Ati-Atihan Festival is the annual cultural and religious festival in honor of Santo Niño in Kalibo, the capital of the province of Aklan in the Philippines, that is held every third Sunday of January. Officially called Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-atihan Festival, it is considered the oldest festival in the country, tracing its beginnings in pre-colonial era. It is often described as the Filipino Mardi Gras with spectacles that resemble similar public celebrations that can be found in Latin America and the Caribbean. Touted as the “mother of all Philippine festivals,” it is arguably the template from which festivals elsewhere in the country are conducted particularly its use of visually striking costumes, parade, and street dancing.
History of Ati-Atihan Festival
Ati-Atihan refers to “mimicking the Atis”, aboriginal native inhabitants of the island of Panay before the coming of the Malays and the Spaniards. Revelers wear body paints including blackening the face with soot and elaborate tribal costumes to achieve an appearance that looks like an Ati. It is also assumed that sadsad, the dance movement during parades, is an imitation of the gestures of the natives.
In 2021 and 2022, activities were toned down in observance of minimum health protocols set by the government to address the coronavirus pandemic. Activities were pre-recorded and live-streamed on various platforms. Major activities like sadsad street-dancing and food bazaar were cancelled to avoid forming of crowds.
Fiesta of Santo Niño
Oral tradition and written history give varying accounts for the beginning of the festival. Consensus on its origin indicates that it was a pre-colonial celebration, and Spanish invaders transformed it in ways to fit to Roman Catholic fiesta as a means to control the population socially and politically.
Thus it developed into a celebration in honor of Sto. Niño. The devotion of Sto. Niño sprang in Cebu in 1565 when its image was discovered in miraculous circumstances by a Spanish sailor in Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s expedition, reportedly the same image that was given to Hara Humamay by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
Renaming Ati-Atihan Festival
Within the term of Mayor Federico O. Icamena, the yearly Fiesta of Santo Niño was renamed Ati-Atihan Festival in 1972 and became a more highly visual and public spectacle, incorporating elements akin to that of Mardi Gras. It gained national prominence by the performance of Kalibo contingents invited at the opening of Nayong Pilipino in Pasay City during Martial Law period.
Much of the elements of the festival draw from its rich traditional accounts.
Barter of Panay. It is said that the festival is a celebration that remembers how the native Atis supposedly peacefully ceded their lands. In 1212, ten Malay chieftains, their families, and retinue escaped from Borneo where they had been under the despotic Sultan Makatunaw of Sriwijaya era and set foot in Panay island. Their contact and negotiation with the Atis resulted in the exchange of lowland territories in favor of a golden headpiece, a gold necklace, weapons, other items, and a share of the annual harvest from the sea.
A feast was had involving singing and dancing that is said to be the first Ati-Atihan. The tale however differs in the particular detail of when the practice of blackface began. One account stated that the Atis relocated to the uplands and over time no longer attended the yearly commemoration of the barter, so the Malay settlers who continued the tradition started painting their faces black to remember them. And/Or that the Malays did have their skin darkened by soot on that very first feast in the spirit of celebration and communion with the natives.
The barter of Panay originated from Maragtas, a book written by Pedro Alcantara Monteclaro who stated it was a compendium of legends and oral history. Historians said that its contents were from a work by Fr. Tomas Santaren first released in 1858. It is also the basis of Binirayan Festival of Antique.
Christianization of Kalibo. Another oral tradition stated that the settlement called Madyanos was renamed Kalibo which translates to “one thousand”, a reference to the number of natives who were baptized by Fr. Andres de Aguirre in 1569. After the sacrament Spanish colonizers and the new Christians began dancing in honor of Sto. Niño, a precursor of the present-day festivities.
Ibajay couple. A story penned by Fr. Jose Iturralde in 1975 mentioned that the festival began in Ibajay. A fisherman caught a log of wood which he tossed aside and then he went to sleep. Later, he and his wife woke up to a noise and discovered that the wood was carved in the likeness of the child. They treated the image as sacred and later transferred it to the parish. The townsfolk began blackface as propitiatory rite to appease the Holy Child from disappearing in the parish church only to show up in the house of the couple.
Blackface, sea attacks. An alternative explanation is offered by yet another lore. Ibajay residents started the tradition of blackface after they fought and defended their village against Moro raiders. They did so to avoid detection from the invaders, and they thanked the Holy Child who helped defeat the enemies. It is said that Fr. Fernando de Legaspi witnessed the yearly festival in Ibajay in 1798, and he then brought it to the towns of Malinao where he was assigned. Then, he brought the tradition when he moved to Kalibo in 1800. The festival was formally established through a declaration signed by church authority and the business elite of Kalibo on June 11, 1871.
Ati-Atihan Festival Schedule of Activities
Ati-Atihan Festival is filled with cultural, historical, religious, and secular activities.
Organizers initiate various competitions in arts, costume-making, music, jingle-making, pet, and talent shows.
Bazaars, booths, and exhibits are put up by organizers, showcasing features, guides, food, and other activities of the festival.
Miss Kalibo Ati-Atihan
Miss Kalibo Ati-Atihan is a beauty pageant. Winner is judged via a criterion of being the best representative of “beauty, faith, and unity.” It is open to residents and those who have relatives living in Kalibo, and only one contender can represent each barangay. Previous editions were called Mutya ag Lakan It Kalibo Ati-Atihan, which is a search competition for men and women.
Novena and Mass
Novena prayers are said and Holy Mass is heard at the St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Kalibo for each of the nine consecutive days leading up to the day of the festival.
