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Ati-Atihan Festival | Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines

At more than 800 years old, Ati-Atihan Festival had surpassed many human lifetimes, conquerors, presidents, wars, victories, calamities & what-have-yous. It inspired the creation of many lavish fiestas that happen everyday across the 7,000 plus islands in the Philippines. And it still continues to charm everyone to this day.

ati-atihan festival

Ati-Atihan Festival honors the Infant Jesus, Sto. Niño but actually traces its pagan roots back to 1200AD.

There are a few versions of how it came about. One is the welcome feast that the Atis gave to the 10 Bornean datus after a riddled trade of land for textiles, brass basins, a golden “salakot” & a long necklace.

ati-atihan festival

Then there’s the story of thanksgiving where the Atis sang & danced for the new settlers in saving them from famine.

Whichever version is true, one thing is for sure — it is the oldest festival in the Philippines & one that is surely hard to top.

ati-atihan festival

Ati-Atihan Festival: The Mother of All Philippine Festivals

Where it all began in Kalibo Aklan, Ati-Atihan Festival is celebrated every 3rd Sunday of January. Its name owes the characteristics of the indigenous Ati people, that being short, dark-skinned & frizzy-haired.

santo nino de kalibo

While it is pagan in origin, Spain’s conversion of the Atis into Christianity turned the celebration into a religious devotion to Sto. Niño. This form of syncretic occasions combines both ethnic beliefs & Catholicism similar to how it is done in many other fiestas around.

ati-atihan festival

Ati-Atihan Festival stirred the creations of many other festivals in the Philippines. Among them are the Sinulog in Cebu & the Dinagyang in Iloilo. Other towns in Aklan like Ibajay, Malinao & Malay also celebrate the same theme.

ati-atihan festival

This is What You Call a Festival

Unlike other festivals where the audience just stands as cold onlookers, Ati-Atihan is not a spectator event. You can dance with the Atis without marshals shooing you away. You can weave in & out of the parade route like you’re one of them.

ati-atihan festival

Imagine that feeling when you’re dancing with everyone to the heart-thumping beats of the drums. Visualize yourself surrounded by the psychedelics of colours & gigantic props. It’s ecstatic!

ati-atihan festival

Sure, this kind of chaos isn’t something that we are familiar about street dancing. We are used to watching an entertainment of choreographed spectacle. But Ati-Atihan Festival is differently beautiful.

ati-atihan festival

Uniquely, Ati-Atihan

The Ati-Atihan movement is easy to dance. It’s only single-forward, step-tap sequence & nothing more. And they’ve been doing this mincing step for hundreds of years.

ati-atihan festival

“Sadsad” means dance in Aklanon. But during Ati-Atihan Festival, it also means a time for everyone to group together & battle it out on the streets. It’s a tradition for friends, families & organizations to parade in their colorful costumes & mightiest bands.

ati-atihan festival

There are no specific parade routes, meaning groups can meet on the same street & create a massive roadblock. To determine who gets the right of way, each team puts their band on a face-off in what they call “paeaeongan”.

ati-atihan festival

“Paeapak” is another age-old tradition where the image of Sto. Nino de Kalibo is rubbed on the devotees while whispering prayers of healing. It is also called “pahilot” & observed by a massive following.

ati-atihan festival

Surviving Ati-Atihan Festival

Ati-Atihan Festival is a small-town celebration but the fun impact is phenomenal. From the 3-days of “sadsad” to the parties happening everywhere, surviving it means knowing how to pace your energy.

ati-atihan festival

Booze overflows during the festivity too. But in my few times of joining the fiesta, I have never seen any violence or partygoers passing out on the streets. Surely, it’s wild but it’s easy to spot how much they put reverence to the Señor too.

ati-atihan festival

Rooms in Kalibo, Aklan sell out fast as early as months before the Ati-Atihan Festival. So it is always advised to book way ahead of time. And take note that most hotels sell the rooms on a 4-day/3-night package. Meaning, it’s blocked out & on a steep festival price.

Check out the available rooms here now before you regret it!

ati-atihan festival

For its authenticity, heritage value, real inclusive vibe & fun factor, no doubt Ati-Atihan Festival is winning at all levels. Surely, with everything parading before your eyes, it’s hard to just stand & watch. Come to Kalibo, Aklan & experience the wonderful difference!

Hala Bira, Pwera Pasma! Viva, Señor Sto. Nino!

-oOo-
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