WHEN you think of the Visayan language, how old do you think it is? Is it a hundred, two hundred years?

Just when some Europeans think that they discovered the Philippines, our ancestors in anciant times were already civilized and sophisticated enough that they had their own government and writing systems, and of course, language. They were also already trading with other nations, even reaching as far as India.

Currently, Cebuano, also known as Bisaya or Binisaya, is spoken by around 22 million Filipinos, mostly in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Because of Cebu's oral tradition back then, some words and rules of ancient Bisaya are forever lost. It is amusing to know, however, that one European diarist known as Antonio Pigafetta wrote down some of the words our ancestors used before, most of them we still use today.

1. Who was Pigafetta?

Pigafetta was the diarist of the expedition of Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan who served the Spanish crown.

The expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe and featured the death of Magellan himself in the battle against the natives of Mactan led by the chieftain Lapulapu. Pigafetta was an eyewitness in that encounter.

2. Pigafetta loved writing

Pigafetta is known to be a conscientious chronicler, supposedly taking notes daily.

While his narration of the battle included what some historians describe as “fabulous details,” his work is considered the most important source about the Magellan expedition.

3. His diary

During their expedition around the world, Pigafetta would often list down words of various languages of natives.

Some of the languages he had jotted down in his diary were native Brazilian, Patagonian, Malay, Moorish and of course, the Visayan language.

4. A Visayan dictionary

Here's a glossary of Visayan words Pigafetta had taken down while he was staying in Cebu. These words were taken from his book, Primer Viaje en Torno del Globo or the First Voyage Around the World.


1. Pigafetta, A. (1906). The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898, Volume XXXIII, 1519–1522 (E. H. Blair, Ed.; J. A. Robertson, Trans.) [E-book]. The Arthur H. Clark Company.

2. SunStar Cebu. (2017, April 27). Editorial: Not just about Magellan, Lapu-Lapu. SunStar Philippines. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/138912/editorial-not-just-about-magellan-lapu-lapu

3. National Statistics Authority. (2010). 2010 Census of Population and Housing. Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://psa.gov.ph/sites/default/files/PHIILIPPINES_FINAL%20PDF.pdf