and storm shape the islands
by 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 hillsdominated 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.
BATANES' cliffs and
land formations are shaped
by rough seas and typhoons
that frequent the province
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
provinces tourism industry keeping many tourists away from the place.
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 Itbayat.
Batan Island is the most populated since Basco, the provinces 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 from.
a traditional Ivatan headdress
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 Noahs 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 doesnt 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
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 garlic. Batanes is famous for the old womens
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.
made of limestone walls,
reeds, and cogon roofs
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 women.
Despite of the provinces 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.
1 May 2000
Article and images from Manila Bulletin Online Edition
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Igorot 'nationalism': From shame to pride
By Maurice Malanes and Alfred Dizon
THEY don't speak about a nation, not even contemplating of forming one in the future. But
they want to debate about their ''Igorotness.'' Call it ''Igorot nationalism.''
One topic of the 3rd Igorot International Consultation held in Baguio City on April 26 to
28 was ''Who are the Igorots?''
Most of the 500 participants were Igorots working in the United States, United Kingdom,
Australia and other countries. Many of them have become citizens in their adopted
Although second- and third-generation Igorots who were far removed from their native
origins, many of the participants were ready to trace and appreciate their origin and to
reaffirm the positive values of their culture.
'People from mountains'
Commissioner Kate Botengan of the Commission on Higher Education tackled the topic on who
the Igorots are and traced how outsiders imposed the Igorot label.
The term ''Igorot'' is composed of the root word golot, an archaic Tagalog word meaning
''mountain range'' and i, a prefix meaning ''people of'' or ''dwelling in.''
The Spaniards first coined the term during an expedition to the Baguio gold mines in 1576.
By the 18th century, they were spelling it igorrote. Igorot is thus a general term for
Botengan notes that golot and other words derived from it were ''of lowland origin,''
which were later picked up by the Spaniards and the Americans.
The Spaniards and the Americans had regarded the Igorots as ''pagans'' and ''barbarians''
who needed to be ''Christianized'' and ''educated'' so that they could be ''integrated''
with the rest of the colonized majority.
Informed about the fabled gold hidden in pine-clad mountains and well-guarded by ''fierce
natives'' called Igorots, the Spaniards tried but failed to take a foothold in what is now
known as the Cordillera.
The Spaniards' failure to conquer the highlands is a source of pride for many Igorots
What the Spaniards failed to do in 400 years, however, the Americans did in a few decades
through both hard and soft approaches.
The Americans used Christianization and education to conquer the hearts and minds of the
un-Hispanized Igorots. They also used their Constabulary to subdue those who resisted.
In no time, the Americans took a foothold of the Igorots' gold fields, particularly in
Benguet, whose mining companies were founded by American soldiers-turned-gold prospectors.
The Igorots were conquerable after all. Thanks to the superiority of American ways and
their means of conquest.
Despite the presence of experts in the consultation, the participants were not able to
come up with a common consensus on the broader definition of the Igorot and whether
ethnolinguistic groups under this broader group should be referred to as such.
Dr. June Prill Brett of the Cordillera Studies Center of the University of the Philippines
College Baguio said other ethnolinguistic groups could not be identified as Igorots.
She said the term had been imposed on them by factors such as the media and tourism. She
said it had not been part of their cultural heritage.
''In Conner town (in Apayao), I was told that Igorots such as myself who come from Bontoc,
Mt. Province, are those from the Ibaloy (or Ibaloi) and Northern Kankanaey regions,''
Most Kankanaey tribes are in Mt. Province while Ibalois come from Benguet.
Ifugao participants said they did not want to be called Igorots and preferred to be called
Ifugaos. Those coming from Kalinga preferred to be called Kalingas.
And there's the prejudice that Igorots suffered and continue to suffer under many of their
own fellow Filipinos.
Citing her own experience as a student in Manila, Botengan also traced the time when
Igorot would refer to someone who was ''dirty, unwashed and unkempt with kinky hair and a
tail.'' The label would also refer to someone ''who beats cans while begging in the
streets of Manila.''
An old dictionary meaning referred to Igorot as ''barbarian, uncouth or uncivilized.'' But
journalist Ramon Dacawi, an Ifugao, said Igorot should be redefined as ''good-looking,
sturdy, rich or intelligent.''
Botengan notes that the negative perception about the Igorot is slowly changing. She
attributes this to the continuing rise to prominence in both government and private
sectors of educated people from the mountain provinces who are now willing to proclaim to
one and all that they are Igorots.
Another source of pride is the Igorots' cultural heritage, which has persisted despite
inroads of Western religions and so-called modernization.
But Bishop Francisco Claver of the Bontoc-Lagawe diocese, notes the ''cultural
deterioration'' in the region which, he says, others may interpret as ''progress.'' He was
among two final speakers who were asked to discuss about ''immediate and long-term issues
Igorots must address collectively.''
Claver focused on how the Igorots have finally become fully ''integrated'' into the
nation's life, becoming ''full partners and participants in its (the country's) culture of
The ''culture of corruption,'' the bishop says, is not part of Igorot culture. But he
laments how corruption has become a fact of life in the upland region's political and
He cites an experience when he was visiting his hometown of Bontoc, Mt. Province, in 1986.
An 80-year-old, g-string clad, illiterate, uneducated (''at least in terms of the
education your [referring to participants to the consultation] august selves went through
in schools'') man came to the bishop's house to complain about election irregularities
shortly after the 1986 Edsa Revolution.
The old man enumerated accusations of fraud, vote-buying, tampering with ballot results
and the like. Having not visited his hometown for some time, Claver thought the election
troubles were a matter-of-course problems in other parts of the country ''but had not
believed would be rife here too in our mountains.''
