Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dateline: Mahatao, Batanes

Visit Batanes, Don't Miss Mahatao

A visit to Batanes is always short and visitors get to see very limited places, and forget all together about the culture of the place.  What does the Batanes tourist see in Batanes today?  In the past Batanes tour guides used to bring visitors to visit Mahatao, especially the Fishermen’s Village of Diura.  Today, tours have practically excluded Mahatao all together and are immediately brought to Sabtang Island presumably to enjoy the white beaches on the island.  Some claim that one small island has white beaches much more beautiful than Boracay.  But all these visitors are missing a great deal about Batanes by excluding Mahatao in their itenerary.

Let’s have a look at the benefits of visiting Mahatao for a day, at least.  According to the new Mayor of Mahatao, Mayor William Agsunod, there are four major reasons why one needs to visit Mahatao.   

First, Mahatao still maintains the traditional hedgerows of reeds that have made Batanes such a popular remote province.   

Second, Mahatao is the only place in Batanes where the traditional culturally-oriented mayvanuvanua is still practiced by fishermen mainly for dorado (arayu) fishing operations during summer.   

Third, Mahatao remains the home of the famed Ivatan mataw who continue performing traditional rites and rituals of fishing before they set out to sea to take their chances with the arayu

Fourth, it is in Mahatao, through the exciting slopes of Mt. Matarem, where real mountain trekking experience may be achieved in Batanes.  

Let’s look more closely at these four reasons why a visit to Mahatao should be a must for visitors.

The hedgerows of Mahatao.  Well, traditionally, the hedgerows are comprised of reeds planted to separate farms and to serve as windbreakers.  In other parts of Batanes, hedgerows are now comprised of shrubs, trees, and other species interspersed with reeds.  The use of reeds as the main species for hedgerows remains a major preference of Mahatao natives.  They look more beautiful.  Reeds also have multi-function uses, from house-building materials to trelease for uvi and dukay.

The practice of mayvanuvanua.  Mayvanuvanua is a process of preparing specific places (this is more like re-cleaning of vanua (port) that has been used before) located in areas where the sea is deep and calm, and where mataws can land safely especially during bad sea conditions.  This special port is considered by mataws as sacred and are usually subject to specific rules established by the mataws who have come together to claim this vanua as theirs at least during the fishing season.  Believers say that those who violate the rules governing the vanua, as established by the mataw temporary association, would usually experience unusual phenomena at sea.  Some, it is said, have perished under these circumstances.  A vanua is for exclusive use by the specific mataw association that has established it at the start of the fishing season in March and lasting until May of the year.

Houses behind coconut trees.
The Mataws of Mahatao.  Many years ago, there were many mataws in all of Batanes.  Mataws differ from ordinary deep sea fishermen, using hook and line, in various ways but perhaps a simple differentiation is that mataws (organized groups of fishermen) may be considered professional fishermen who go out to sea from March to May mainly to catch dorado (Coryphaena hippurus), while ordinary fishermen simply go out to sea to fish for family consumption purposes and not mainly to catch dorado.  The ordinary fishermen go out to sea to fish any time the weather is good, but mataws fish only during the dorado season.  
The traditional rites and rituals of mataws are still practiced by mataws of Mahatao, particularly those that belong to the mataws of Diura.  It is in Diura where one can still witness today the ritual of opening the vanua and announcing the beginning of arayu (dorado) fishing season (usually done by the lead mataw in an early morning rite in late February or early March).  This ritual is followed by the sailing out to sea of the lead mataw to signal the start of the fishing season.

Mountain trekking at Mt. Matarem.  The name Matarem came from the characteristic of the mountain’s pointed ridges.  Mt. Matarem is the second highest mountain on Batan Island.  Unfortunately, it has been excluded from previous scientific exploration projects earlier on in Batanes so that we really still don’t know what plant and animal species exist on this mountain.  It is estimated by scientists that the biodiversity found on Mt. Iraya in Basco would be found on Mt. Matarem, which is probably accurate, but some botanists believe that there may be other species on the mountain that may not have been scientifically identified until today.  In any case, Mt. Matarem is an interesting mountain and it’s summit can be easily reached.  Probably because this mountain is not too high, one may be surprised to find that at its peak there are no grass or reeds, but trees.  Well, a scientific exploration of this mountain would be useful and beneficial.  According to Mayor Agsunod of Mahatao, there are existing trekking trails going up the mountain.  He claims his own daughter frequently treks Mt. Matarem.  She may well be a trekking guide.  The mayor agrees there may be a need to further develop this trekking aspect of Mt. Matarem, and he’s interested to pursue development activities to promote mountain trekking on Mt. Matarem.

It’s easy to understand that visitors, at this time, would be more interested to see the rituals of the mataws in Diura (these have been written about in past years).  Interestingly, the scientific literature about the mataws of Mahatao and the Fishermen’s Village of Diura is thick, mainly due to the work of anthropologists like Dr. Florentino Hornedo (a native of Sabtang) and Professor Maria F. Mangahas of the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, who spent four months for a period of two years studying the rites and rituals of mataws in Mahatao and Basco, as well as other writers and bloggers who have had the opportunity to visit Batanes in the past.


No comments:

Post a Comment