What language is that? Esperanto? Jejemon? Bekimon?
Jawid sawen nu Vatan! is Ivatan. It means: How beautiful is Batanes!
Without a doubt, Batanes is beautiful. Together with Palawan or Siargao, Batanes is the poster image of the natural beauty of the Philippines. In my book, Batanes has one of the most scenic landscapes and among the friendliest people on earth. In Southeast Asia, it edges out Bali or Krabi.
So many adjectives with long and short syllables describe Batanes: breathtaking, panoramic, picturesque, stunning and spectacular, beguiling, charming, unspoiled, quaint, cool and fresh, rugged and stormy but also serene, relaxing and dreamy.
Batanes, we must emphasize, is not just about beautiful sceneries and hospitable people. Although rural and lacking in high-value economic activities, Batanes’s development is impressive.
It is one of the provinces that consistently ranks among the top provinces with a high quality of life, measured by the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI consists of variables on health, education, and income. Illiteracy and dropout for basic education are naught. If there’s something disturbing about health, the Ivatans are alcoholic, resulting in non-communicable diseases that could have been prevented.
Jawid sawen nu Vatan! is also the title of the book authored by Victoria Abad Kerblat. Kerblat is not an Ivatan name; it’s French. Vicky is married to a French national. But Abad is a famous name. Vicky happens to be the sister of Butch Abad, the progressive public official and close adviser of PNoy. Some know Vicky as the younger sister of the late Pacita Abad, recognized as one of Asia’s outstanding modern artists.
Vicky does not mind being in the shadow of her brother, the prominent politician, or of her older sister, the celebrated contemporary artist. A natural comedian armed with self-deprecating humor, she boasts that she’s handsomer than Butch. And she’d furtively but good-humoredly nod if someone suggests that she might be a better artist than Pacita.
It is hard to classify Vicky’s Jawid sawen nu Vatan! An art book? Yes, for it features the paintings portraying Batanes, done not only by Vicky but by other Ivatan artists. A collaborating artist for the book is the London-based Pio Abad, Butch and Dina Abad’s son.
It can also be a tourist book, for it depicts through illustrations and words the attraction of the different towns and islands of Batanes. The book can be used as a promotion material to entice foreign tourists, arguably more effective than shouting the slogan that “it is more fun in the Philippines.”
Some might describe Jawid sawen nu Vatan! as a coffee-table book. But I will disagree to that if a coffee-table book is only meant for display in the living room of a mansion in one of Makati’s gated villages.
The book is not for decoration. It is for reading, learning, and vicariously enjoying the way of life in Batanes. It is refreshingly educational. It gives insights into the sturdiness and resilience of the Ivatans, their collective spirit, called payuwhan, their traditional homes that resemble the stone houses in bucolic France, their produce from the blue sea and the rolling hills, their food and kitchen, their clothing (the vacul, for example, which is the head and back covering for women made from the palm tree). The book thus offers an anthropological and sociological perspective.
Yet, the book is not dense. It is easy reading and is in fact appealing to children for its art and story-telling style.
Although Vicky is now gaining prominence as an artist, she is a biologist by training. The biologist’s attributes of being curious and being meticulous define the quality of her paintings—for example, her exquisite strokes and her eye for detail.
These attributes influenced her writing —clear, specific, and colorful. As an example, take this lively phrase in which she describes Batanes: “…the sturdy, weather-beaten Ivatans, our velvet hills, old stone houses, and the dark moody waters where the Pacific Ocean meets the West Philippine Sea. Every hint of green, stroke of blue, and touch of grey become translations of my memories of slow afternoon strolls, passing the century-old Balete trees at the plaza, smoky dinner presentations in our stone kitchen, and the welcoming old Ivatan folks.”
Mr. Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph). To get a copy of Jawid sawen nu Vatan!, contact Art Post Asia through telephone number 0916 6668605.