The Ivatans or Itbayat are the ethnolinguistic groups inhabiting the two island groups in extreme northern Luzon which lie in the typhoon belt: the Batanes-Babuyan groups. Most of them are found mainly in the three largest islands namely, Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat.
The Spanish Dominican friars visited Batanes as early as 1686 and 1719 but formal annexation of Batanes to the Spanish Colonial State took place only on June 26, 1783. Before this, the Ivatans were free. The Ivatans' remained under Spanish influence until September 17, 1898. Formal annexation on June 26 is two centuries after the formal colonization of the Philippines by Adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565. Batanes is the last territory added to the Philippines.
There is solid evidence for believing that the present Ivatans are the Christianized surviving group of an ancient people who once occupied all of the islands between Luzon and Taiwan, and who are probably represented in the purest form today by the natives of Botel Tabago. However, there probably exists a fairly strong cultural element on Batan derived from Chinese contact which is absent on Botel Tobago.
The people of Batanes share cultural and linguistic affinity with the Tao people of Taiwan. Spanish ancestry also runs in their blood. They speak the Ivatan dialect which is so unlike any other in the Philippines.
The dominant physical type is the Malay blend—short, squat, with a strong mixture of the short Mongol type. There are some individuals who seem to have some physical characteristics peculiar to the Ainus of Japan. Their general culture is markedly different from the Spanish-Filipino, but their economic and social life does show certain differences. The persistence of these cultural survivals are most probably due to their geographical isolation. They have several unique customs related to marriage and death. Many ancient beliefs have been preserved to this day.
The people call their language Chirin nu Ibatan, but it is better known as Ivatan. Its dialects are the northern (Basco), Itbayat (Itbayat Island), the southern (Sabtang Island), and possibly Yami.
Today, most Ivatans like most Filipinos, are Catholic. However, the early Ivatans and those who have not become Christians have held on to a form of ancestor worship, which venerates the dead as anito, responsible for the maladies and misfortunes of men as well as their success and good fortune.
The Ivatan/Itbayat are the groups inhabiting the two island groups in extreme northern Luzon which lie in the typhoon belt: the Batanes-Babuyan groups. Only the larger islands are habitable and even the larger ones with an estimated area of 21,000 hectares are largely rugged terrain. The relative isolation of the area has led to development of distinct indigenous cultures that have traits of the Cordillera societies and of the peoples of Formosa. There is a strong regional self-sufficiency. The total national population is about 20,350 (NM 1994) with some 1,601 in Bukidnon and 1,044 in Cagayan.
The lifestyles, the architecture, including those of boats, agricultural techniques, and crops are conditioned by the strong winds that buffet the islands. Houses are built with thick walls of stone and mortar and traditionally with roofs of layers and layers of thatching. The common dug-out banca of the rest of the Philippines is alien to the place where the fisher folk use sturdier crafts which are rowed rather than paddled. Agricultural fields are often broken up into areas by trees that function as windbreakers. The overall feel of the cultures in the island is traditional megalithic, where self-sufficiency is the norm. Thus there is no felt need for a marketplace in the communities.
Agriculture is the base of livelihood, although production is low. Root crops are extensively cultivated, especially sweet potato, with some production surplus. Taro, yams, banana, and citrus fruits are also produced. Fishing is very limited about the Batan Islands, although there are better fishing grounds in the Babuyan Channel.
The Ivatan are known for their oral traditions which include lyric folk songs (lagi), working songs (kalusan), and legends (kabbata).