the philippine flag Ati-atihan festival




ati-atihan costume ati-atihan celebration ati-atihan festival

Time to Party and Dance to the Beat of the Drums in Kalibo! ENJOY LIFE! DANCE in the STREETS! PARTY til You Drop!

The name Ati-Atihan means "make-believe Atis. " It has been known as the wildest among Philippine fiestas. The Ati-Atihan is a festival in honour of the Santo Niño. During the last three days of this week-long festival (fiesta), a parade is characteristic. A colourful happening with celebrants who paint their faces in many different ways and who are dressed in the most outstanding costumes.
The Ati-Atihan festival is named after the Ati, the indigenious natives of the island before the arrival of the Malay in the 10th century and the Spanish in the 16th century.
The festival is held on the third week of January every year on the second Sunday after Epiphany in Kalibo in the Aklan province on the island of Panay. The festival is to rejoice the arrival or gift of the Santo Niño by Magellan to the native Queen of Cebu in 1521 and is manifested by hyperactive merriment on the streets . The dancing on the rhythms of the drums makes this festival very similar to the Mardi Gras celebration in Rio in Brazil.

ATI-ATIHAN is one of the greatest, most colorful and fun festivals. It's nickname, "The Filipino Mardis Gras" and takes place the 3rd weekend in January every year in Kalibo, Aklan, Panay Island,
Philippines. Iloilo and many other smaller towns on Panay Island also party the festivals during the weekends from mid January to early February so if you miss the Kalibo festival you could still experience fun elsewhere. The informality of the festival is what makes it so terrific and allows everyone to participate, dance, beat on a drum or just take photos while in the middle of the tribal groups. The groups include all age groups - another wonderful aspect of the festival. Some of the most creative costumes distinct to the tribal themes are displayed by a few of the local gays. The festival includes every local group in Aklan with a unique tribal tradition, various civic or commercial organizations and individuals that create new costumes every year.

The key activity of the festival and one of the main reasons tourists gather to the island is the native dance competitions pitched to rhythmic and mesmerizing drumbeats that run nonstop for several days. Competitors rehearsed for weeks before the festival and dress in very colorful costumes, wearing masks and headdresses, and paint their bodies with black ash to turn up like the native Ati. Dancing troupes, some numbering 40 or 50 children or teenagers, dance for local prestige and cash prizes.
Hotels and resorts for miles around are reserved solid months in advance, but many houses near the festival have spare rooms that families let out. While there is much drinking and revelry there is a noticeable police presence that is there to safeguard foreigners and tourists. The other attraction is Boracay beach is less than an hour away so many tourists and visitors view the festival and then visit Boracay for a complete and well-rounded vacation.

The origin
The museum on the town square is worth a visit to learn more about the origin of Ati Atihan. In the thirteenth century, long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, light-skinned settlers from the island of Borneo (Kalimantan) in Indonesia arrived on Panay. The local people of Panay, the Ati (negritos), a small and dark (black) kinky-haired people, sold them a small piece of land and permitted them to settle down in the lowlands. The Atis themselves, lived more upland in the mountains.
One time the Ati people was in need of food because of a bad harvest in their homelands because strong rains wiped out hillside crops. They came down to the lowlands of the Maraynon and asked them food. Every year since then, the Atis came down to the lowland people to ask for some food. The lowlanders who had a good harvest shared their blessings with the black, kinky-haired people. They danced and sang in gratefulness for the helping hand. A real friendship was born and the Maraynon started to paint their faces black in honor of the Atis and took part in the fiesta.

Sometime in the 13th century, ten datus from Borneo fleeing the oppression of Datu Makatunaw purchased some land in Panay from the Ati Marikudo, son of the old chief Populan. The price agreed upon was a solid gold hat and a basin. In addition, the Ati chief's wife wanted an ankle-length necklace for which the natives gave a mass of live crabs, a long-tusked boar, and full-antlered white deer. Datu Puti, leader of the expedition and a relative of Makatunaw, established the Panay settlement and left Datu Sumakwel in charge.
Datu Puti went on farther north to the island of Luzon and left Datu Balensuela and Datu Dumangsil in a settlement in Taal. Datu Puti later returned to Borneo. These we gather from Maragtas, a book written by Pedro Monteclaro in 1907 and supposedly based on an ancient manuscript that nobody has ever seen.

Aklan is the oldest province in the Philippines, structured in 1213 by settler from Borneo as the Minuro it Akean to include what is now Capiz. The festival is a festivity of the king of the "Aetas", the original indigenous inhabitant’s agreement with the leader of the Malays that came by "banca" from Sabah's sultanate in the 1200s, 800 years ago. Aklan's capital presently, Kalibo but has changed location several times throughout their history.


