The Ati-Atihan Festival is an annual feast held every third Sunday of January in Kalibo, Aklan. Known as the "Mother of All Philippine Festivals", it is considered to be one of the wildest and liveliest festivals in the country.
History and Background
During the 13th century, a number of Malay datus from Borneo reached Panay Island through balangays, which they used to cross the sea to escape the dreadful reign of Sultan Makatunaw. They were welcomed warmly by the inhabitants of Panay. Local inhabitants even sold the guests pieces of land for them to build their houses on. The Borneans then went on to establish the first brown community in the Philippines.
The very first Ati-Atihan was done to finalize a peace pact between the two races. A celebration was held to seal the Malays' buying of Panay Island. Unlimited food and drinks were presented to the guests by Datu Sumakwel and his community. To show their gratefulness for the natives' warm welcome, the Malays painted their faces and arms with black soot to look more like their hosts.
During the festival, Ati-Atihan participants smear black body paint on their skin and wear colorful costumes as a remembrance of the pact between the Atis and the Malays. The yearly festival celebrations held in Kalibo still symbolize the unity that was formed between the two distinctly different tribes.
Originally, the Ati-Atihan was a pagan festival. When the Spaniards came to the Philippines, they adapted the celebration by gradually adding Christian meanings to the event. The Ati-Atihan festival slowly became a religious festival dedicated to the Child Jesus.
Since the Church's adaptation of the Ati-Atihan festival, novenas and masses have become an integral part of the celebration. Days prior to the celebration itself, the people attend novenas and masses held for the Santo Nino. The prayers continue as the festival comes to a close.
The celebration is formally begun with a mass, which is followed by rhythmic drum beats that signal the start of the street dancing. The second day starts with a community novena, followed by more merrymaking activities.
The third day of the Ati-Atihan festival is known to be one of the merriest day of the whole celebration. Groups dress up in tribal costumes and parade the streets of Kalibo while dancing. People usually follow the street dancers while carrying bamboo torches and sculptures and images of the Child Jesus. Judges decide which group has that year's best costume, and the winners receive their prizes at the masquerade ball, which officially signals the end of the festival.
Known as the "Mother of All Philippine Festivals", the Ati-Atihan gathers the most number of tourists and visitors among all social and religious celebrations. It has also been called the "Mardi Gras of the Philippines" for its colorful costumes and lively festival atmosphere.
The parades become increasingly elaborate as the years pass. More and more costumed dancing groups and drum bands join the festival every year, and so what was formally a three-day festival now stretches up to two weeks.
- Ati-atihan Festival. Wikipedia. (Accessed on 21 June 2010)
- Whence Came Kalibo Ati-atihan. Kalibo website. (Accessed on 21 June 2010)
- Ati-atihan Festival 2008. Daigdig Pinoy. (Accessed on 21 June 2010)
- Pictures and schedule of events at the Ati-Atihan Festival Official Website
- More information on Ati-Atihan Festival at EtravelPilipinas