Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Ati-Atihan Festival of Kalibo: Mother of all Philippine Festivals
The local term Ati-Atihan means “to be like an Ati.” The Atis or Aetas were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island of Panay---comprised of the provinces of Iloilo, Antique, Capiz and Aklan. The Atis are dark skinned people with curly hair and are small in stature.
The Maragtas Legend tells us that the celebration of Ati-Atihan had its origins with the arrival of a group of Malays sometime in the 13th century. Ten Datus from the kingdom of Bornay (now Borneo), escaped from the wrath of an oppressive regime of Sultan Makatunao in 1225 A.D. Finding a place where they can live in peace and harmony, the 10 Datus or chieftains namely Datu Puti (the leader), Datu Bangkaya, Datu Dumalugdog, Datu Sumakwel, Datu Lubay, Datu Paiburong, Datu Dumangsil, Datu Balensusa, Datu Paduhinog and Datu Dumangsol, along with their followers boarded on their balangays (vintas or boats) without knowing where to go, sailed across the Sulu Sea on their quest for the Promise Land. The group skirted to the southern tip of the island of Panay.
It was said that when Datu Puti along with his men landed, they met an aeta who at that time was fishing along the riverbank. Through him the datus learned about Marikudo, his people and his territory. And through this aeta, they sought an audience with the aeta chieftain. They were welcomed by the natives of the place, the Atis, headed by their King Marikudo and Queen Maniwantiwan.
They sat down with the natives, negotiated and agreed to purchase the lowlands of Panay for their abode. It was said that they purchased the island from the Negritos for a golden sadok or salakot and a golden necklace or manangyad that was said to have touched the ground. The datus then settled in the coastal areas of the island, while the natives agreed to live in the mountains and hinterlands. This undertaking came to be known in Philippine history as the “Barter of Panay.”
In appreciation of the hospitality received by Datu Puti and his clan, he ordered his people to paint and dress themselves like the Atis. They then held a feast along with them in celebration of their newly-established alliance. The two ethnic groups successfully created a union where they co-existed and lived in peace for centuries. With different religious beliefs, the Malays and Negritos lived in mutual respect and harmony with each other. They both revere their gods and deities as they desired and accept each other as brothers.
This relationship was strengthened in time when the Atis would come down to the lowlands to ask for food due to heavy rains that would wipe out their hillside crops. The Malays in return would then share their blessings with them.
As a result, the Atis would dance and sing in gratitude for their help. Since then, the mountain people would come down to ask for food while offering songs and dances to the lowlanders. This continuing comradeship resulted to the annual ritual that we now come to celebrate as people would cover or smear their faces with soot and dance like the Atis. This folk celebration eventually developed to what we call now as the Ati-Atihan.
The Santo Niño has long been the favorite of Filipinos and devotion to it has been intense ever since an image was first presented to Juana, Queen of Cebu, in 1521. The coming of the image of Sr. Santo Nino or the Child Jesus into this folk celebration begun when Don Antonio Flores, the first encomiendero of Aklan made arrangements with Datu Malanga and Datu Madayog to dedicate the celebration to the Santo Nino. Despite its pagan origins the Spanish authorities encouraged the celebration of Ati-Atihan primarily because of the opportunity to convert natives to Christianity.
Since then the celebration of the feast of the Child Jesus was made to coincide with the Ati-Atihan festival. The image became Aklan’s patron and a vital part of this celebration as Sto. Niño images are carried by devotees or paraded in small decorated floats as people chant, “Hala Bira! Viva Senor Santo Nino!”
Ati-Atihan comes annually, specifically every third week of January. People from all walks of life would come to Kalibo, Aklan’s capital to celebrate the history of friendship and thanksgiving that dated back around 800 years ago. Devotees from all parts of the country also come to pay homage to Sr. Santo Nino.
Ati-Athan as a celebration has become a tourist attraction. Days before the festivity, people attend novena masses dedicated to the Holy Child. The onset of the celebration is hinted by cadenced and invigorating beats of the drums. The streets then burst with dancing people. The highlight happen on the last day where dancing groups that come from neighboring towns of Kalibo where each group wearing bright, outlandish colorful indigenous costumes try to out-do each other in terms of dance movements, music and number of participants. Revelers dance in rhythmic patterns to the deafening drum beats. The celebration ends with a procession of parishioners carrying torches and the different images of the Sr. Santo Niño.
The festival is celebrated from January 1-15 and is highlighted daily by a series of activities. The Blessing and Opening Salvo of the Kalibo Sto. Nino Ati-Atihan Festival on January 9; Ati-Atihan Bazaar at the Veterans Avenue; Kalibo Ati-Atihan Trade Fair at Kalibo Trade Hall; Kaen– An sa Plaza Kalibo Plaza Basketball Court. Paghinugyaw It mga Barangay sa Kalibo on January 9, 2012, 2:00 p.m. in the major streets of Kalibo with a parade of delegates from the 16 barangays of Kalibo and their floats made of indigenous materials. Higante Contest and Aklan Festival Parade on January 12, 2012 at 2 pm. Sadsad Panaad of Socio-Civic and Religious Groups on January 13, 2012. Pagdayaw Kay Senor Sto. Nino on January 10 along the major streets of Kalibo; Tribal, Modern, Balik–Ati-Atihan Contest on January 14 from 8:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m. along the major streets of Kalibo; Fireworks Display on January 14 at 11:00 p.m. at the Kalibo Magsaysay Park; Kapistahan ni Senor Santo Nino on January 15 with a religious procession at 3:00 p.m. along the town plaza to the major streets and to Kalibo Cathedral; Pagpadungog on January 15 at 7:00 p.m. at the Kalibo Magsaysay Park.
Ati-Atihan is one of the most colourful and enjoyable festivals in the Philippines. It has become very popular as a festival that similar others were patterned to it. Through the years, the Ati-Atihan of Kalibo has established itself as the mother of all festivals in the country.
To get to Kalibo, Aklan from Iloilo City, one can take an air-conditioned bus or van at Tagbak Terminal in Jaro.
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