The early people on the Visayas region were Austronesians and Negritos who migrated steadily to the islands since about 30,000 years ago. These early settlers were Animist tribal groups. In the 12th century, settlers from the collapsing empire of the Sri-Vijayan, Majapahit and Brunei,[6][7] settled in the Visayan islands. By the 14th century, Arab traders and their followers venturing into the Malay Archipelago, converted some of these tribal groups into Muslims. These tribes practised a mixture of Islam and Animism beliefs. There is also some evidence of trade between other Asian people in the area as early as the 9th century.

The Visayans first encountered Western Civilization when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reached the island of Cebu on March 16, 1521. The Visayas eventually became part of the Spanish colony of the Philippines and from then onwards, the history of the Visayans is intertwined with the history the Philippines. With the four centuries of contact with Spain, Mexico and the United States, a common lowland Christian Filipino culture emerged (other Filipino cultures include that of the Muslim Filipinos). The Visayans share this culture with the Ilocanos, Kapampangans, Tagalogs and Bicolanos. These ethnolinguistic groups form the majority of the Filipino population and have embraced Democracy, Christianity, the Latin alphabet, western ways of dressing and education, and English as a secondary language. Many Visayans also spoke Spanish during the Spanish period.

The 16th century marks the beginning of the Christianization of the Visayan people, with the baptism of Rajah Humabon and about 800 native Cebuanos. The Christianization of the Visayans and Filipinos in general, is commemorated by the Sinulog festival and the feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child), the brown-skinned depiction of the Child Jesus given by Magellan to Rajah Humabon’s wife, Hara Amihan (baptized as Queen Juana). By the 17th century, Visayans already took part in religious missions. In 1672, Pedro Calungsod, a teenage indigenous Visayan catechist and Diego Luis de San Vitores, a Spanish friar, were both martyred in Guam during their mission to preach Christianity to the Chamorro people.

Some prominent leaders of the Philippine Revolution in the late 19th century were Visayans. Among leaders of the Propaganda movement was Graciano López Jaena, the Ilonggo who established La Solidaridad (The Solidarity). Pantaleon Villegas (better known as León Kilat) led the Cebuano revolution in the battle of Tres de Abril (3rd of April). One of Leon Kilat’s successors, Arcadio Maxilom, is a prominent general in the Philippine-American War.[8]

There have been three Philippine Presidents from the Visayan region: the Cebuano Sergio Osmeña, the Ilonggo Manuel Roxas and the Boholano Carlos P. García. In addition the Visayas has produced three Vice-Presidents, four Senate Presidents, eight Speakers of the House, six Chief Justices ,and five Presidential Spouses including Imelda Marcos.In international diplomacy the Visayas has produced a United Nations Undersecretary general, the Negros Occidental native Rafael M. Salas who served as the Head of the UNFPA.

In the lines of religion, there have been two Visayan Cardinals, and a Saint; Pedro Calungsod.

Throughout the centuries, Spaniards, Chinese and other groups have settled in Visayan cities like Bacolod, Cebu, Dumaguete, Tagbilaran, Iloilo, Ormoc and Mindanao cities like Cagayan de Oro and Davao. Many of them have intermarried with Visayans and their descendants have taken on Visayan as their primary language. Many high-land Negritos have also been assimilated into mainstream Visayan society.

Visayans have likewise migrated to other parts of the Philippines and abroad. A large part of Mindanao is populated by Visayans. In Manila, many are of Visayan descent. The Visayans have also followed the pattern of migration of Filipinos abroad and some have migrated to other parts of the world starting from the Spanish and American period and after World War II. Most are migrants or working as overseas contract workers.


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