The Ivatan is a group 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.
Itbayat is the largest of the islands, with a population of some 3,551 (NSO 1990). Batan Island lies 20 kilometers southeast of Itbayat where Batan, the capital, is located. The population is approximately 6,000, with the communities largely distributed along the coastline due to the ruggedness of the interior of the islands. The people themselves distinguish between Itvayat and Ivatan as languages and the speakers as having distinct ethnic characters.
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 fisherfolk 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).