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. Same with referring to the word Chinese, there are different ethnic groups of Chinese peole and different Chinese dialers/languages such as Mandarin. Cantonese etc.

BISAYA (Bisayans or Visayans) are people who trace their Ethnic roots or bloodline in Bisaya islands (Visayas islands).

These Bisaya islands (Visayas islands) are:   Panay, Romblon, Guimaras, Negros,Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, Leyte, Biliran and Samar.

In 1940s heavy migration to Mindanao of the Bisaya people spurred by government-sponsored resettlement programmes. Because of migration over time, a large part of Mindanao is now largely populated by Bisaya people from Iloilo, Antique, Cebu, Dumaguete, Samar, Leyte, and Bohol.

Note: There are also Bisaya people who live in the coastline of Borneo in Malaysia.  

Bisaya people speak related languages belonging to the Malayo-Polynesian family.

There are different Bisaya Languages

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

Most people who speak the Cebuano language from the Bisaya islands and Mindanao do not know the Ethnic and Language history of Bisaya Islands that is why they assume that the Cebuano language is the only Bisaya or Binisaya language which is false.  They assume that Hiligaynon, Capiznon, Karay-a, Waray, etc are not Bisaya or Binisaya language which is wrong.  The provinces that speak those languages are also located in Bisaya islands, same as Cebu which is located in the Bisaya islands before the Cebuano language spread in Mindanao in the 1940's.  It is wrong to say that in Cebu we speak Bisaya or Binisaya while in Bacolod and Iloilo they speak Hiligaynon/Ilonggo because Iloilo and Bacolod speak Bisaya language which is called Hiligaynon.  

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)

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

Heavy migration to Mindanao of people from Cebu and Dumaguete etc in 1940's, spurred by government-sponsored resettlement programs is the reason why 90% of Mindanao people speak the Cebuano language. Cebuano is a part of the Visayan language family. 

Because of migration over time, a large part of Mindanao is now largely populated by Bisaya people from Iloilo, Antique, Cebu, Dumaguete, Samar, Leyte, and Bohol.

Mindanao provinces that speak the 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.

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. 

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 Bolhano Carlos P. Garcia (1896—1961).


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


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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