 

The term “Ilonggo” is derived from the Spanish term “irong-irong”, referring to the Filipino word for nose (“ilong”) and an islet in the Batiano River in Panay.[4] “Ilonggo” is considered to define a specific group of people whose ethnic origins are in the provinces of Iloilo, Guimaras, and Panay, while “Hiligaynon” defines the language and culture of the Ilonggo people.[4] Thus, both terms are interchangeable in referring to the culture of the people or the people themselves


Many Ilonggos and Antiqueno people migrated in Mindanao and most of them settled in Pigkawayan and Midsayap North Cotabato areas.

How to check if you are a genuine Bisaya?

If both or one of your parents or grandparents or great-great grandparents were originally from any of the Bisaya Islands then you are Bisaya. But if both of your parents or grandparents or great-great grandparents then you are not a genuine Bisaya, you just learned the language and knows how to speak it.

If an Ilokano or Tagalog person learns to speak Cebuano or Hiligaynon language it does not make him a Bisaya person because his ethnic bloodline is NOT from the Bisaya islands.

Same like if you are a Bisaya or Ilokano and you learned to speak Mandarin or Cantonese language it does not make him Chinese because his ethnic blood is not Chinese. 

Related Topic

Visayan Islands are a group of islands in central Philippines, lying between Luzon and Mindanao. The six main islands are Samar, Negros, Panay, Leyte, Cebu, and Bohol. The island of Masbate and nearby smaller islands are sometimes classified with the Visayas, and sometimes classified with the Philippines’ northern island group. The island group of Palawan used to belong to the region of Luzon and was transferred to Visayas in 2005. The Visayan Islands group is divided into three geographical areas: Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas, and Central Visayas. They have a total area of 23,582 square miles (61,077 square km)


The Bisaya people or Visayans are a group of Austronesian people who originate from the central and southern regions of the Philippines. Several linguistic groups in the Philippines are primarily of Bisaya descent. The largest of these groups are the speakers of the languages of Cebuano, Illongo, and Waray-Waray, which are sometimes mistakenly considered dialects. More than 40% of Filipinos have Visayan ancestry.

Some well-known leaders of the Philippine Revolution in the late 19th century are Visayans. Also, there have been three Philippine presidents from the Visayas: the Cebuano Sergio Osmeña (1878—1961); the Ilonggo Manuel Roxas and the Bo
holano Carlos P. Garcia (1896—1961).


First Malay Settlement?  Malandog, Hamtic, Antique Province, Philippines

Based on facts compiled in a book Maragtas by Pedro Alcantara Monteclaro, written in 1907, there are legends which tells the story of the ten chiefs (Datus) who escaped from the tyranny of Datu Makatunaw from Borneo to the islands of Panay. The chiefs and followers are believed to be the ancestors of the Visayan people. The arrival is celebrated in the Festival of the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan.


Encylopedia Britannica Online


World Book Encylopedia

Ilonggo Is also Bisaya

University of the Philippines Library Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines  

Who Are the Bisaya People

The Visayan Languages

The Visayans

Visayan People

Related Links: 

Early Ilonggo-Bisaya identity

Some great Ilonggo-Bisaya writers in history


Samples of  Bisaya Songs:

Waray = Waray-Waray

Kinray-a = Mauli ako sa Antique

Hiligaynon (ilonggo) = Kuring – Pirot

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