The Ijang of Batanes

The Ijang of Batanes | Image: @natmuseumph via Timothy James Vitales/ NMP Archaeology Division

The Ijang of Batanes

For last week’s Trowel Tuesday, the National Nuseum of the Philippines featured the Ijangs, which is an archaeological wonder in Batanes, located in northern Philippines.

What are these, and how did they serve the precolonial island inhabitants?

Derived from the Ivatan word “idi”, a variant of “ili”, ijang literally means refuge, a mountain fortress, or a village or town. Ijangs were first described by English navigator, Captain William Dampier, who visited Batanes in 1687. He mentioned the presence of house terraces reinforced by dry stonework, which was accessible only by ladders from below.

The Savidug ijang, located about 1.2 km southwest of Savidug village in Sabtang Island, is one of the most extensively studied ijang sites. Pieces of evidence of human settlement were found in this 10th to 14th-century sites, such as postholes, stone wall foundations, perforated stone pillars, and indications of ripraps. Artifacts like glass beads, red-slipped pottery, and ceramic wares from the Song and Yuan dynasties were also recovered.

Meanwhile, some of the terraces surrounding the habitation areas were used for agricultural purposes, as they were determined to be suitable for planting camote and other traditional crops. By the early 18th century, Spanish colonizers forced the locals to abandon these hilltop settlements to transfer permanently into pueblos or town centers for their more effective administration.

Dr. Grace Barretto-Tesoro of the Archaeological Studies Program at the University of the Philippines noted in her 1999 study that the concept of hilltop settlements is a common cultural feature among Austronesian societies. There are still remnants of ijangs around Batanes today.

If not covered with overgrown vegetation, they are usually utilized by the locals as pasture. Try to look for these precolonial settlements’ ruins when you visit the NMP Batanes Area Museum in Uyugan. Now classified as Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) areas, our facilities remain open to welcome visitors, following properly observed health and safety guidelines.

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