While the small provincial capital of Kalibo is always overbooked it's best and more beautiful to stay on Boracay Island. It's easy to hire a jeepney with driver 6AM until sunset for $40 (easily shared by a group of people you meet on the beach usually) or a Toyota van with aircondition with driver for $60 with room for six persons. In case you miss it there's a much minor version of the festival that is called " the original Ati Ati Han" held one week later in Ibajay, a town located half way between Kalibo and Boracay Island on the provincial road.

When you have drank and danced until you are ready to drop then return to Boracay in time for a beautiful sunset.

A picture is truly worth a 1000 words. When our memories are foggy our memories can captured and treasured with photography. Sightseeing, temples, historical landmarks, scenic beauty and intellectual institutions like museums enrich our travel experience but the PEOPLE WE MEET ON OUR TRAVEL ADVENTURES STAY WITH US FOR A LIFETIME.
dane at ati-atihan festival
Spanish influence

After the Spaniards settled down in the Philippines, some Catholic elements get into in the fiesta, especially honoring Santo Niño. A Spanish representative arranged a deal with the local leaders of the Atis and the leader of the immigrants from Borneo. The outcome of the deal was, that in the future the existing native celebration would be devoted to the Santo Niño. Nowadays it is a mix of parades, procession and dancing people on the beat of monotonous music of drums or the rhythmic tinkling of metal and stone on bottles. It looks as if the dancing never stops! The ritual dance originates from the Atis.
Viva kay Santo Niño!

It is said that the procession is the peak of the fiesta. It is held on the last Sunday. The street dancers never fail to enter the Kalibo church every time they pass by.
The jingle "Viva kay Santo Niño!" is repeated commonly. It is clear that it is Santo Niño who is honored.

The Beat and Rhythm

Although the Ati-Atihan appears to show only revelry, a closer look shows that it has historic origins.

BOOM BOOM BOOM BO BOOM BO BO BO BOOM!
BOOM BOOM BOOM BO BOOM BO BO BO BOOM!

The beating of bass drums and the rhythmic tinkling of metal and stone on bottles echo in the air during the celebration. Monotonous and vivacious, the music blasts a while then stops to wait for a response from others. Drums beat continuously and everyone talks and shouts,

HALA BIRA, PUERA PASMA!

By midmorning, small groups gather in their respective neighborhoods. They are prodded by drums as they dance their way to the town center. They grow in numbers as different groups from remote areas merge into one as they get closer to the center of town. Sometimes the crowd thins as a few drops out to worship in silence and offer themselves to their own gods. But they always come back to rejoin the group to disappear in the gyrating crowd. The dancing never stops.
All week long, celebrants arrive by land, sea, and air. As inter-island boats dock, they are greeted by pseudo-New Guinea tribal drummers. Tourists are ferried across rice fields and coconut plantations to Kalibo hotels while others are accommodated in private homes and public buildings. Others camp on the beach. By weekend all accommodations are gone although there seems to be no need for them as nobody bothers to sleep anyway. There is music everywhere and the loud crowd often finds itself inside improvised halls dancing all night long.
The steady beat of drums can sometimes be heard late in the night as a single drummer is suddenly inspired to pick up the rhythm.

VIVA EL SEÑOR SANTO NIÑO!

Celebrants ape the dance of the Atis. This ritual is said to be the result of the sale of land in Panay by the Ati chieftain Marikudo to Datu Puti and the Borneans so that they can have a place to settle.
It has been observed that the unyielding street dancers never fail to enter the Kalibo church every time they pass by. Repeated shouts of "Viva kay Santo Niño!" and placards carried around with the same slogan make it known to everybody that this profane merriment is the participants' rowdy way of honoring the Santo Niño.

The coming of the Santo Niño into the fiesta started with the involvement of the first encomiendero of Aklan, Don Antonio Flores. He made arrangements with Datu Malanga and Datu Madayog to have their then existing native celebration be dedicated to the Santo Niño.

BOOM BOOM BOOM BO BOOM BO BO BO BOOM!

Among the Visayans, the Spaniards wrote, it is not quite proper to drink alone or to appear drunk in public. Drinking is done in small groups or in "gatherings where men as well as women sat on opposite sides of the room, and any passerby was welcome to join in." Father Loarca admired their control for they rarely got angry when drunk and Alcina relates that the Visayans could decide disputes in the "best, quickest and most equitable way" when wine was used to enliven the discussion. "After drinking something, he who proposes does it with eloquence, those who respond, with discretion, those who decide, with attention, and all with fairness."

