The Ivatans lived in relatively well-populated settlements at the time western travelers visited the islands. William Dampier, an English buccaneer, visited Batanes in 1687 and found the people organized into communities built around protected settlements called idjangs, which were usually defensive positions on top of steep hills.
The Dominican friars attempted to Christianize the Ivatans as early as 1686 but the efforts were abandoned with the death of two resident missionaries. In 1718, missionaries made another attempt to bring the people of Batanes under the Cross. Missions directed from the island of Calayan in the Babuyan Group were sent to Batanes to urge the residents to resettle in the Babuyanes.
It was to the credit of Governor Jose Basco y Vargas that the islands were finally brought under the Spanish Crown in 1782. Batanes was annexed to the colony the following year but the inhabitants remained unreconciled to their loss of liberty. The islands were constituted into a separate province but it was later downgraded to the status of a town and attached to the province of Cagayan. The islands regained the status as a province in 1855 but was again reduced to a dependency of Cagayan in 1900 when the Americans took control of the islands. In 1909, by virtue of Act 1952, Batanes was again established as a separate province.
Because of its strategic location, the Batanes was one of the first points of attack by the invading Japanese forces at the start of the Pacific hostilities of the Second World War. During the 1950s and 1960s the Philippine government encouraged the Ivatans to resettle in other parts of the country. As a result of that program, Ivatan communites were established in Mindanao.
PRE-HISTORY: FROM THE LEGENDARY PAST TO 1686
Batanes pre-history is largely
an unexpected field: and what is known of it today is from observations
derived from a meager number of artifacts found by Pio Montenegro
and his companions in some excavations they made on the islands
from 1931 to 1935, and recorded by H. Otley Berger in his "Outline
Review of Philippine Archeology." For pre-history folklore
is of little help, and there is not much of this available yet..
The pre-historic Ivatans lived
in small tribal communities close to the sea and water springs.
They saw to it that they could seek refuge in primitive rock
fortresses in times of attack from enemies. Their ammunition
consisted of stones and probably wooden equipment.
They left traces of stone tools and used locally manufactured earthern
pots and jars for household needs.
Probably in later times, they
began to use small quantities of iron tools, god ornaments and
beads. Porcelain and stoneware jars found
by Montenegro suggest contact with other people beyond the islands.
It is supposed that trade relations had existed between the Ivatans
and the peoples of Babuyanes and Northern Luzon before the arrival
of the Europeans in Batanes. It is likely that it was from such
trade relations that non-locally produced jars were entered in
the islands, some of which eventually found their way in some
The pre-Hispanic Ivatan buried
his dead in a large earthern jar. This custom may have lasted
until as late as the 18th century. Their burial jars called Padapaday
are over 30 inches in diameter.
The livelihood of this jar burial
people was farming, fishing and the raising of pigs and goats
during the late 17th century when the Europeans set foot in Batanes.
They were already well-acquainted with the use of iron tools:
they had forges for smithing what iron came their way, and they
had boats, too.
EARLY WESTERN CONTACT: 1686-1783
The first European on record
to set foot on the islands was Fr. Mateo Gonzalez, O.P. He was
then the vicar of the mission of Sta. Ursula in Babuyanes north
The Ivatan was a farmer and
a fisherman , who fed largely on yam and camote,
some fish, and a variety of fruits from his farm tended mostly
by women while he himself and his sons went out fishing. He built
boats, and made with ingenuity what he lacked in tools. He had
a few wooden iron equipment some for his occupation and some
for his self-defense. His farms were occasionally raveaged by
locusts and typhoons. He fought back against locusts by hunting
them for food. He raised goats and pigs to supplement his agariculture
and fishing. Being without rice and corn, he raises only a very
limited number of chicken. For his drink, he cultivated sugarcane
and brewed wine out of it. With this he was generous to strangers.
He was dressed scantily from cloth he must have woven from little
cotton that he grew on his farm. He valued gold and wore it as
earrings, or used it as currency i his small commercial transactions.
He also used it for buying iron. He was civil and had some law
to govern social conduct. An organized political strcuture in
his community was not very clear, although he probably had. His
religious life was equally undefined if at all. He built his
house on hilltops and hillsides - with fortifications. In appearance
he was calm, with bronze complexion, and kept his hair short.
The Dominican Provincial Chapter
of 1720 authorized Fr. Juan Bel and six others for a mission
in Batanes. When they arrived in Batanes, they were welcomed
with gifts of pigs and goats and bananas. When these gifts were
refused, the Ivatans took the refusal as an insult. They were
also offered basi, tobacco and buyo. The food of the people consisted
of camote, yam and gabi. (Fr. Bel left for posterity some pieces
of information and his impressions during his subsequent trip
to the islands. The people were often hungry. They did some small
business selling some fish and cotton.
The people appeared to be very
peaceful, somewhat of the timid side. They had no idols, but
had some "vain observances." They had prayers and made
offerings to spirits when they got sick. They believed in the
immortality of the soul. They had aniteras who taught
the people that the souls of the rulers and those of hig social
rank went to heaven when they died. It was there where they rested
in presence of the Creator. But the souls of the common people
were not admitted into heaven, and they remained in the air to
wander. Illness was believed to be from the devil, and when they
got sick, they placed a bolo and a sharpened wood at the head
of the sick man's bed.
On October 20, 1721, the king
of Spain sent orders to the Royal Audiencia in Manila to send
him detailed report concerning Batanes because of a standing
position by the Dominicans of the province of the most Holy Rosary
that the Ivatans be transferred to Calayan.
