I love festivals and have been to some of the most amazing festivals here and around the world. But I’ve never been to the Ati-atihan Festival in Kalibo, so I jumped at the chance to join the Ati-atihan Festival 2016!
The Ati-atihan Festival is an annual celebration in honor of the Sto. Nino. It features street parades with participants in colorful costumes and blackened faces. It’s a weeklong street party, concert at the park, food and art exhibits, and a religious ceremonies.
Considered the Mother of Philippine festivals, Ati-atihan festival inspired other famous Philippine festivals such as the Sinulog Festival in Cebu and Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo.
Ati-atihan Festival Origin
A little history review: so the Aeta (or locally Ati) were the earliest settlers in the Philippine (though not yet named the Philippines). Soon the Malay datus arrived from Borneo by boat. They were granted settlement by the Atis in exchange for some gifts of gold, brass, and cloth. Then they drink and feasted and the Ati performed their tribal dance which I assume became a regular thing.
“Ati-atihan” literally means being like the Atis. So the celebration must be everyone dancing to the beat of the drums like the Atis. When the Spanish arrived few hundred years later, they added a Christian twist to it and the festival has evolved into the Ati-atihan Festival we know today: essentially pagan dance offering in honour of Baby Jesus.
Back to the future. Ati-atihan Festival 2016
Saturday (January 16, 2016)
Our group (of bloggers, media people, and AirAsia crew) went to Mabini Street to secure a good spot for the Ati-atihan Contest really early, about 7a.m. This is where the participants gather and prepare for the parade so we get to see them arriving in buses and some still putting on make-up. The parade promptly starts at 8a.m. They would be going around a specified route where 18 judges in 9 strategic stations will be judging them.
There were only about 30 participants which is small compare to other famous festivals. But the great thing is, by noon, I’ve seen and taken picture of every single one of them! But even if it’s small, it doesn’t mean they don’t make it grand. The participants really prepared for it and the parade is an extravaganza no less. There are 4 major categories for this day: (1) Tribal Big Group (2) Tribal Small Group (3) Modern Group (4) Balik-Ati Group.
After the contest parade, we went to have lunch and visit some of Kalibo’s attractions, but the festivities on the street continues.
Sunday (January 17, 2016)
The last day of the festival (Sunday) is dedicated to the traditional transfer of a miraculous Sto Niño from the Kalibo Cathedral early in the morning during a high mass. We did not wake up for this. What we did witness was, the street dancing parade that followed with devotees carrying St. Nino images.
Initially we got the sweet spot at the view deck just outside the Plazoleta. This is the starting point of that day’s people parade and we got an amazing bird’s eye view of the whole parade. 2 hours later at almost noon time, I was melting in heat. The parade is still on-going as there are so many groups. Frankly I was getting bored and thinking to myself how the people on the street be so energetic under the scorching sun. And so finally someone said we should go down.
Ati-atihan: Festival of the People
And wow! I know how now. The feeling from 10m above the street is so different from the ground. I immediately got infected with the festive energy of everyone on the street. The merry feeling just takes over. Smiling is inevitable and you just get on the merry making with everyone not feeling the blazing sun at all.
What I find most amazing is that Ati-atihan is festival of the people. It’s not just about the costume clad tribes who are the stars. The people are the stars of the festival. It is a giant street party.
Anybody whole wants to participate and form a group to join the parade can. You don’t even have to register or pay or whatsoever. Just mobilize your own team. For example: there are block of alumni group, family group, gay group, local company group. People print their own banners and print their own t-shirts. The funniest I encountered is a group called Sarsa who turns out to be a platoon in Clash of Clans. It is so crazy how people are into it. People dress up like it’s halloween. Balikbayans come home for this and I can understand why. I also imagine that if my family is from Kalibo, we will totally have a clan shirt and join the street parade. My company will have our own group as well.
I also noted that local companies are into it, like I saw a company that sells printers lets you print your photo for free. I think it’s really cute. Because several streets are closed to cars for people, I saw people set-up small table outside their houses/shops to eat and drink. They would offer this to you when you greet them. There are also small stalls that sell food, water, and alcohol at 7a.m.!
Ati-atihan Festival vs Other Festivals in the World
Seriously, this all took me back to the in Salvador de Bahia Carnival in Brazil. At that time, the hostel I was staying with printed t-shirts and we wear them on the street to join the party.
I think Ati-atihan Festival in Kalibo is one of the most fun festival in the world. I strongly recommend future visitors to the Philippines to time your visit during this festival. This happens on 3rd week of January.
AirAsia flies 5x daily from Manila-Kalibo and return. Direct international flights from Malaysia, South Korea, and China to Kalibo is also available at AirAsia. Philippine AirAsia mobile Application offers frequent promotional fares. that can be downloaded on iPhone and Android phone at mobile.airasia.com