The ancestors of today's Ivatans are descended from Austronesians who migrated to the Batanes Islands 4000 years ago during the Neolithic period. They lived in fortified mountain areas called idjangs and drank sugar-cane wine, or palek. They also used gold as currency and produced a thriving agriculture-based industry. They were also seafarers and boat-builders.
In 1687, a crew of English freebooters headed by William Dampier came with a crew of Hollanders and named the islands in honor of their country's monarchs. Itbayat was named "Orange Isle" in honor of William of Orange, and Batan was named "Grafton Isle" after Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton. Sabtang Isle was named "Monmouth Isle" after the James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth. Capt. Dampier stayed for less than three months, and did not claim the islands for the British crown.
In 1783, the Spanish claimed Batanes as part of the Philippines under the auspices of Governor-General José Basco y Vargas. However, the Ivatan remained on their idjangs, or mountain fortresses. In 1790, Governor Guerrero ( The Governor-general of the Philippines at this point in time is Félix Berenguer de Marquina, unless Guerrero refers to a governor of the Batanes.) decreed that Ivatans were to leave their idjang and to live in the lowlands, thereby giving them more people to tax. Basco and Ivana were the first towns. Mahatao was then administered by Basco, while Uyugan and Sabtang, by Ivana. Itbayat was not organized until the 1850s, its coast being a ridge. Ivatans were then ordered to dress like the other Filipinos, and it didn't take them long to adapt. Soon, Ilocanos were being put in the islands, so as to control the native population there. Limestone technology used by the Spanish were also being spread to the islands, so that their bridges became strong and fortified. Some of these bridges still remain at both Ivana and Mahatao. By 1890, many Ivatans were in Manila, and became ilustrados, who then brought with them home the revolutionary ideas of the Katipunan. These Ivatans, who were then discontented with Spanish rule, killed the ruling General Fortea and declared the end of Spanish rule.
The Batanes island group is the smallest province in the Philippines in terms of population and land area. The capital of Batanes, Basco is 280 kilometers north of Apari, Cagayan (the tip of main island of Luzon) while it is only 190 kilometers south of Taiwan. Batanes lies in the vast waters of the Pacific ocean where the Pacific meets China sea. An area that for generations is almost isolated from the rest of the Philippines. Batanes consist of 10 tiny islands and islets namely: Batan, Sabtang, Itbayat, Mavudis, Siayan, Diogo, North Island and Y'ami. Only the first three islands are inhabited.
The wind swept islands of Batanes are beautiful and enchanting and they are like no other in the Philippines. Since Batanes is separated from the country by miles of rough waters, the Ivatans (the name of the people of Batanes) have developed a different culture. Ivatans are honest, gentle and polite but brave and robust. They are proud of their their heritage and their land.
The landscape of Batanes is also distinct from other Philippine provinces - steep cliffs, rolling hills, deep canyons and boulder-lined shores - not unlike New Zealand in some way. But the most noticeable of all features of Batanes is the architecture of the houses - stone walled and thick thatched roofs to withstand the battering of typhoons.
The weather of Batanes is cool and windy. And it rains any month of the year. It has an almost temperate temperature from December to February where temperatures dip as low as 7 degrees centigrade. Although Batanes lies along the typhoon belt and gets hit by strong typhoons, it get it's fare share just like other provinces on the north. But in spite of the reputation of Batanes as a backward region, it now has modern conveniences like mobile phones (cell sites by Smart & Globe Telecoms), electricity and cable television but hardly any vehicles.
There are a lot of things to do and see in Batanes, swim on the many beaches, see the fishing villages, the churches and lighthouses, island hop, but best of all, it is a beautiful place to reflect and admire nature.
A trip to Batanes bestows one a feeling timelessness...an experience that will linger long after arriving back home. It makes one appreciate the simple things in life, but in a deeper sense. But be forewarned though, once you've experienced Batanes, it will haunt you to come back...
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