De La Salle UniversityCan we keep the Ivatan culture alive?

Can we keep the Ivatan culture alive?

The Ivatan tradition of constructing vahay (house) and tataya (boat) is slowly disappearing. A faculty team from DLSU seeks to preserve it through the Batanes Documentation Project.

For years, the Ivatans, or the local folk residing on the islands of Batanes, have long held onto their custom of making the traditional vahay (house) and tataya (boat). But, with the advent of modern infrastructure development, availability  of durable, cost-effective construction materials, and national laws prohibiting the use of certain natural resources, it is now slowly being forgotten.

To preserve these Ivatan traditions and ensure that they are not lost in history, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) tapped DLSU faculty, among a few others, to document and record the last of these Ivatan houses and boats through a coffee table book, to create a manual on how to construct them, and to produce a video documentary that can be accessed online.

History Department faculty Dr. Lars Raymund Ubaldo and Vicente Angel Ybiernas, Department of Communication’s Gary Mariano, Jimmy Domingo, Jake Ruiz, and Rica Arevalo all pitched in to complete the Batanes Documentation Project. The project was supported by the DLSU Social Development Research Center.

The Ivatans’ vahay or house has two types: the older type, which is made mainly of light materials such as cogon, reed, and wood; and the other, which is more famously associatedwith the Ivatans, are the stone houses that are made up of piled stones mortared with a mixture of lime and sand. These houses are roofed with several layers of thatched cogon clipped together by reed or bamboo and fastened to the wooden roof frame by a local variety of rattan.

To date, only a thousand of these vahays are still standing on the islands of Batanes–some still being used and kept in good shape, while others are abandoned and with no sign of being restored.

On the other hand, the traditional tataya or boat is made up of several parts, namely the managad, tavas, lagkaw, among others, and these were chopped out of timber using stone and wooden tools such as adze and tataho (wooden mallet). Tatayas are made by Ivatan master boat builders, and while the kind, shape, and general features of the boat remain the same since hundreds of years ago, the process of making it and the materials used changed because of environmental constraints and technological advancements.

For thousands of years, the Ivatans have survived the harsh conditions of the Batanes islands because of the durability of the traditional vahays and tatayas. But today, their construction is now almost impossible.

Forbidden tradition

In an interview, Mariano explains that the production of both the vahay and the tataya using traditional materials are  now actually forbidden, with national laws in place that penalize the unauthorized cutting of timber and ban the extraction of lime from the sea.

When the team went to Batanes to collect data for the project, they initially thought that they were merely documenting what the Ivatans are still doing to this day. But they soon found out that the Ivatans are no longer making vahays and tatayas the traditional way. The last vahaydone using limestone was made back in the 1970s.

The team was able to talk with only one Ivatan master boat builder who knows how to create the tataya using traditional materials. “The memory of how to build these is soon fading. So the significance of NHCP’s intervention is to document and posterize everything for the future,” Mariano says. 

Copies of the coffee table book and the construction manuals are now available at NHCP, while the 30-minute documentaries are available for viewing online. More information about this project can be found on this website:

The DLSU team for the Batanes Documentation Project is composed of History Department faculty members Dr. Lars Raymund Ubaldo and Vicente Angel Ybiernas, and Department of Communication’s Gary Mariano, Jimmy Domingo,

Jake Ruiz, and Rica Arevalo. History Department Full Professor Dr. Rene Escalante, as the current chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, initiated the project, and was supported by the director of the DLSU Social Development Research Center, Dr. Caridad Tarroja.

Dr. Michael Angelo Promentilla is a faculty member of the DLSU Chemical Engineering Department and ASEAN

Science Diplomat from the Philippines. He has won various scientific awards from national and international bodies

such as the National Academy of Science and Technology, Commission on Higher Education, National Research

Council of the Philippines, and the Japan Concrete Institute.

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