Aklan · Philippines · Travel Tales

Hala Bira! Ati-Atihan Festival 2014

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The Ati-Atihan of Kalibo, Aklan advertises itself as the “mother of all Philippine festivals”. The name means “to be like the Ati”, the original settlers of Panay Island and much of the Philippines. Originally, it’s a festival that celebrates the cultures of the Ati and the eventual Malay lowland settlers. The Spaniards came, and somehow, the celebration came to be dedicated to Santo Niño, the child Jesus.

The events are held on the third week of January which coincides with the more popular Sinulog of Cebu. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Ati-Atihan is less fun.

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My colleague-friends and I went to Kalibo one weekend to experience a “legit” Philippine festival. This one is my second after MassKara last October. We were hosted by a co-teacher whose hometown is near Kalibo. This meant free accommodations — and the best home-cooked meals! Our city palates couldn’t get enough of fresh crab, oysters, and their specialty, hinubarang manok.

We were able to catch the street dancing on Saturday and Sunday. Some things of note: anybody in costume could be asked for a photo (we saw a little Captain America and an elder Darth Vader), there’s San Mig and Red Horse being sold everywhere alongside softdrinks and bottled water, and everyone just seemed happy to watch and even join in the parade — especially with the overcast sky and the slightly chilly weather even at high noon.

Lady Gaga made an appearance!
Lady Gaga made an appearance!

Now I realize that this festival would seem very offensive and racist to foreign eyes, and we also wondered whether the atis (who were also present) were offended by the depiction of their primitiveness. But talks of hybridity and syncreticism notwithstanding, it was really quite fun to watch.

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The costumes were not as elaborate as the ones in the MassKara festival, and neither was the dancing as grand, but I found the Ati-Atihan to be quite more fun because the audience was actually participating. Yes, there were marshals who tried to keep us on the side, but eventually, no one cared if we went to the middle of the dancers for photo opportunities.

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I also loved the fact that the drumbeats didn’t come out of sound systems but from the drums of the parade contestants themselves! It made the whole experience more authentic, I think.

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