I Recommend the Ati-Atihan Dance Festival in the Philippines

Partipants dancing during the Ati-Atihan Festival
Partipants dancing during the Ati-Atihan Festival

Have you ever joined a festival wherein you can dance to the beat of drums, act like crazy, and party like there’s no tomorrow? If you haven’t yet, then it’s time for you to join the Ati-Atihan Festival. Yes you can do all those things and nobody will mind as long as you don’t step on the toes of the others who are also partying like you.

Dancing in the street together with black "colored" participants
Dancing in the street together with black "colored" participants
More street dancing
More street dancing
Participant carrying an image of the Child Jesus or Santo Nino.
Participant carrying an image of the Child Jesus or Santo Nino.
drums provide the main rhythm to the street dancing
drums provide the main rhythm to the street dancing
soot-covered participants
soot-covered participants

Ati-Atihan Festival, What is it?

This festival is held every 3rd Sunday of January in the towns of Kalibo, Batan, Altavas, Banga all in the province of Aklan, Philippines. It has pagan origins but has evolved into a religious festival since the Spaniards introduced Catholicism to the country. Its closest equivalent is probably the mardi gras of Rio but with a religious flavor. Can you imagine that, the religious and pagan together?

Ati-atihan comes from the word “Ati”or “Aeta”. It refers to the dark-skinned local tribe of Panay Island in the Visayas region of the Philippines. Ati-atihan means to look like the Atis. So during the festival, people smear black dye or soot all over their body so they will look dark like the Atis. This practice started when a group of Malay chieftains or datus, settled in the Philippines in the early 1200s. To show that they are friendly, they smeared soot all over their body and offered gifts to the native Atis. The friendly encounter was then celebrated by dancing, singing, and drinking.

People raise their images of the Santo Nino for the blessing
People raise their images of the Santo Nino for the blessing
Blessing of Sto Nino images
Blessing of Sto Nino images

When the Christians came to the Philippines in the 1500s, the festival developed its religious flavour. The celebration now coincides with the feast of the Child Jesus or Santo Nino, the 3rd Sunday of January.

The present form of the festival starts with a mass followed by the blessing of images of the Santo Nino. You will see all kinds of Santo Nino images dressed in various costumes being paraded by the people as they dance along the streets after the mass. It's really a weird mix but nobody minds. The Ati-Atihan festival is the best event to see the sacred and profane working together!

Every now and then, you will hear the people chant, “Viva kay Senor Santo Nino” (Hail to the Child Jeus) and “Hala Bira” (C’mon let’s go”!) as they dance like crazy to the beat of the drums and music of glockenspiels..

Images of Santo Nino (Child Jesus) Dressed Like Their Owners

Costumes Galore

During its early years the festival really started as a free flowing street party. However, it has become more organized lately. Now there are contests for best costume, best street dance, and best contingent. Still many unorganized groups or various individuals just jump in and join with everyone else.

You will see all kinds of costumes – from ethic - to creative - to weird ones. Where else will you see somebody dressed as superman but wearing diapers for example? Only in the Ati-atihan festival, that’s where.

The Colorful, the Weird, and the Eco-Friendly

colorful group and a family posing with them for a souvenir picture
colorful group and a family posing with them for a souvenir picture
Old lady using coconut leaves for her costume
Old lady using coconut leaves for her costume
Superman in diapers
Superman in diapers
Recycling at its best!
Recycling at its best!
another colorful group
another colorful group

A Party like No Other

Those who do not belong to any group can still join in the fun. Aside from the organized groups, you will see solo participants or loose groups dancing along with everyone else. It is not uncommon to see whole families joining in on the fun. You yourself can just join in and everybody will welcome you. Just be prepared to be smeared with black dye so that you will really belong.

The beauty of the Ati-atihan festival is - you can join in the fun. In other festivals, you are usually just a spectator. Here, you can be both a spectator and a participant.

Actually, once you hear the rhythmic beat of the drums, the chimes of the glockenspiels, and the shouts of “Hala Bira” and “Viva kay Senor Santo Nino”, you cannot help but just go with the flow and join in the fun. The craziness of the whole thing is really infectious.

somo wrestlers?
somo wrestlers?
the chime of glockenspiels invites everyone to party
the chime of glockenspiels invites everyone to party
Father and child joining in the parde
Father and child joining in the parde
True Atis also have their own group. "Puro Ati" means pure Ati.
True Atis also have their own group. "Puro Ati" means pure Ati.

All Good Things Come to an End

The festival usually ends with a religious procession, then a masquerade ball or a concert at the park late in the evening and into the wee hours of the morning.

So, if you want to loosen up, forget about all your cares and just go crazy in a good way, then my recommendation is – join the Ati-Atihan festival! It is held every 3rd Sunday of January in Kalibo,Aklan  and other neighboring towns. Things already start early in the week though. The 3rd Sunday is just the final day when costumes and dances are judged.

