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I Recommend the Ati-Atihan Dance Festival in the Philippines
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.