'Tatayak' making keeps Ivatan seafarers alive
By EV Espiritu Inquirer ITBAYAT, Batanes--No more Ivatan warriors exist today to chant the ancient “rawod,” the stories about their seafarers that are passed down to generations. The "rawod" chants are tales of high adventure woven out of the mythical journey that the Ivatan forefathers undertook to escape a disaster. An excerpt, translated by the University of Georgia and attributed to Simina Vohang, illustrates how a "giant flood" battered their ancestors’ boats: "We were on a big boat all kinsmen/In a big boat, sailing on the open sea/We almost reached our island/But the ocean prevented us from sailing home…" In a comparative study, University of Georgia scholars said no living person had an accurate recollection of how each syllable of the "rawod" must be pronounced. But every time Julian Ponce Jr. builds a "tatayak," a type of native boat, this mythic journey is always revisited. To ordinary eyes, a "tatayak" looks like an ordinary sailboat but it uses wooden pegs instead of nails. The Ivatan people are skilled seamen because they live off the sea. But Ponce, a boat maker in the village of Mayan in Itbayat, Batanes, admits to visitors that he does not even know how to swim. Ivatan heritage Yet he and a few community artisans maintain what is perhaps the only Ivatan heritage left in this island province. Ponce said his poor skills as a seafarer did not prevent him from understanding why the "tatayak" remains vital to sustaining Batanes' economy. Faustina Cano, a retired teacher of the Itbayat National Agricultural High School, said: "The current population of Itbayat is composed of those who could not go to school, our children, a few professionals who found jobs running our municipal government and our elderly." Ponce said these were people who would not be able to buy their own boats that were vital to fishing so their daily meals would be assured. First 'tatayak' Ponce said it took him three months to put together his first "tatayak," which legend describes as a vehicle that slices through the largest ocean waves with ease. He said he was able build a respectable trade within five years, but only because he remained loyal to the way his ancestors built their vessels. Each "tatayak" must be made of the expensive "vayuy" (wood) or the cheaper alternatives called the "bataraw," "alimbasaw" and "aryus," the so-called century tree. Each panel is carved out of the tree, and he sold a four-meter-long and a meter-wide "tatayak" for P20, 000. He can also build a seven-meter long boat for P120, 000. Ponce said he could produce six "tatayak" each year. In 2006, another villager learned the trade and has been producing the boat out of fiberglass. But they do not compete. As long as Batanes thrives in marine life, the "tatayak" will continue to sail its waters, Ponce said.
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