The culture of the Ivatans is partly influenced by the environmental condition of Batanes. Unlike the old-type nipa huts common in the Philippines, Ivatans have adopted their now-famous stone houses made of
limestone, designed to protect against the hostile climate.
A 2011 genetic study has concluded that it is likely that the Batanes Islands were initially only used as "stepping stones" during the early stages of the maritime
Austronesian expansion from Taiwan into the
Philippine Islands (c. 3000 BCE). It was later re-colonized by Austronesians from northern
Luzon at around 1200 BCE, which became the ancestors of the Ivatan people.
The archaeological assemblages of Batanes can be divided into four distinct phases, with minor variation between islands. Phase 1 (2500 to 1000 BCE), is characterized by red-slipped and fine cord-marked pottery similar to the pottery assemblages of prehistoric Taiwan. Phase 2 (1300 BCE to 1 CE), is characterized by circle-stamped and red-slipped pottery that later also developed rectangular and "fishnet" designs. Phase 2 also features Fengtian
nephrite sourced from Taiwan. Phase 3 (500 BC/1 CE to 1200 CE), is characterized by plain red-slipped pottery. Phase 4 (c. 1200 CE onwards), is characterized by imported pottery, indicating trade contacts with the
Yuan dynasties of
An Ivatan man fresh from work.
On June 26, 1783, Batanes was incorporated into the
Spanish East Indies. In 1786, Ivatans were forced to resettle in the lowlands of Batanes. The Ivatans lived under Spanish rule for 115 years and gained their independence on September 18, 1898. However, June 6 is celebrated in Batanes as its founding day.
In 1990, the population of the Ivatans was 15,026, an increase of 24% over the 1980 population of 12,091. These were distributed to the six municipalities, with 38% residing in
Basco, 23% in
Itbayat, 12% in
Sabtang, 11% in
Mahatao and 8% for
Ivana. In the 2000 census, 15,834 Ivatans were among the 16,421 population in Batanes.
The mother tongue of the Ivatans is the Chirin nu Ibatan but is commonly known as
Ivatan. A distinct
Austronesian language, the Ivatan has two dialects including Basco, the Itbayáten, and possibly Yami. The Ivatans widely speak and understand the Ilocano (lingua franca of northern Luzon), Tagalog, and English languages.
Today, most Ivatans are
Catholics, like the rest of the country, although some have not converted and practice
ancestral worship to their anitos. However, there are growing
Protestant denominations especially in Basco, the capital town of Batanes.
An Ivatan woman wearing a vakul, a headgear for sunlight and rain protection made from
vuyavuy palm fiber.
The Ivatan's culture has been largely influenced by the climate of Batanes. Due to severe climatic disruptions to their agriculture, Ivatans have developed numerous successful strategies to protect their food supply and way of life.
Traditionally, because of frequent typhoons and drought, they plant root crops able to cope with the environment. These crops include yam, sweet potato, taro, garlic, ginger, and onion, as they ensure higher chances of survival during awry climate conditions. The Ivatan study the behavior of animals, sky color, wind, and clouds to predict the weather. Ivatans usually gather their animals and stay in their houses when they see that the cows take shelter from the payaman (communal pasture) and birds taking refuge in houses or in the ground. A pink sky with an orange hue also heralds a storm.
The sea is vital to the Ivatan's way of life. They depend on the flying fish (dibang) and dolphinfish (arayu) present on the shores of Batanes in the months of March through May. They have a native delicacy called uvod (the pith of the banana stalk) which is served with the wine palek, on festive occasions such as weddings.
A Sinadumparan Ivatan house, one of the oldest structures in the Batanes islands. The house is made of
coral and its roofing of
Before Spaniards arrived in the Philippines, Ivatans built their houses from
cogon grass. These homes were small, well-situated, and designed to protect against strong winds. The Spaniards introduced large-scale production of lime to the Ivatan for the construction of their now-famous stone houses. Meter-thick
limestone walls, are designed to protect against the harsh Batanes environment, which is known as a terminal passage of typhoons in the Philippines. The basic cogon grass is still preserved as roofs of their houses, thickly constructed to withstand strong winds. These houses are comparable to the white houses in New Zealand, Ireland, and the Scottish Highlands. Pre-colonial Ivatans also constructed fortified hills protected by sheer
embankments known as
ijang (or idjang).
One of the endemic clothing of the Ivatans is the vakul. A vakul is a headgear designed to protect the wearer from sun and rain. It is made from
vuyavuy palm fiber.
The Ivatans have three folk song styles: the laji, the kanta, and the kalusan. The laji are ancient lyrical songs that are supposed to be sung when they are merry or just finished work. The kalusan is sung during work.
The Ivatan have legends that are called kabbata. They have the rawod, chants that chronicle the adventures of the Ivatan's forefathers as they escape a disaster.
Supreme Being: referred to as Mayo, in one account; probably regarded as remote as fear and meticulous ritual care are often related instead towards the Añitu
Mayo: a fisherfolk hero who introduced the yuyus used to catch flying fishes called dibang, which are in turn used to catch the summertime fish arayu
The Giver: the entity who provides all things; the souls of the upper-class travel to the beings' abode in heaven and become stars
Añitu: refers to the souls of the dead, place spirits, and wandering invisibles not identified nor tied down to any particular locale or thing
Añitu between Chavidug and Chavayan: place spirit Añitus who were reported to create sounds when the gorge between Chavidug and Chavayan were being created through dynamite explosions; believed to have shifted their residences after the construction of the passage
Rirryaw Añitu: place spirit Añitus who played music and sang inside a cave in Sabtang, while lighting up the fire; believed to have change residences after they were disturbed by a man
ji Rahet Añitu: a grinning place spirit Añitu who lived in an old tree; a man later cut the tree and found an earthen pot believed to have been owned by the Añitu
Nuvwan Añitu: good place spirit Añitus who saved a woman from a falling tree; they are offered rituals through the vivyayin
ji P'Supwan Añitu: good place spirit Añitus who became friends and allies of a mortal woman named Carmen Acido; sometimes taking in the form of dogs, they aided her and guided her in many of her tasks until her death from old age; despite their kindness towards Carmen, most people avoided the farm where they live
Mayavusay Añitu: place spirit Añitus living in a parcel of land in Mayavusay; sometimes take in the form of piglets, and can return cut vegetation parts into the mother vegetation
Cairn-dwelling Añitu: place spirit Añitus who lived in cairns and put a curse towards a man who destroyed their home; appearing as humans, the shaman Balaw conversed with them to right the wrong made by the man against their home
Mayuray Añitu: a wandering Añitu who expanded and was filled with darkness; encountered by a young boy who the spirit did not harm; referred to as a kapri, Añitus who walk around and grow as tall as the height for their surroundings
Dayanak Añitu: a type of very small Añitu with red eyes and gold ornaments; accepting their gold ornaments will cause misfortune
^Bellwood, Peter; Dizon, Eusebio (2013). "The Batanes Islands, Their First Observers, and Previous Archaeology". In Bellwood, Peter; Dizon, Eusebio (eds.). 4000 Years of Migration and Cultural Exchange: The Archaeology of the Batanes Islands, Northern Philippines. ANU E Press. pp. 1–8.