Faith of devotees is partly centered in the miraculous Image of the Holy Child. Pahilot is a ritual that is performed in order to be cured of various illnesses. The image is kissed and rubbed in various parts of the body of the devotee that may require healing.
Panaad, which means vow or commitment, is the observance of expressions of religious beliefs and faith in Sto. Niño within the context of Ati-Atihan. This involves among other things returning home to Kalibo and participation in street dance. It is believed that the fulfillment of panaad will grant the devotee a year of good health, grace, forgiveness, and healing.
Sadsad, which means dance, is the dance performed in the street during the festival. Its steps and movements, together with the wearing of festival costumes, are said to imitate the gestures of the natives. It is interspersed with shouts of, “Hala bira!” (Go all out), “Puera pasma!” (Never get sick), and “Viva Señor Santo Niño!” (All Hail to Señor Santo Niño).
Where to go
Major activities occur in the heart of Kalibo including Pastrana Park and Magsaysay Park. Religious activities are conducted in St. John the Baptist Cathedral.
How to reach Kalibo, Aklan
Province of Aklan can be reached via air, land, and sea. Visitors can fly to Aklan in international and domestic flights in two airports, Godofredo P. Ramos Airport in Caticlan in the town of Malay and Kalibo International Airport in Andagao in Kalibo. One may also buy tickets for sea trips in three ports of Caticlan, Dumaguit, and New Washington. Moreover, buses ply routes from various points of Panay such as Iloilo City, Roxas City, and towns of San Jose, Antique, and Libertad.
- Historical Background. Municipality of Kalibo. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- This 1974 Video Proves Ati-Atihan is the Mother of all Philippine Festivals. Municipality of Kalibo. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-atihan Festival 2022. Municipality of Kalibo. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Peterson, William. The Ati-Atihan Festival: Dancing with the Santo Niño at the “Filipino Mardi Gras.” Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 28, No. 2 (FALL 2011), pp. 505-528. University of Hawai’i Press on behalf of Association for Asian Performance (AAP) of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE). Retrieved July 23, 2022
- Baruah, Karabi. A Forgotten People: The Ati Community of Aklan. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society , September 2000, Vol. 28, No. 3, SPECIAL ISSUE: PROBLEMS OF DEVELOPMENT AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (September 2000), pp. 301-316. July 25, 2022
- Wendt, Reinhard. Philippine Fiesta and Colonial Culture. Philippine Studies , First Quarter 1998, Vol. 46, No. 1 (First Quarter 1998), pp. 3-23. Ateneo de Manila University. July 25, 2022
- Alcedo, Patrick. Sacred Camp: Transgendering Faith in a Philippine Festival. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Feb., 2007), pp. 107-132. Cambridge University Press on behalf of Department of History, National University of Singapore. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Mujal, Rhuda Malacad. Pahilot: The Faith Healing Tradition of the Ati–Atihan Festival. The PASCHR Journal Volume 3 (2020) pp. 71-80. Philippine Association for the Study of Culture, History and Religion Inc. Retrieved July 25, 2022
- Sala-Boza, Astrid (September 2006). The Contested Site of the Finding of the Holy Child: Villa San Miguel or San Nicolas (Cebu El Viejo)? Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. Vol. 34, No. 3, Special Issue: Santo Niño de Cebu Ethnohistorical Studies, pp. 224-252 (30 pages). University of San Carlos Publications. Retrieved June 13, 2022
- Ati-Atihan Festival. Tourism Promotions Board Philippines. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Lonely Planet. A week-long Mardi Gras-like festival honouring Santo Niño consumes the island of Boracay for pre- and post- revelry. BBC. August 8, 2011. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Aguirre, Jun. Legend of the Ati-atihan Fest in Aklan. Business Mirror. March 4, 2018. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Mangilaya, Shur C. Ibajay Ati-ati Festival. Manila Bulletin. May 19, 2018. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Madarang, Catalina Ricci S. Filipinos raise importance of Ati-Atihan fest after being accused of cultural appropriation. Philippine Star. November 4, 2020. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Symbols of the state: Republic of the Philippines. Bureau of Local Government, Philippines. 1975. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Fact Sheet. The Nayong Pilipino Foundation. 2021. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Aguirre, Jun. Kalibo Ati-Atihan virtual revelry offers P1-M in prizes. Rappler. January 13, 2022. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Zabal, Boy Ryan B. No ‘sadsad’ in Kalibo’s 2022 Ati-Atihan Festival. Panay News. December 29, 2021. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Zabal, Boy Ryan. Kalibo to scale down 2021 Ati-Atihan fest. Panay News. December 14, 2020. Retrieved July 24, 2022
- Albay, Rhick Lars Vladimer. Iloilo’s grandest annual festival is happening, but Ilonggos will watch the spectacle from their homes. January 23, 2022. Retrieved September 12, 2022
- Villanueva, Venus. Kalibo celebrates Sto. Nino Ati-atihan sans streetdancing. Philippine Information Agency. January 17, 2022. Retrieved September 12, 2022
Ati-Atihan Festival Summary
Name Ati-Atihan Festival Celebration Culture, Religion Church St. John the Baptist Cathedral Country Philippines Date 3rd Sunday of January Duration 7 days Established 1871 Facebook www.facebook.com Location Kalibo, Aklan Official Name Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-atihan Festival Organizer Municipality of Kalibo, St. John the Baptist Cathedral Patron Sto. Niño Religion Roman Catholic Website kaliboaklan.gov.ph
|Church||St. John the Baptist Cathedral|
|Date||3rd Sunday of January|
|Official Name||Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-atihan Festival|
|Organizer||Municipality of Kalibo, St. John the Baptist Cathedral|