Chapter 8

The comparison of the cultures of the Yami, Ivatans and Itbayats suggests that these cultures have a common origin. The Yami populated Irala about a thousand years ago. They came from Ivatan, Sabtang, and Itbayat, the three major inhabited islands of the Batan Archipelago. Isolated on Irala for almost a thousand years, the Yami have succeeded in preserving their beautiful oral heritage. In the sixteenth century, Ivatan came under Spanish influence, in the twentieth century under American influence, and at present under Filipino control. Very little of its original oral heritage survived. Most of the old Ivatan folk narratives became heavily acculturated or mixed with newly imported Christian cultural elements.
The comparison of Itbayat stories with Yami narratives shows an interesting change. On Irala most stories are part of a long narrative which ultimately becomes genealogical. The existence of a great number of variants of the same story suggests that a long time ago each lineage developed a version of its own. As time passed, frequent intermarriages between lineages made the lineage system less and less relevant. Consequently, everything that depended on or was generated by the lineage system started to lose its importance. Today the function of the lineage as a social category is very limited, and, as a result, the social structure does not generate special regulating devices in the local folklore that could keep the many different versions of the myth apart. All versions are considered true, insofar as they are recognized as being the story of the ancestral grandfather and can be identified as a part of the genealogy of someone. In the Batanes, culture change replaced the tribal organization with a modern state. Lineages do not exist any more, and the myths in the form of genealogical stories do not exist either. The stories that survived either lost their old cultural contexts and became hard to understand, such as the stories about Vaknang, Orayen, and Podalan, or developed the märchenelement and became folktales resembling European types (witness, on Irala, the genealogical tale of Simina-Vahoyo, the zoomorphicchild, which on Itbayat survived as a folktale).
The story of Simina-Vohang is proof, moreover, of the Ivatan origin of at least one Yami settlement. The story of Siapen-Mitozid explains why the Yami suddenly gave up their visits to Ivatan and isolated themselves for over three hundred years from the rest of the archipelago.
The Yami and the Batanes cultures first became separated about a thousand years ago and have been isolated from each other for the past hundred years. After separation, both cultures came under different outside influences. The change in the folklore of these cultures illustrates the modifications folk narrative may undergo during longterm isolation. Analysis of the Yami rawod and anohod indicates that these narratives were initially part of a rhythmically recited oral heritage and only later changed into chants. One of the plausible reasons for this change was the enlarged lung-capacity of the natives, caused by regular diving. In Ivatan, where diving slowly disappeared, the rahod chants also disappeared, and a new, more melodious oral form, the laji, took its place. Thus it is safe to conclude that the change in oral heritage, whether the evolution, degeneration or even disappearance of certain oral forms, in the Bashiic culture area is partially influenced by the changes of social system and by the changes that may occur in subsistence activities. Furthermore, the fact that the karosan, a type of work-song, has come under taboo and is almost extinct in the village of Yayo, indicates that the belief system may have just as great an influence on oral heritage as social structure and subsistence activity-related phenomena.
With the very recent introduction of electricity and television, the sleeping habits of the Yami are changing rapidly, and this phenomenon is causing a new subsistence-activity-related change in the culture. In old times, because of their fear of ghosts the Yami stayed indoors after dark and went to sleep fairly early. The availability of electricity was seen by the Yami as an opportunity for the total elimination of darkness from the house, which means more protection from ghosts. As a consequence, the Yami never put out the light in the evening. From 1982 to 1984, electricity was turned off at midnight from the central power plant, so the natives could finally go to sleep at that hour. In 1985, a twenty-four hour electricity service was introduced, and as a result TV-watching, drinking, singing, and fighting reach late into the night. In old times, when the Yami went to sleep at dark, they could get up at dawn to attend to their fields. Because of high temperatures, except for the monsoon period, the early morning hours are the best working hours in the tropics. Now, those who work in the fields daily either watch TV until late in the evenings or are disturbed by those who watch TV but do not work in the fields. Though very recently there are fewer and fewer people who go to sleep with the light on all night, because of the high cost of electricity, work in the fields is often delayed because people are not rested and cannot get up early enough. Thus the work-metabolism of the communities is changing and it is safe to assume that such changes in subsistence activities are bound to have a great impact on folklore as well. How these changes are going to affect the Yami folk narratives we cannot tell exactly, but it is certain that they will only hasten its degeneration or even total disappearance.
