Sea and storm shape the islands
|Source: Manila Bulletin
|Author: Aileen Lainez
The province of Batanes is a
world seemingly frozen in
time. It is composed of a
group of islands defined by
the splash of sea against
rugged cliffs, verdant hills
dominated by grass and
stunted trees, and the great
Mt. Iraya. Its people are
friendly to anybody who
comes to their homes. With
its sights and sounds,
Batanes possesses a
hypnotic quality that makes
visitors want to come back.
These far-flung islands’
isolation has preserved their old captivating charm. South China Sea
borders the west, the Babuyan Islands to the south and the Pacific
Ocean to the east. The province lies even closer to neighboring
Taiwan rather than to the Luzon mainland.
Over the centuries, harsh weather conditions and rough seas have
shaped the islands’ picturesque cliffs and land formations.
Unfortunately, there is a misconception that the islands are
inaccessibile. The yearly visits of ravaging typhoons have affected
the province’s tourism industry keeping many tourists away from the
However, the province offers much more than the storms it has
become known for. Located 860 kilometers from Manila, it is the
least populated and smallest province of the country occupying a
total of 230 square kilometers and inhabiting almost 15,000 people.
Of the ten islands, only three are inhabited: Batan, Sabtang and
Batan Island is the most populated since Basco, the province’s
capital, is located here. It is the point of entry to the province,
housing both the airport and the main seaport. Resorts, lodges and
home stays are mostly found here with prices that range from
P100-600 a room per night.
Unlike the smaller towns,
Basco enjoys certain utilities
like electricity, phone lines,
and a variety of public
municipalities in the province
are Mahatao, Ivana and
Uyugan in the Batan Island
and the island municipalities
of Sabtang and Itbayat.
The mighty dormant volcano,
Mt. Iraya, is located beside
Basco where food, timber and
fresh water generally come
There is only one mode of transportation to get from one island to
another, and this is through falowa boats. Falowa boat-making, has
been a tradition for Ivatans. The boats, which look like Noah’s Ark,
are big and have rounded bottoms that pitch and roll with the waves.
From Batan to Sabtang, a 30-minute boat ride costs P20, while it is
P80 for a 4-hour boat ride to Itbayat.
Since centuries ago, the Ivatans or natives of Batanes have
preferred to live in their traditional dwellings. An Ivatan house is
built with limestone walls, reeds and cogon roofs, which are sturdy
enough to withstand the numerous typhoons and earthquakes that
ravage the islands an average of eight times a year. The roof
usually lasts from 25 to 30 years if there are roof nets to protect
them during typhoon season.
Only three walls of the house have windows. The wall that doesn’t
have one faces the direction of the strongest winds during typhoons.
The temperature within its interior is conditioned. It is relatively cool
during the summer and warm during the cold stormy season.
Most of the time, the doors and windows are left open when the
owners leave to do their daily chores. When they get back,
everything is the way they left it even if there are numerous tourists
that pass by to take pictures of its unique and quaint architecture.
The Ivatans live a simple life devoid of the characteristics that
define modern living. They are gentle, amiable, peace-loving and
polite. It is second nature for Ivatans to greet strangers by wishing
them the best for the day. They are also hardworking people, each
holding more than one job. Civil servants and teachers are also
busy with farming, fishing and livestock raising which they have
learned when they were young.
The hills that tourists use as
a perfect background for
picture taking, the farmers
use as their main source of
livelihood. The farmers have
evenly divided the hills into
square fields, using trees as
demarcation lines. They plant
root crops, rice, corn and
Batanes is famous for the old
women’s headgear called
vakul. It is ordinarily made
large and waist length to
cover the old women from the
heat of the sun and the rain. It is made from the abaca fiber of the
palm found only in Batanes that locals call vuyavuy. It takes three
weeks to a month to make the headgear, but it lasts a lifetime.
Vakul owners maintain their headgear by constantly combing its
strands and hanging it on the walls of their house when not in use.
Although the vakuls are mostly sold in Basco for P300 to P350, they
are traditionally woven by old women in the small barangay of
Chavayan in the Sabtang Island. Makers also sell vakuls cheaper by
P100-150. When old women wear them, under it is a rattan
backpack connected to a headstrap called yuvuk. It contains their
belongings for farming as they walk to town from the fields.
While women wear the vakul, old men wear a traditional vest made
from dried banana leaves called tadidi. They wear it along with a
salakot to cover themselves, the same way the vakul serves the
Despite of the province’s remoteness, Catholicism is very strong
among the Ivatans. As early as 1772, the Spaniards already sent
expeditions to the islands. By 1773, the Ivatans consented to
become subjects of the King of Spain and became officially a
province of the country. It was named Provincia de la Concepcion
with Joseph Huelva y Melgarjo as its first governor.
Then Philippine Governor General Jose Basco became the “Conde de
la Conquista de Batanes”. The capital town was named after him.
They built a church in the center of each town named after various
patron saints – San Carlos Borromeo in the town of Mahatao, San
Jose El Obrero in Ivana and San Vicenter Ferrer in Sabtang.
The churches were constructed from lime and stone, baroque-style,
strong enough to endure the most powerful natural calamities. Until
today, the 200-year-old churches remain the houses of worship of
The Ivatans live in simple ways, like how they have for many
centuries. It is one of the traditions that the have been successfully
passed on for generations. But as Batanes becomes more popular
with tourists, change will be inevitable. Modern influences will slowly
creep into the lives of the natives. Perhaps, the yearly visits of
strong storms will end up saving the old glory of Batanes, after all.
[ Sabtang Island Wiki | Itbayat Island Wiki ]