Aklan’s Ati-Atihan Festival for a half local, half tourist

We Filipinos love long holidays. After all, Christmas celebrations here in the Philippines start when the last syllable of the month changes to “ber”.  Where I now live in Aklan, the local “Akeanons” have added their own contribution to this tradition. Who doesn’t love extended days – even months – of infectious music, lively street dancing, bazaars that promise trinkets and treasures, spontaneous reunions and worry-free drinking?

A whole new perspective

Extravagant Santo Niño festivals to honour the Infant Jesus are common all over the Philippines in January but growing up in Caloocan city (one of the 16 cities that make up the greater metropolitan region of Manila), I didn’t witness such grandeur. Our fiestas usually involved some food and games with prizes donated by generous neighbours. When my family and I moved to Aklan in 2006 and I witnessed the Ati-Atihan Festival for the first time, my understanding of the word “fiesta” changed dramatically.

A seven-day celebration

Ati-Atihan is a week-long event. There are concerts, photo contests, programs, and even invited celebrities for evening performances. In the streets of Kalibo, Aklan’s capital, marching bands fill the air drumbeats, yells and laughter and the greatest crowds are drawn during the  parade of the tribes when people from different places in Aklan dress up like Ati’s (Aklan natives) and perform tribal dances.

The highlight of the festival for me, however, is the Giant Parade. Aklan has seventeen municipalities and each municipality has an entry at the Giant Parade. I come from Tangalan and our entry was a giant fish – symbolic of fishing as one of Tangalan’s main sources of employment.

I marvel at how people come together and help build these intricately designed giants – truly a labour of love.

A tradition that endures involves Malays putting soot on their skin to look like the native Aetas and participating in tribal dances

History

Reading about Ati-Atihan, I learned that it is a commemoration of how the Malays who were escaping tyranny reached the safety of the territories of the Aetas. They offered elaborate jewellery for the wife of the dark-skinned leader, they traded with each other, and celebrated the beginning of a friendship. During the festivities, the Malays put soot on their skin so they would look like the Aetas and participated in the latters’ tribal dances. That was the first ever Ati-Atihan festival.

Later on, Santo Niño became a major part of the fiesta. The tribe dances while carrying their Santo Niño to show reverence and gratitude. It is for all the blessings that God has given us and for keeping us safe for the whole year.

It is always a wonder to witness history and faith embrace each other in a colourful, lively display of faith, culture, talent and love. Viva!

By Ma. Angelica Maghinang – Domingo

I am a high school English teacher, supreme student government adviser, school paper adviser and freelance writer.

More info

Ati-Atihan is celebrated every third week of January. The highlights of the celebration are the Sinaot sa Calle (Street Dancing) of the Department of Education, the Giant Parade/Contest, Tribal, Modern, and Individual Ati-Atihan Contest, The Feast Day Mass, Religious Procession, Photo Contest, Food Festival, bazaars, Trade Fair, endless street party and endless snake dancing.

The province of Aklan is located in the Western Visayas region in the northwest corner of Panay Island. The capital, Kalibo, has an international airport that is serviced by connecting flights out of Manila, Cebu, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Guangzhou.

Getting to Kalibo

Origin Departure date Return date Find Ticket

Cebu

23.07.2018

26.07.2018

Tickets from 42USD

Manila

19.08.2018

23.08.2018

Tickets from 57USD

Luzon Island

20.04.2018

23.04.2018

Tickets from 84USD

Davao

16.06.2018

21.06.2018

Tickets from 107USD

Singapore

01.04.2018

15.04.2018

Tickets from 140USD

Seoul

19.03.2018

22.03.2018

Tickets from 220USD

Macau

09.04.2018

13.04.2018

Tickets from 240USD

Hong Kong

20.10.2018

29.10.2018

Tickets from 246USD

Guangzhou

17.04.2018

21.04.2018

Tickets from 266USD

Shanghai

27.05.2018

30.05.2018

Tickets from 330USD

Vladivostok

13.03.2018

20.03.2018

Tickets from 577USD

Kharkiv

01.05.2018

08.05.2018

Tickets from 733USD

Khabarovsk

16.07.2018

08.08.2018

Tickets from 745USD

Saint Petersburg

12.09.2018

21.09.2018

Tickets from 799USD

Taipei

02.02.2019

10.02.2019

Tickets from 827USD

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

01.04.2018

12.04.2018

Tickets from 908USD

Moscow

28.02.2018

12.03.2018

Tickets from 932USD

Tashkent

01.03.2018

08.03.2018

Tickets from 971USD

Novosibirsk

30.08.2018

06.09.2018

Tickets from 1 133USD

Samara

04.03.2018

12.03.2018

Tickets from 1 219USD