If in this conclusion we may discern the future of the Bashiic cultures, the evidence presented here can also contribute to a re-examination of theories about the origin of these cultures. In the introductory part of this study I mentioned that the origin of the Bashiic cultures was unknown. Since Bashiic is part of the Austronesian language family, the migration of its speakers may be connected to the migration history of other Austronesian language-speaking peoples. In the past decades archaeologists and linguists have produced several theories to explain the origin of the Austronesian language-speaking cultures. The two most important ones are the Nuclear Area Hypothesis; and the South China Homeland theory.
The Nuclear Area Hypothesis is also known as the North China Origins Hypothesis. This theory "dominated Chinese archaeological thinking" until the 1970s (Meacham 1975, 1). According to this hypothesis, the origin of the Austronesian language-speaking cultures was in the northern part of China, from where these cultures spread and populated the archipelagos of the South Seas. As a result of new archaeological discoveries in China, in the 1970s this hypothesis gave way to a theory that transferred the original homeland of the Austronesian peoples to South China. The assumptions of this new theory were that "cereal agriculture led inexorably to population growth, which in turn led to pressure, expansion and eventual migration into the islands of Southeast Asia which were sparsely inhabited, if at all, by negrito hunter-gatherers with a paleolithic industry" (Meacham 1975, 4). This theory became very popular in a relatively short time and had many followers.
The most important counterargument was produced in 1985, when William Meacham of the University of Hong Kong challenged it. He attacked the South China Homeland theory by pointing out deficiencies in the linguistic and archaeological supporting data. He also produced a new hypothesis that situates the origin of the Austronesians in "Austronesia." Meacham's view of the contemporary linguistic approaches and their relevance to proto-language and culture reconstructions deserves to be cited at length:
At the risk of seeming hyper-skeptical, I must confess to the conviction that linguistics has very little to contribute to the writing of prehistory, especially regarding population movements and cultural development. The time spans that must be bridged by extrapolation are enormous, the rates of language change are known to be highly variable, and the degree of contact or isolation of specific groups is unknown. Even with the aid of limited written records, the reconstruction of spoken forms of early languages is fraught with difficulty. Clearly, any description of "proto-Austronesian society" must be based on conjecture, extrapolation, and assumptions which cannot be tested. While this may be a fascinating parlor game, the results are obviously of extremely limited value to the prehistorian. To cite one example, Blust (1976:28) argues that the term for iron was present in proto-Austronesian, which he places at 7000-5000 B.P. It would seem prudent therefore to claim only that certain cultural traits have a considerable time depth from the linguistic perspective, not that the features of any particular prehistoric society can be set out.
Similarly, the reconstruction of probable "family trees" and genetic relationships between languages is no doubt beneficial as a taxonomic tool, but these schemes can tell us nothing about the time and place of the supposed evolution just as archaeology tells us nothing about the language behind the material culture. It is, I would contend, impossible to make even reasonably probabilistic statements about the languages spoken in Taiwan at 500 A.D. or 500 B.C., not to mention 3000 B.C.--even if we assumed no movement into Taiwan in the last 5000 years, which of course we cannot. Was there at 1500 B.C. a uniform "proto-Formosan" which later broke up into the present variety? Or were there already proto-Atayal, proto-Paiwanic, etc? Glottochronology is of course totally discredited as a means of estimating such divergences. There are many factors which might have played a role in the linguistic diversity of Taiwan, e.g. cultural diversity, isolation, fossilization, immigration, etc. A somewhat comparable situation occurs among the aboriginal Aslian of Malaya: a high degree of differentiation suggestive of great antiquity, and location far south of the main body of Mon-Khmer languages. But no one so far as I know has yet proposed Sumatra as the homeland of proto-Mon-Khmer! (1975, 6-7)
The use of linguistic evidence and speculation to provide broad interpretive frameworks for the archaeological data is epitomized by Bellwood, who contends (1983:78,80) that "as far as the prehistory of the Austronesian-speaking peoples is concerned, the linguistic models are very much more important than those derived from archaeology." I and most archaeologists, I believe, would take strong issue with this, in the belief that only archaeology provides the raw material of prehistory. Inferences and hypotheses from linguistics, ethnography, history and other fields must be tailored to the material culture record. None of these disciplines can perceive early cultural development, migrations or other human activity more clearly than archaeology. Quite the contrary. The models and data derived from archaeology are of much greater importance because they are firmly implanted in the time-space dimension under consideration. As a linguistic hypothesis without time and space co-ordinates, the proto-Austronesian expansion from source area cannot be tested. Placed in South China at 3500-3000 B.C. or any other time, it can be rejected. (1975, 9)
The next and main argument of Meacham's theory is that if the South China Homeland theory were true, so that the Southern Sea archipelagos were populated by peoples from South China, those people must have left a considerable amount of neolithic material culture evidence behind them. As Meacham succeeds in pointing out, the archaeological picture of Taiwan, compared to that of the mainland, presents so much cultural discontinuity that a mass migration theory for the settling of the island in the neolithic is clearly out of the question (1985, 15). Finally, he suggests that the origin of the Austronesian-language speaking peoples lies within the triangular area formed between Taiwan, Sumatra, and Timor.
