Blackened dancers wearing colorful costumes dancing to the rhythmic sound of drums with coordinated foot stomps and shouting “Hala bira, puera pasma!” at the the top of their lungs… welcome to Ati-atihan Festival, the Philippines’ very own Mardi Gras!
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The Ati-atihan Festival is a religious festival held yearly in the province of Aklan in the Visayas region. The eponym “Ati-atihan” means “to be like Atis”. Atis or aetas are the indigenous natives of the island province of Panay. One of the country’s oldest festivals that started in Aklan, the oldest province in the Philippines, Ati-atihan Festival is a celebration of the pact between the dark-skinned Ati tribe and the Malay chieftains who settled on the area. In its more than 800 years of history, the festival has evolved into a tribal and religious merry making in honor of the infant Jesus, the Santo Niño. Ati-atihan is said to be the forerunner of other festivals like the Sinulog of Cebu and Iloilo City’s Dinagyang. It is recognized as “The Mother of all Philippine Festivals”, a title it rightfully deserved. Did you know that Ati-atihan Festival is the only Philippine festival nominated in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists?
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Held every January after the Feast Day of Epiphany, and culminates on the 3rd Sunday in the town of Kalibo, Ati-atihan Festival is one of the country’s most beautiful and colorful festivals, attracting visitors from all over the world. Different from other festivals where spectators can just watch on the sidelines, Ati-atihan Festival’s revelers and devotees join in the dance parade. Imagine being able to dance and take selfies with hundreds of costumed-clad participants in vibrant colors… it is indeed a euphoric experience! And that informality is what makes Ati-atihan Festival peculiar and continues to draw and charm the crowds annually. It is an enjoyable and grand combination of ethnic beliefs and Catholicism rolled into one big celebration.
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Activities abound during the weeklong festival – procession, mass, “paeapak” (an age-old tradition where a statue of Sto. Niño is rubbed by the devotees while praying), dance competitions, parade of tribes, concerts and more. Competing groups, some numbering 50-60 dancers, dance enthusiastically to the beat of the drums in the hope of winning the top prize and the prestige.
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The unique experience and the fun, heritage value Ati-atihan Festival offers is definitely a come on for anybody curious about Philippine festivals. Come to Kalibo and see for yourself how delightfullly different Ati-atihan Festival is… the “Pinoy Mardi Gras”.
Hala Bira! Viva Senor Sto. Niño!