Batanes: Sea 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.

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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 province’s 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 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 from.

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VAKUL

a traditional Ivatan headdress
in Batanes

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 garlic. 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.

Batanes3.jpg (15384 bytes)

IVATAN
house
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 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.

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
Baguio City

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 countries.

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 mountain people.

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 until now.

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.

Prejudice

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,'' Brett said.

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 corruption.''

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 economic affairs.

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: ''Why indeed?''

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?''

Going back

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.

Hope

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 national renewal.''

''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 clean elections.
 

May 2, 2000
from Philippine Daily Inquirer Internet Edition

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Cordillera's 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 with tribal
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 meters.

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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 time.

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.

Technique

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 (inal-alam), centipede
(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 dirt.
 

May 2, 2000
from Philippine Daily Inquirer Internet Edition

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