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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.


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 burial site.

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.


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 of Luzon.

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 50,000.

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 in Batanes.

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 days.

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 pointed heavenward.

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 buried alive.

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.

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