Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo

Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo

The Ati-Atihan festival is held on the third Sunday of January in Kalibo town. The colorful festival is likened to the New Orleans Mardi Grass festival.  The festival includes tribal dances performed by dancers dressed in indigenous costumes and weapons dancing to tribal music along the streets.  Many Philippine festivals have been inspired by this festival, including Cebu’s Sinulog Festival and Iloilo’s Dinagyang Festival. 

Ati Atihan is a two-pronged celebration that honors Santo Nino and commemorates the peace pact between the area’s warring tribes of 1210. Open to religious and non-religious folks, the festival attracts all kinds of people from all over the world to immerse themselves in the Philippines culture. 

History of Ati-Atihan Festival 

The term Ati- Atihan means “to be like Atis.” Its history has two varying tales that include the indigenous tribe of Aetas. Both stories involve Aetas accommodating 10 Malay chief tans called Datus, who were seeking a new island to live. In one tale’s version, the first Ati- Atihan festival took place when the Malay settlers celebrated their peaceful pact with the natives of the land. They colored their faces black with soot in honor of the dark-skinned Aetas.  

In the second tale, the Aetas suffered a lousy harvest, which pushed them to seek help from their Malay neighbors who shared their resources with them. To show gratitude, they sang and danced for the generous Malays. 

What happens during the Ati– Atihan Festival? 

Visitors converge at Kalibo for a saved day celebration full of festivities and street parties. “Big Three Days of Spiritual Street Dancing” is the highlight of the festival, and it includes a three-night frenzy of drinking and dancing. The celebration features over 80 dancing and music groups who compete for one million peso prize. Streets of Kalibo town are usually filled with colorful costumes and people with soot-covered faces regarding the Atis tribesmen. The parade is open for spectators, and the crowd participation adds to the frenzy. Some of the highlights of the festival include 

Faith Healing 

The Ati-Atihan festival is not just a party frenzy event, but it also bears a religious significance. A faith healing tradition occurs during the festival, and Catholic liturgies rub devotee’s bodies with the image of Santo Nino for healing. The healing is meant for body and soul, and the townsfolk bear reports of people being healed after the pilot. 

 Festival Torch Procession 

On the last evening of the festival, the Torch procession occurs to mark the end of Ati-Athan. Multitudes gather with bamboo torches to follow the parade. Devotees carry hundreds of Santo Nino statues and playing drums. The procession passes through the streets of the town to Kalibo Cathedral for a final prayer. Hand-held torches light the night skies giving the festival a picture-perfect end. 

Come to the Ati-Atihan festival this year and take part in the celebrations. International visitors can find cozy accommodation at The Manor at Camp John Hay or Azalea hotels.  

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