Batanes gains from climate change
When Maria Zita Adami, 42, puts on a “vakul,” the traditional headgear of the Ivatan women, and arranges the strap of the “yuvok” (native basket) over her forehead, her face seems to beam with pride.
“The vakul is still widely used in Uyugan town,” Adami says. Made of palm or banana leaves, the vakul protects women from the heat or the rain while working in the farms. It is wide enough to cover their back and long enough to cover the yuvok on which they put produce like “ube” (yam) and “camote” (sweet potato).
Adami lives in a stone house in Itbud village in Uyugan, Batanes. Few of the iconic, centuries-old houses of the Ivatan people defy the elements and continue to protect them from the fiercest typhoons that batter the islands.
Among the types of Ivatan house are the “maytuwad,” “sinadumparan” and “jinjin,” made from stone and cogon grass and ribs. Some of these heritage houses, however, have been torn down and replaced with structures made of concrete and galvanized iron sheets, which are easier and cheaper to build.
The stone houses are made of corals and lime, says Macrina Duguran, 50, a resident of Uyugan. But lime, which is used as a binder, takes months to process and costs more than cement.
“It is more difficult and expensive to build a stone house than the modern house,” she says.
Besides, corals would be decimated if everyone builds stone houses, former Gov. Telesforo Castillejos, now director of Batanes Cultural Travel Agency (BCTA), says. Producing lime also means cutting down trees for firewood to burn the limestone in kiln.
There are efforts to preserve and restore the stone houses to qualify them for the World Heritage Site for culture, seascape and landscape by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), says Castillejos.
The friendly natives, their culture and the pristine environment also lure visitors from different parts of the country.
Castillejos says Batanes officials are promoting the province as an ecocultural destination.
More than anything else, the Ivatan people are proud of their culture. “We have a culture that we are proud of, which I believe is the typical Filipino culture but which has been preserved in Batanes because of the province’s isolation,” Castillejos says.
Still widely practiced is the “bayanihan” (community cooperation), called in the vernacular as “kaybaybanan.”
In some areas, residents not only offer free labor but also bring building materials, like cogon and rocks, and even food to the workers, says Jerold Sobremonte, a BCTA tour guide.
Another kind of bayanihan is the “yaro.” A “bandillo” (town crier) goes around the village announcing that a road needs to be cleared or a wall needs to be torn down and residents would come with their tools.
Batanes is home to 16,000 people living in three of its 10 islands.
Closely knit community
“It is still a closely knit community where everyone almost knows everyone and honesty is still a way of life among the people,” Castillejos says. “You can leave your house open and you won’t lose anything. You can wear all your jewelry and not be afraid that these would be snatched.”
“Here, you can live without a centavo in your pocket. Just be nice and you will be welcomed in your neighbors’ houses. You can’t be hungry, you can’t be homeless in this place. The Ivatan people also have deep respect for the elderly,” he says.
Barter is still used in Itbayat, one of the three inhabited islands. A bag of garlic can be exchanged for a pair of jeans, Castillejos says.
Batanes has been gifted by nature with rich fishing and farming grounds, verdant rolling hills, steep cliffs, canyons and boulder-lined shores.
It lies on the country’s typhoon belt, but the erratic weather brought about by climate change has actually benefited the Ivatan, says Castillejos.
“Climate change seemed to work to the advantage of Batanes. We have not been visited by a strong typhoon in the last 10 years. But If ever, the Ivatans are a resilient people who are used to typhoons,” he says.
Two days are enough to go around Batan (the biggest island) through a circumferential road that gives visitors a full view of the sea and rolling hills.
Among the significant spots are the Vayang hills and the rocky shore of Valugan beach (the rocks came from Mt. Iraya’s eruption in 1455) in Uyugan. The beach is a favorite location for movies.
Sobremonte says the people know how to care for their environment. For instance, if they own four parcels of land, they plant only in two parcels for some years so the other parcels can rest, he says.
Because there are no irrigation facilities, they can plant rice only once a year and are still dependent on rice supply from the Luzon mainland. But they plant root crops like ube and sweet potato during the dry months.
The sea is also kind to the people. Year round, they can harvest different kinds of fish like dorado, blue marlin, lapu-lapu and flying fish.
The government has declared Batanes a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System, a move to preserve and conserve its unique ecosystem.
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