If Meacham is correct, the aboriginal population of Taiwan, the Yami of Irala, and the inhabitants of the Batanes, along with the rest of the Filipino islanders and the peoples of the Southern Seas, did not come from the Asian mainland, but always lived and moved within the area which Meacham defines as "Austronesia," from where they spread and populated various archipelagos, including Polynesia.
To a certain extent, I share Meacham's criticism of proto-language reconstructions, but I do not agree that all hypotheses of linguistics, ethnography, and history "must be tailored to the material culture record." Archaeology has more than once surprised the world with erroneous interpretations of archaeological findings, to mention only the Piltdown Man. Meacham is right, however, when he states that linguistics, ethnography and history alone cannot reasonably account for proto-cultures and proto-culture changes. As I argued in chapter 2, there is no way to determine what events will be recorded by the folklore of a people, and, if recorded how long they could survive as an oral heritage. For example, the Yami have retained certain themes and motifs in their narratives that probably originate from the time when they were in close contact with peoples living in the southern part of Luzon, or even more to the south. Judging from the age of the jar-burial; data of the Bashiic culture area, the Yami separated from the rest of the Batan Archipelago about nine hundred or a thousand years ago. Certain folkloric elements of the Yami culture are much older than a thousand years and were presumably part of Bashiic folklore for several thousands of years. On the other hand, certain major events of a more recent date in the history of the Bashiic area were not retained by folklore. For instance, the last eruption of Tokon Iraya, the volcano of Ivatan, took place approximately 1500 years ago, and it must have completely destroyed the vegetation of the northern part of the island. Though it must also have caused losses of life and much hardship for the islanders, it was not recorded in the folklore of any of the Bashiic cultures. The linguistic, ethnographic, and folkloric data of the Yami culture and that of the Batanes may be useful to account for the similarities between these cultures and to point out a common origin, but they are by no means sufficient and accurate enough for an explanation of the origin of the Bashiic languages and peoples.
What can be proved, however, within reasonable limitations of conjecturing, is a direction of migration within the Bashiic culture area. Because we operate within a rather recent time span, Yami mythology can be considered reliable enough to conclude that the Yami indeed came from Ivatan, in the sense of what we call today the Batanes. The fact that the languages did not change more during the thousand years of separation I explain by the record of the many and frequent contacts between the Yami and the rest of the archipelago. During the past three hundred years and until 1986 there have been no intentional contacts between the Yami and the Batanes, but several non-intentional meetings were recorded, driftings like the ones described by Inocencio Ponce, Juan Fabro, and Dominga Castor. These contacts must have slowed down the process of divergence between the languages of the Yami and the rest of the archipelago.
Based on information from Yami narratives, customs, and place names, it is safe to assume that within the Bashiic culture area, over the past 1000 to 1500 years, the pattern of migration coincides with the direction of the Japan Current -- from South to North, from the Batanes to Irala. Though limited to the tip of the Austronesia Homeland triangle, this study confirms Meacham's theory.