Santo Nino (Child Jesus) being prepared for the procession
Santo Nino (Child Jesus) being prepared for the procession
Snakemen or members of Slytherin?
Snakemen or members of Slytherin?

You have to book your flight to Kalibo early though. The plane fares can sometimes double as the festival nears. This is why I am publishing this hub at this time so you can already make your plans and reservations if you want to join the next Ati-atihan festival.

“Hala bira”!!!

Part of the crowd during the Ati-Atihan festival
Part of the crowd during the Ati-Atihan festival
Hala Bira!!!
Hala Bira!!!

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Comments 24 comments

tony0724 profile image

tony0724 6 years ago from san diego calif

Jill this just looks like so Interesting. And the costumes look so much fun. You do stay busy don,t you. When I finally get to the Phillipines you are definitely my tour guide !


 6 years ago

Hey Tony,

Thanks for being the first here!

I knew that you would enjoy this. I actually took those pictures last year but I only am able to write a hub now. I really have so much backlog in my writing.

Sure! I'll be happy to be your guide.

God bless!


MadCowWritings profile image

MadCowWritings 6 years ago from South of Eureka

Beautiful pictures. I love them!


masmasika 6 years ago

Wonderful pictures and a thorough discussion about ati-atihan festival. I love the festival but haven't been to Kalibo yet. Although I have seen a lot of Ati-atihan in different parts of metro Manila. I guess it's far different than the real celebration in Kalibo. Wish I could go there one of these days to witness the event. Thanks for sharing.


suny51 profile image

suny51 6 years ago

Hi Professor;

this all seems pretty interesting and so much fun,and me being an Indian can relate to all this in a better way, as we too have dancing a lot in our traditions,pictures are great as ever and descriptions perfect.Thanks a lot for sharing.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

I really did get a kick out of people dressing the statues like themselves. And Superman in diapers? Why it is a party. Thanks for sharing.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello MadCowWritings,

Thank you very much for dropping by and leaving a wonderful comment!

God bless!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello masmasika,

I didn't realize you are also Filipino. Great!

Yes, I know there are so many Ati-atihan-like festivals even here in Metro Manila. However, they are really no substitute for the original ones being held in the various towns of Panay island. Somehow the atmosphere in Kalibo and nearby towns is just a bit more electric and more infectious compared to what we have here in Metro Manila. Here, we just tend to watch. There you want to join in the fun.

Do try to catch the real thing.

Thanks for the visit and lovely comment!

God bless!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi Suny,

It's nice to see you!

I'm sure you have something similar in India. Our traditions and festivals have a lot in common.

Thanks ever for you wonderful comment!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi Suzie,

Great to see you!

Yes, those statues dressed like their owners are really something. I have several photos of them but shared just a few here.

Hahaha, if superman can go around in diapers, then it must really be some kind of party. Right?

You are most welcome! My pleasure really.

Thanks very much for dropping by and leaving an upbeat comment!


SilverGenes 6 years ago

This looks like so much fun! I learn a lot from your hubs and spent a lot of time enjoying your photography. Wonderful!


angcorics 6 years ago

Great photos. Fortunately, I have attended the Ati=Atihan once, but would not mind going through it again as long as you agree to be my guide.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi SilverGenes,

Nice of you to drop by and leave a wonderful comment.

I'm happy that you enjoyed this. Thank you very much!

God bless!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello angcorics,

Nice to see you again!

Oh, you have attended one already? That's great! Well, I must tell you that I have attended every single year during my growing up years. I only stopped attending when I was in college and through my working years. I could not get a time off then. Now that my schedule is more flexible I am back to attending again. It's really fun and I would not mind being your guide to the next one. In fact I will be happy to be your guide!

Thanks again for dropping by.

God bless!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago

Again, Jill, your pictures are a real treat for the eyes. You have captured the festivities of the occasion with great images--bold and beautiful. Have a great day!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi anglnwu,

It's great to see you!

Thanks very much for your ever heartwarming comment!

Have a great day too!

God bless you my friend!


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Beautiful colors and images thank you so much for sharing this. What a wonderful culture.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hello Billy,

Thank you very much for your visit and wonderful comment!

God bless!


mikielikie profile image

mikielikie 6 years ago from Texas

what a wonderful hub jill! love the pictures. so interesting.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi Mikie,

Thank you very much!

Hope to see you around again.

God bless!


abbiz profile image

abbiz 6 years ago from M-A

Hello Jill, nice meeting you, your hubs are very informative, keep it up :-)


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi Abbiz,

Thank you very much! Nice meeting you too. Hope to see you again!

God bless!


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

What happened to my comment? :-)))


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi De Greek,

I don't know, never saw it. Maybe you can just write another one?

Great to see you again!

God bless!

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