Claver retold and translated the biting question of the old man, who ''shook his head in
sheer frustration over the candidates who had won by ballot-tampering'': ''Why do they
(the cheating winners) do such things? They lose, that's it. That's what the people
intended in their voting. Why should they change the people's will?''
To the participants, who were all ears to the bishop, Claver reiterated the question:
Claver says the old man's ''why'' was ''a deeply anguishing question.'' He says the
passing of ''a more forthright and honest way of social interaction, its loss, its
corrupting'' was what the old man was lamenting and troubled about.
To this, Claver again posed a challenging question to the consultation participants: ''Do
we share his (old man's) sentiments?''
To Claver, the old Igorot ways of honest and open dealings with one another in their
social, economic and political life are worth looking into.
According to him, the deepest part of a culture is its values because
these, he says, make up one's identity, ''not dress, not dance, and not even language.''
Claver says he focused on corruption because ''it is to my mind the most insidious
destroyer of ourselves as Igorots.''
Corruption, he says, was ''not part of our inner make-up in the not-too-distant past.''
But he clarified he was not claiming that Igorot ancestors were paragons of honesty and
uprightness in every way.
''There were scoundrels, too, in their day(s),'' he says. ''(But) at least there was a
general sense of non-acceptance of underhanded dealings, of thieving from the public
purse, of putting one's 'self-aggrandizement' over the common weal.''
Part of Igorot culture is a strong sense of right and wrong. But this, the bishop says, is
getting lost, as the worst enemies of Igorot folk today are ''our own people'' or what he
cynically calls ''Igorots of the three Cs: competent, Christian and corrupt.''
They are competent because of their education; thus, they know how to use and manipulate
the system. They are also Christian, ''not so much by virtue of religion (but) by the
simple fact that they profess Christianity.''
But they are also corrupt because they use their competence and ''Christianity'' to put
one over their fellows.
But can Igorots help solve or help lead in the huge task of addressing a national problem
such as corruption? Claver believes that the Igorots can help in the ''huge task of
''If there is something part of our identity as Igorots that we can contribute to the
nation at large, let's find out and let's give it,'' he said.
The bishop says hope for better days ahead may be found in ''our little people's formula
and attempts at creating creativity'' at the grass-root level.
He cites a lay people's program within his diocese, which seeks to monitor the job
performance of elected officials. Those involved in the program were ordinary people who
helped guard ballots in the last elections but who realized that it is not enough to have
May 2, 2000
from Philippine Daily Inquirer Internet Edition
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vanishing art of tattooing
By Ikin Salvador
Dutch researcher and photographer Ron Schaasberg has been traveling in
the Cordillera to document indigenous
tattooing practices. His travels have brought him to tribal villages in Bontoc, Mt.
Province and Ifugao. This story is an excerpt from one of his travels and interactions
villagers of the Cordillera.
Schaasberg lives in Tuguegarao City with his wife, who is a marine biologist with an
international nongovernment organization.
AFTER being stuck in between several landslides north of Bontoc and what
seemed to be an endless trek through the Cordillera mountain range, Ron Schaasberg and his
guide arrived in Buscalan, an isolated village at an altitude of approximately 2,000
Schaasberg was informed about the mountain people and that some of them
could be dangerous and aggressive toward strangers.
''But this is contrary to what I experienced,'' says Ron, a Dutch photographer interested
in the art of tattooing. ''They
struck me as being friendly, peaceful, and helpful toward my research.''
Being based in the Philippines for two years, Schaasberg found an opportunity to do
research on the traditional way
of tattooing and maybe even get a tattoo artist to perform this painful practice one more
Not an elder or warrior
In the early years, young men and women in the Cordillera were usually tattooed by an
elder who occupied a high
position in the community.
The men who returned from war with their enemy's head, however, were allowed to get their
tattoos by a maingal (warrior).
The women would mostly get their tattoos at a young age to make them more attractive,
while the men saw tattoos as
a mark of manhood.
In Bontoc, Mt. Province, Schaasberg found that tattooing was done by a professional
artist. That person was not a
village elder or warrior but a woman.
Fang-od is a beautiful lady in her 70s. She is tattooed from her hands up all the way to
her upper arms, around her
neck and parts of her back and front.
Until about 15 years ago, she was practicing tattooing, but because of her age and the
younger generation that wants
different styles of tattoos, she has hardly practiced this painful and traditional way of
body decoration since.
She explained that she learned the skill from a family member when she was 20.
This was how Schaasberg described Fang-od's practice of tattooing:
Fang-od prepares her equipment. She puts a pot on a fire, takes a sharp thorn from a shrub
(tinik), a coconut shell
with water, and then starts scratching the soot from the bottom of the pot and mixes it
with crushed charcoal and a
little water. The ink is ready.
She has two sticks, one with the thorn and the other to be used to tap or hit the stick
with the thorn. While tattooing,
the thorn will puncture the skin and leave the ink under the skin.
Fang-od uses pieces of long grass dipped in ink, and presses them firmly on the arm so she
can follow the lines
while tapping the thorn with ink.
She starts putting on the horizontal patterns. Then she picks up her two sticks, one with
the needle and the other
to tap on the stick with the needle.
The first punctures are made on the skin and the first line starts to appear. Fang-od
slowly but very precisely keeps
working away on the upper arm.
She uses a few patterns and figures that can be found in almost all tattoos: grass
(ginay-gayaman), stars (tinat-araw) and the ladder (tey-tey).
Fang-od finishes the work in two hours. Some oil is put on the tattoo to protect it from
May 2, 2000
from Philippine Daily Inquirer Internet Edition
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