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Batanes Sea and storm shape the islands
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Aileen Lainez
Date: 0000-05-05
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

transportation. Other

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

many Ivatans.

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 ]

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