One of the first things the Spaniards learned about the Visayans was that they were good drinkers. Magellan had no sooner landed in Homonhon, when people from nearby Suluan presented him a jarful of what Pigafetta recorded as uraca--that is, arak, the Malay-Arabic word for distilled liquor. In Limasawa, Pigafetta drank from the same cup as Rajah Kolambu, and his translator, Enrique de Malacca, got so drunk he wasn't of much use; a few days later, the local harvest was delayed while Kolambu and his brother Awi slept off a hangover. In Cebu, Pigafetta drank palm wine, tuba nga nipa, straight from the jar with reed straws together with Rajah Humabon, but in Quipit he excused himself after one draught when Rajah Kalanaw and his companions finished a whole jar withour eating anything.


Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino

The early acceptance of Catholic rituals had much to do with the eventual suppression of the natives' ritual drinking. The Spanish clergy did not oppose moderate drinking but were able to attack excessive indulgence as a threat to public morality. What aroused the friars was that drinking was tightly bound to pagan celebrations of betrothals, weddings, and funerals. These activities would eventually be eliminated among Christianized Filipinos. (Phelan, 76-7)
However, this did not happen with the Ati-Atihan.

HALA BIRA!
BOOM BOOM BOOM BO BOOM BO BO BO BOOM!

In spite of the isolation of some native settlements, the fiesta enabled the religious orders to reach out to their scattered flock. "There were three fiestas of consequence to the Filipinos, namely, Holy Week, Corpus Christi, and the feast in honor of the patron saint of the locality." The natives would flock to the cabecera and it was also an opportunity to teach them in Christianity. Fiestas offered religious processions, dances, music, and theatrical presentations to the people. Although it may be "sacred or profane blended together...it is highly doubtful that the Filipino were aware of the ceremony's elaborate liturgical symbolism, but they obviously enjoyed the pageantry involved." This statement seems particularly appropriate for the Ati-Atihan. Wherever the flock may be, they can hear the drumbeats from far-away Kalibo calling them at the start of every year.
Kalibo's Ati-Atihan has become so admired that similar festivals have cropped up all over Western Visayas. Antique has its Binirayan and Handugan festivals while Iloilo City has a more lavish and choreographed edition called Dinagyang. Bacolod, not one to be left behind, has also started its own version. (Hoefer, 255) In Cebu, it comes as Pit Senyor, a hopping dance to drums, (Joaquin, 18) or Sinulog. Today, Ati-Atihan is celebrated in the Aklan towns of Makato, Altavas, and Ibajay, a small town northeast of Kalibo which claims to be the original site where the Negritos came down from the hills to celebrate with the lowlanders. Of course, this claim is recounted in various towns along the northeast coast of Panay but through the years, Kalibo has established itself as the Ati-Atihan center.

PUERA PASMA!
BOOM BOOM BOOM BO BOOM BO BO BO BOOM!

The original commemoration of a land barter and thankfulness to the Provider for the post-monsoon harvest has turned into a feast day for the Santo Niño. He is the direct link to the Father, the God of all, the Redeemer from infamy, the Absolver of all sins, the Deliverer to a better life. That is why Filipinos carry Him close to their hearts as a talisman, or anting-anting, and as protection from the unholy.

HALA BIRA! Boom pak. PUERA PASMA! Boom pak.
HALA BIRA! Boom pak. PUERA PASMA! Boom pak.

There is so much to be thankful for. It could be the achievement of a good trade, a bountiful harvest, release from famine and storm, a peace pact between military people, a prayer answered, a vow reaffirmed, or just plain ecstasy for life. The beat goes on and frenzy builds up in the noonday heat as sweat and brew eats up the senses. Icons of history, pop characters, and political personages dance with Congolese warriors in mock battle with caballeros. The celebrants' dreams are reinforced by rosaries and prayers which absolve them from their sins and resurrect them as new persons, maybe with a hangover, but definitely saved again.
Once inside the church these costumed revelers would kneel along the communion rail to have their heads, shoulders, and backs rubbed by the now exhausted sacristan, priest, or church helper with a small statue of the Santo Niño. And just as the Ati-Atihan is an outward display of revelry and adoration, the devotee is in search of something which is missing from within. That which was empty is now filled, probably as much with spirit from the bottle as much as anything else. The celebrant becomes at peace with himself, the world, and his god. The loob (inner self) is once again purified by the performance of the ritual of the (celebration) panlabas.
With church bells ringing to the rhythm of HALA BIRA! PUERA PASMA! a now cleansed assembly of revelers stagger back to the streets of the Ati-Atihan climax, the end of a long precession where muggers, gropers and thieves have rubbed elbows with schoolgirls and church ladies tearfully singing religious hymns. The twin lights of media and tourism have done their bit in egging the frenzy on, but at the core, it is only the Filipino pulling two polar ends of his soul together.


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