On March 14, 1728, the king
of Spain issued the Royal Cedula for the transfer of the Ivatans
from Batanes to Calayan in recognition of the reports that the
Ivatans were suffering from extreme destitution material and
spiritual. The cedula exempted the Ivatans from paying tributes
and from rendering personal services for thirty years in accordance
with the request of the Dominican missionaries of the province
of the Most Holy Rosary.
Fr. Amado believed the Ivatans
"timid and faint-hearted." and should be treated with
great prudence. But he also felt that should force be used to
get them out of their homeland, they might resist force: and
if they were overcome, bringing them to Calayan would do them
no good since they could very well run away "to take refuge
and hide where only dogs could track them down." He proposed that should translation get through,
the Ivatans should be provided with vital supplies for an indefinite
time and until they could support themselves from the produce
of their farms in Calayan.
About 1769, Don Mathias Suarez
Vezino landed in Batanes and was there for over a month and a
half. He reported seeing abundant fruits, gold of good quality,
and copper. He saw cloth made from cotton, and that there was
a kind of valuable fiber there, probably what the natives call
hasu, which was used by the Ivatans for making nets, ropes,
and other necessities. He estimated tne population to be about
In March 1770, Joaquin Melgareho,
a trader from Cagayan, left on board a small champan loaded with
500 cavans of rice for Batanes; and in two days or so, he landed
He showed them a few commodities
such as beads, carabao hide, and the like the Ivatans were willing
to trade some local products: goats, pigs, very fine cotton,
G-strings, tapis for women, fishing nets, spools of thread. The
natives also brought gold of 20 carats, and coarse sotton cloth.
The bartering went on until all of Melgarejo's goods were gone.
Melgarejo noted that hteir houses
were small and roofed with cogoc, that they had two doors but
no windows, that there were no divisions of the house into rooms,
thate there were boards used for sleeping, that there was some
sort of chimney where light came in. The walls of the houses
were made of stones, big and small, which had been arranged one
on top of the other.
At a wedding, he observed that
during the ceremony, four or five pieces of gold were given as
dowry to the bride whoo gave these to her father. Some Chinese
jars filled with sugarcane were placed on the middle of the floor
and dancing took place around them. The dance looked strange
to him for the dancers "raised their hands and feet skywards
in strange gestures." The celebration lasted four or five
At a funeral, he saw the father
of the dead man wailing and going through extravagant signs of
mourning. The earrings of the dead were taken away, but some
tabacco was placed in his G-string, and along with him were buried
his plates, his cooking pots, his jar. Then the father of the
dead man drank himself into stupor. After 15 days, a goat was
killed and distributed to the relatives of the dead man who in
turn were to offer it to the dead. This time, the father of the
dead did not take part. Melgarejo tried to find out from the
natives where they believed the dead had gone. In answer someone
The gold ornaments which the
Ivatans used appeared ot Melgarejo to have been obtained from
gold-panning at the foot of the mountains. He saw an abundance
of gold ornaments among the natives.
The farm products were cotton,
fibers for making nets, camote, gabi, ubi, sugarcane wine. They
had lots of cogon in the fields, cogon being the roofing material
for their houses.
On January 31, 1781, Josef de
Huelva y Melgarejo, drawing information provided him by the navigator
Mtias Suarez and the trader Joaquim Melgarejo wrote whis report
on Batanes geography and people.
The Ivatans, he reported, built
in small houses built close to one another "like the Chinese
houses at the Parian." They were built very low because
of earthquakes and typhoons, and the entrances were so low it
was necessary to crawl. They were roofed with cogon.
The farms were planted with
"yam, gabi, camote, sugarcane and some barona and
tobacco." He noted that there was too little land for rice.
There were enclosures close
to their houses where they raised pigs. They raised chicken,
goats; they also had some dogs and cats.
Huelva considered the Ivatan
costumes of the time "indecent." The men wlaked around
naked except for their G-strings; and the women wore a piece
of cloth which covered only from the waist down to the knee.
The cloth was used by the women was made of cotton and undyed.
They were ostentatious of whatever
they had, including lard, for their social position depended
largely on their wealth. Huelva noted that the son of a rich
man who became impoverished lost the respect of the comminity.
They got drink with their palek (sugacane wine), and they were
filthy in their persons. The men cut their hair short, but the
women kept their hair long and twisted into a bun on their heads.
they were superstitious, and in the administration of justice
very severe: even for a light crime the punishment was being
The islands were described as
having no real parts. But there were small beaches on which the
natives had their small boats for safety after coming from the
sea. Itbayat was mentioned as having no port nor place for anchorage
but it was a productive land, and was reported to have about
seven communities. It produced plenty of cotton for weaving.
Preparatory to the final annexation
of Batanes to the Spanish dominion, some formatlities had to
be made. The people were to be asked whether or not they were
willing to accept the sovereignty of the Spanish king and to
be his loyal subjects. For this purpose, Don Dionisio de los
Reyes and a crew under his command left Appari on May 30, 1782.
they landed in Batanes on June 1, 1782 at the port of Mahatao
where they assembled the chieftains of the Ivatans. It was there
that de los Reyes formally presented to the people the offer
of the Spanish king to take them under his lordship and protection,
with the promise of giving them only temporal but especially
well-being. Whether the natives understood perfectly
the contents of the royal message or not is another question,
but the records say that they accepted the royal offer enthusiastically.