Batanes Island – Its History


Batanes Pinterest by Arnel Lumanog

Batanes – Photo Credit – Pinterest by Arnel Lumanog

Continuing from last week. . .

The ancient inhabitants of Batanes, the native Ivatans, were divided into small pagan kinship groups inhabiting the mountains near or on the rocky natural fortresses known as ijangs. Clans were in a more or less constant state of tribal war. These people traded with the inhabitants of the nearby Babuyan Islands, the north shores of Luzon (Cagayan and Ilocos) and what is now Taiwan. Goods were bartered or gold was used as a medium of exchange.

Since they believed in life after death, they buried their dead with tools, food, pots, and bowls for use in the next world. They believed that the souls of the upper classes were taken up to heaven and became stars, but the souls of the poor wandered over the world as anitos (spirits).

Ivatans had lived in grass and cane houses, since they lacked timber and appropriate tools. It wasn’t until the Spaniards brought logs from Luzon, and introduced new technology and building materials that the distinctive typhoon-resistant Ivatan house of mortar and stone developed.

The colonial era came late to Batanes. The Spanish first surveyed the island in 1686 out of Calayan (Babuyan Islands). When the Spanish missionaries arrived in 1686, they found the people illiterate, oppressed by the climate, and hungry for a new religion.

Captain William Dampier of England landed to trade in 1687. He noted that the natives were primitive but not barbarians.

From 1686 to 1771, Dominican missionaries made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to convert the ivatans.

In 1782 Governor-General Jose Basco y Vargas, after whom the town is named, asked the Ivatans to become subjects to the King of Spain in return for the benefits of Christianity and the protection of the royal government. The islands came under Spanish control only in 1788, when the locals were persuaded under threat of force to move to the lowlands and adopt Western dress and Christianity. In 1789, the governor ordered the abolition of traditional customs, and Christianization spread rapidly.

The population was greater in 1800 than it is today, but in the first decades of the 19th century the people were decimated by a series of plagues. The building of large sailboats greatly improved transportation to Luzon, and Ivatans began migrating to Luzon, a process that continues today.

Katipuneros landed at Batanes in 1898, killed the governor and put an end to Spanish government in Batanes. Toward the end of the Spanish administration, Batanes was made a part of Cagayan.

The US took over from the Spanish in 1899. In 1909, the new American authorities organized it into an independent province. During the American colonial period, additional public schools were constructed and more Ivatan became aware of their place in the Philippines. In 1920, the first wireless telegraph was installed, followed by an airfield in 1930. New roads were constructed and the Batanes High School was instituted.

Because of their strategic location, Batanes was one of the first points occupied by invading Japanese imperial forces at the outbreak of the Pacific War. The morning of December 8, 1941, the Batan Task Force from Taiwan landed on the Batan Islands, which became the first American territory occupied by the Japanese. The purpose of the invasion was to secure the existing small airfield outside Basco, which was accomplished without resistance. Japanese fighters from Basco took part in the raid on Clark Air Base the following day. The occupation lasted almost four years and Basco was heavily damaged.

Source: Philippine Handbook by Carl Parkes



5 thoughts on “Batanes Island – Its History

  1. GP. Thanks for forwarding the link. That was awesome! Somehow I don’t remember anyone mentioning about Plunger when I was on the board of OB Historical Society. Foolhardy when you are the President of the United States but that was TR all right. It took a lot of courage to go down deep in the middle of a storm. Crazy too!


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