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The Ijangs - Archaeological Wonder in Batanes [Philippines]

The Ijangs - Archaeological Wonder in Batanes [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, 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 were accessible only by ladders from below.


ijang is a fortress strategically located on a rocky elevated landscape, usually on hilltops or ridges.
Reconstructed artist’s concept of Savidug iiang. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eusebio Dizon)


An ijang is a fortress strategically located on a rocky elevated landscape, usually on hilltops or ridges. It is protected by naturally occurring steep cliffs and may occur inland or on coastal areas. Precolonial Ivatans took refuge in these structures from aggressors whom they hurled down with rocks. According to the late Ivatan cultural historian, Dr. Florentino Hornedo, every known Ivatan community had an ijang, built because of prolonged defensive stance against enemies, usually from hostile clans. 


This ijang located in Savidug is considered the most impressive of all the Batanes ijangs, rising like a drum at about 40 m high above the land plane
This ijang located in Savidug is considered the most impressive of all the Batanes ijangs, rising like a drum at about 40 m high above the land plane, and 63 m above mean sea level. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eusebio Dizon)


At least 21 ijang sites were archaeologically documented throughout the islands of Batan, Sabtang, Itbayat and Ivuhos, first by Japanese researchers from the University of Kumamoto in 1982, then by the #NationalMuseumPH led by Dr. Eusebio Dizon beginning in 1994. Excavations revealed that aside from being defensive structures, the sites were primarily used for habitation.


team conducting a site survey at Savidug ijang site
The National Museum of the Philippines team conducting a site survey at Savidug ijang site in 1994. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eusebio Dizon)


Batanes ijangs can also be characterized by the presence of these perforated stone pillars
The Batanes ijangs can also be characterized by the presence of these perforated stone pillars. While the exact use of these stones has not yet been fully determined, it is believed that they were used as structural materials for houses or house posts (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eusebio Dizon)


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


The ijang served as a defensive fortress for precolonial Ivatans
The ijang served as a defensive fortress for precolonial Ivatans, built on elevated grounds and protected by steep cliffs. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eusebio Dizon).


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.


Several postholes found at the Savidug ijang
Several postholes found at the Savidug ijang that served as archaeological evidence of human settlement in the area. From the 2013 publication “Archaeological Excavations at Savidug, Sabtang Island” in 4000 Years of Migration and Cultural Exchange: The Archaeology of the Batanes Islands, Northern Philippines by Peter Bellwood and Eusebio Dizon.

 

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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Text by Ivan Cultura, and poster by Timothy James Vitales / NMP Archaeology Division 

Photos by Dr. Eusebio Dizon

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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