These Precolonial Filipino Words Recorded by Pigafetta Are Still Used Today

'Words of those heathen people,' Pigafetta wrote. 

Five hundred years ago, Antonio Pigafetta preserved snapshots of the lives and culture of the precolonial Filipinos. Pigafetta was an Italian scholar and explorer who chronicled the first circumnavigation of the world led by Ferdinand Magellan. 

The voyage was so significant because, finally, it proved the world was not flat and suggested that maybe, the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, after all. 

But it also led to other misconceptions: Filipinos are heathens who played a violin with copper strings. At least that’s what Pigafetta wrote. 

After the death of Magellan at Mactan, Pigafetta had some time to record the words used by the locals from Cebu. The prolific chronicler also described the island:

In that island are found dogs, cats, rice, millet, panicum, sorgo, ginger, figs (bananas), oranges, lemons, sugarcane, garlic, honey, cocoanuts, nangcas, gourds, flesh of many kinds, palm wine, and gold. 

It is a large island, and has a good port with two entrances—one to the west and the other to the east northeast. It lies in x degrees of latitude toward the Arctic Pole, and in a longitude of one hundred and sixty-four degrees from the line of demarcation. Its name is Zubu (Cebu). We heard of Malucho there before the death of the captain-general. Those people play a violin with copper strings.

In his observations, he noted that precolonial Filipinos knew how to count. He also noted that the locals were sophisticated enough to comb their hair (they had a tool for that), and that they had actual words for the different parts of their body. 


Interestingly, most of these precolonial Filipino words recorded by Pigafetta are still in use today. 

In his book, Primo viaggio intorno al mondo, (First Voyage Around the World), he takes care to record as many Filipino words as he can. Disparagingly, or perhaps because of his Eurocentric sense of superiority, he wrote:

Vocabuli de questi populi gentili.” Which is loosely translated as, Words of those heathen people.” 

The following are the Visayan words Pigafetta transcribed 500 years ago, most of which are still used today. 

for man: lac 

for woman: paranpaon 

for young woman: beni beni 

for married woman: babay

for Hair: boho

for face: guay

for eyelids: pilac

for eyebrows: chilei

for eye: matta 

for nose: ilon 

for jaws: apin 

for lips: olol

for mouth: baba

for teeth: nipin 

for gums: leghex 

for tongue: dilla 

for ears: delengan

for throat: liogh 

for neck: tangip 

for chin: queilan 

for beard: bonghot 

for shoulders: bagha 

for spine: licud 

for breast: dughan

for body: tiam 

For armpit:   ilot 

for arm: botchen 

for elbow: sico 

for pulse: molanghai 

for hand: camat

for the palm of the hand: palan 

for finger: dudlo 

for fingernail: coco 

for navel: pusut 

for penis: utin 

for testicles: boto

for vagina: billat

for to have communication with women: jiam 

for buttocks: samput 

for thigh: paha 

for knee: tuhud 

for shin: bassag bassag

for calf of the leg: bitis 

for ankle: bolbol 

for heel: tiochid 

for sole of the foot: lapa lapa 

for gold: balaoan 

for silver: pilla 

for brass: concach 

watch now

for iron: butan 

for sugarcane: tube 

for spoon: gandan 

for rice: bughax baras 

for honey: deghex 

for wax: talho 

for salt: acin 

for wine: tuba, nio, nipa 

for to drink: minuncubil 

for to eat: macan 

for hog: babui 

for goat: candin 

for chicken: monoch 

for millet: humas 

for sorgo: batat 

for panicum: dana

for pepper: manissa 

for cloves: chianche

for cinnamon:   mana

for ginger: luia 

for garlic: laxuna 

for oranges: acsua 

for egg: silog 

for cocoanut: lubi 

for vinegar: zlucha 

for water: tubin 

for fire: clayo 

for smoke: assu 

for to blow: tigban 

for balances: tinban

for weight: tahil

for pearl: mutiara 

for mother of pearl:   tipay 

for pipe [a musical instrument]:   sub in 

for disease of St. Job:   alupalan

bring me:   palatin comorica 

for certain rice cakes:   tinapai

good: main 

no:  tidale 

for knife:   capol, sundan 

for scissors: catle 

to shave: chunthinch 

for a well-adorned man: pixao

for linen: balandan

for the cloth with which they cover themselves: abaca 

for hawk’s bell: coloncolon

for pater nosters of all classes: tacle 

for comb:   cutlei, missamis 

for to comb: monssughud 

for shirt: abun

for sewing-needle: daghu 

for to sew: mamis 

for porcelain: mobuluc 

for dog: aian, ydo 

for cat:   epos

for their scarfs:  gapas 

for glass beads: balus 

come here: marica 

for house: ilaga, balai 

for timber: tatamue 

for the mats on which they sleep: tagichan 

for palm-mats: bani 

for their leaf cushions: uliman 

for Wooden platters: dulan 

for their god: Abba

for sun: adlo

for moon:   songhot 

for star: bolan, bunthun 


for dawn: mene 

for morning: uema 

for cup: tagha 

large: bassal 

for bow: bossugh 

for arrow: oghon 

for shields: calassan

for quilted garments used for fighting: baluti 

for their daggers: calix, baladao

for their cutlasses: campilan 

for spear: bancan 

for like: tuan

for figs [i.e., bananas]:  saghin 

for gourds: baghin

for the cords of their violins: gotzap 

for river: tau 

for Fishing-net: pucat, laia 

for small boat : ampan 

for large canes: cauaghan 

for the small ones: bonbon 

for their large Boats: balanghai 

for their small Boats: boloto

for crabs: cuban 

for fish: icam, yssida

for a fish that is all colored panapsapan for another red [fish]: timuan 

for a certain other [kind of fish]: pilax 

for another [kind of fish]: emaluan 

all the same: siama siama 

for a slave: bonsul 

for gallows: bolle 

for ship: benaoa 

for a king or captain-general:  raia 


one: uzza

two: dua 

three: tolo 

four: upat 

five: lima 

six: onom 

seven: pitto 

eight: gualu 

nine: ciam 

ten: polo

Source: Primo viaggio intorno al mondo (1519–1522), by Antonio Pigafetta.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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