Origins of the Chabacano Abuya

The word abuya means 'to appear' in the Chabacano of Zamboanga. I initially thought that it came from Hiligaynon. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out that it came from far Ternate in Cavite. Yes dear readers, it looks like the word abuya comes from the Chavacano de Ternate.

There is a difference in spelling though. The word is not actually abuya in the Chavacano of Ternate but rather, buya. At least this is how the word appears in Esteban A De Ocampo’s The Ternateños: Their History, Languages, Customs, and Traditions.

In the book, the Chavacano de Ternate word buya is defined as to float, to emerge, or to appear. De Ocampo (in his book) says that the word comes from the Spanish boyar. The problem with this theory is that there is no such word as boyar in Spanish. It is possible that boyar is an archaic Spanish word or it could be a word not used in standard Spanish. Although I don’t have any problem believing that it could be a Spanish word because boyar could possibly be similar to the English verb buoy (which means to keep something afloat).

Anyway, here are some sentences using the Chabacano word abuya.

Chabacano: Abuya gaha el hermana de Maria?
English: Do you think Maria will show up?

Chabacano: Ta abuya lang ele si tiene ele cosa necesita.
English: He only shows up when he needs something.

Chabacano: Ese el cosa ya abuya na computer.
English: That is what appeared on the computer.

Chabacano: Donde estaba este cen? Ya abuya lang man este aqui na mesa…
English: Where did this money come from? It just appeared on the table out of nowhere.

Chabacano: Ta abuya pa ba aquel aqui?
English: Does he still show up here?

As pointed out by one of the comments below. this word may come from the Spanish aboyar which means 'to float'. It's not hard to imagine how the Chabacano meaning came to be if indeed this word came from the Spanish aboyar. Camins' Chabacano dictionary defines this word as 'to appear' and 'to emerge'.


  1. Do you use abuyar as "to float" in Zamboangueño too? Actually "boyar" is part of Spanish maritime vocabulary and means "flotar". A "flote" (buoy) can also be a "boya" in Spanish maritime vocabulary according to RAE dictionary. AFAIK, much of maritimal vocabulary is shared between Portuguese and Spanish.

    The point is that in Portuguese, the word for "to float" is "boiar", and a "buoy" is a "boia". At least, that's the only word I've ever used/heard with this meaning in Brazilian Portuguese (my mother tongue) since I was born, but I'm no linguist, so no idea.

    Modern Standard Galician has "flotar", perhaps because of Spanish influence, but "aboyar" is also a synonym according to RAG dictionary. But apparently there's no such a word as "flote" ("buoy") in Galician: they call it "boia".

    No theories, just pointing out some out of many possible origins to the word in Chavacano ;)

  2. My bad: the Spanish word for a "buoy" is "flotador". Galician also has "flotador".

  3. Hi Yuji. We don't say flota in Chabacano (though i have to check on this). We say lutang (which probably came from one of the Philippine languages) or hinde ta sumi (which translates to does not sink). I realize that this post can have more information so I'll do more research and update this post someday.

    1. hi there, lutang comes from the Visayan word "lutaw" which means "to float".

  4. I'd like to bring something to your attention. Take a look at the only comment in this vid: He says: "0:49 " Larga, larga el amarro "... esa es una forma de hablar tipica de gente del mar, se nota que los primeros españoles que enseñaron castellano eran marineros.".

    In this case, abuya could indeed have been borrowed from Spanish, more specifically, Spanish maritime language. Okay, things aren't that simple, but it might be a hint to other tricky Chavacano words too.

  5. Hi. I checked my Chabacano dictionaries and it seems that the words flota and boya do exist in Chabacano.

  6. In Spanish, ABOYAR as an intransitive verb means to float in water. ABOYAR as a transitive verb means to place buoys in water.

    Another interesting note is that Cavite City (35 kms from Ternate) was the dry dock (Sp. "dique seco") base during the Spanish period and BOYAR means to return a vessel to the water after being in dry dock.

  7. The word in Spanish is "aboyar", 'to float on the water, like "boyas" do.