The Visayas /vᵻˈsaɪəz/ və-SY-əz or the Visayan Islands (Visayan: Kabisay-an, [kabiˈsajʔan]; Tagalog: Kabisayaan, [kabiˈsɐjaʔan]), is one of the three principal geographical divisions of the Philippines, along with Luzon and Mindanao. It consists of several islands, primarily surrounding the Visayan Sea, although the Visayas are considered the northeast extremity of the entire Sulu Sea. Its inhabitants are predominantly the Visayan people.
The major islands of the Visayas are Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Samar. The region may also include the islands of Romblon and Masbate provinces, whose populations identify as Visayan and whose languages are more closely related to Visayan languages than to the major languages of Luzon.
There are four administrative regions in the Visayas: Western Visayas (4.47 million), Negros Island Region (4.41 million), Central Visayas (6 million), and Eastern Visayas (4.44 million).
The term Visayas was derived from the name of the 7th-century thalassocratic Srivijaya Empire in Sumatra. In Sanskrit, sri (श्री) means "fortunate," "prosperous," or "happy" and vijaya (विजय) means "victorious" or "excellence". Sulu Archipelago and the Visayas Islands were once Buddhist and Hindu and were either subject states or tributaries of the empire.
The early people in the Visayas region were the Austronesians and Negritos who migrated to the islands about 6,000 to 30,000 years ago. These early settlers were animist tribal groups. In the 12th century, settlers from the collapsing Hindu-Buddhist Srivijaya Empire led by Datu Putih and his retinue, settled in the island of Panay and its surrounding islands. It was also during the 12th century that Visayans are said to have made a series of raids along the coast of China. They were said to have a fearsome reputation, and the mention of their name would cause many to flee in terror. 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 Malaysian 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. The Visayas is subsequently home to several Prehispanic kingdoms like the Rajahnate of Cebu, the Kedatuan of Bohol and the Kedatuan of Madja-as. Among the archaeological proofs of the existence of this Hiligaynon nation are the artifacts found in pre-Hispanic tombs from many parts of the island, which are now in display at Iloilo Museum. There are also recent discoveries of burial artifacts of eight-foot inhabitants of Isla de Gigantes, including extra-large Lungon (wooden coffins) and pre-Hispanic potteries.
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, León Kilat, from Negros Oriental, Venancio Jakosalem Fernandez, from Cebu, 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. Negros briefly had a state in the Visayas in the form of the Cantonal Republic of Negros before it was dissolved because of the American invasion of the Philippines.
In 2005, Palawan Island was transferred to Region VI (Western Visayas) by Executive Order 429. However this planned reorganization was held in abeyance. Hence, Palawan currently remains (as of June 2013) part of Region IV-B.
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. 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. 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.
Administratively, the Visayas is divided into 4 regions, namely (from west to east): 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.
As for representation in the House of Representatives, the Visayas is represented by 44 congressmen elected in the same manner as the governors.
Below is a list of cities and major towns in the Visayas by population.
Languages spoken at home are primarily Visayan languages despite the usual misconception that these are dialects of a single macrolanguage. Major languages include Hiligaynon or Ilonggo in much of Western Visayas and Negros Occidental, Cebuano in Central Visayas and Negros Oriental, 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 seldom 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.