Kalibo Ati-atihan Festival

Kalibo Sto. Niño Ati-atihan Festival

Kalibo Ati-atihan festival is local fiesta originated from Aklan in honour of the Santo Niño. The feast is held annually on the third week of January every second Sunday after the Epiphany in Kalibo, Aklan in Panay island. It is famous for being the wildest among Filipino fiestas, with its colourful and outstanding costumes. The street where the procession took place is accompanied with frantic primitive drumbeats, synchronised dance steps and loud chants. This fete is almost identical to Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival merrymaking. Described as “one of the most vibrant celebrations of Sto. Niño,  it is considered as the Filipino Mardis Gras – Known to be “The Mother of all Philippine Festivals,” there are many activities and events that people are looking forward to during the week-long celebration.” (Aklan Tourism)

Kalibo Ati-atihan Festival
From Tribu Ilayanhon. Mga inapo ni General Candido Iban. Photo by: @itsmarsthegreat (Instagram)

Ati-atihan means “make-believe Atis,” Ati is a group of indigenous natives of the island. Locals and tourists participate in the parade by painting their faces with charcoal streaks or soots on their faces and arms. The culmination of the Ati-atihan festival is the native dance competition, benefit dance organized by government organisations. The competitors depicts the Ati by covering their body with paints and soots. Costumes are elaborate with the use of local and indigenous materials such as: tiger grass or tambo in Filipino to make the headdresses and garlands draped across the chest. The ensemble is brought together with woven rattan, paper flowers, capiz accessories, and wooden bead necklaces. Part of the costumes are the wooden spears and shields. The week-long festival includes rosary procession, community mass, and procession. During the parade, the revelers and devotees chant “Hala Bira! ” while most of the participants brought with them their  Sto. Niño images believing that the miraculous Child Jesus will protect them from harm and illness. They dance non-stop for several days rejoicing ardently to their religious vows.

The Kalibo  Ati-atihan Festival was named one of the 300 best festivals in the world for 2017 by two global digital festival discovery communities, the F300 and EverFest. Other travel web sites also named the Kalibo Ati-atihan as one of the greatest street parties in the world. In 2016 the Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-atihan Festival Inc. introduced neon lights color among the competing tribes to enter a new era of colorful revelry.”  (Aguirre, J., 2018)

Kalibo Ati-atihan Festival
Photo by: Jirell Mendoza Delos Santos

Ati-atihan history.

Excerpt from Jun N. Aguirre Business Mirror article “Legend of the Ati-atihan Fest in Aklan”

“In 1975 Catholic priest Msgrs. Jose Iturralde wrote the history of the Ati-atihan could be traced to the old fishermen couple in Barangay Naile in the western part of the province.

Iturralde said that in the early-1700s, an unnamed male fisherman went into the river to catch fish. But along the way, he considered it unfortunate that he caught a piece of wood, instead of fish. He tried to throw the wood away, but it repeatedly returned to his net. Dismayed, he decided to bring the wood home and threw it in a pile to use as fuel to cook their meal. The fisherman with his wife sleeps for a while and later they heard a beating sound nearby. When they look where the sound beatings where, they found the piece of wood has carving of a child.

The fishermen then decided to place it in their altar. From there on, the family received blessings, including good fish harvests. Several weeks passed, and the fisherman decided to seek advice from a priest.

The priest asked the fishermen to place the wood at the Ibajay Parish. Several days later, the residents wondered why the piece of wood always disappeared and was repeatedly found at the roof of the fisherman’s house.

The Ibajay residents interpreted the incident as a call for them to seek forgiveness of their sins. Part of their penance was for the residents to blacken their faces with coal and to dress in rags. After doing this, the piece of wood no longer left the parish.

One day, a group of Spaniards known as the Moros from nearby Mindoro province tried to invade the town of Ibajay. The residents fought back, dedicating their victory to the piece of wood.

Until now, the symbolic fight between the natives against the Spaniards is being commemorated as part of the Ibajay Ati-atihan Festival.

In 1798 Padre Fernando de Legaspi, based in the town of Malinao, heard about the yearly celebration being held in Ibajay. He walked several kilometers to Ibajay town as there was no transport made at that time. Upon witnessing the revelry, he decided to duplicate the revelry in Malinao town. In 1800, when he was assigned in the town of Kalibo, he also duplicated the Kalibo Ati-atihan Festival there.

On June 11, 1871, a testament was signed by the Kalibo priest with businessmen in town to institutionalize the holding of the annual Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-atihan Festival.

Among those businessmen who signed the testament were Jose Gomez, Basilio Gomez and Pedro Fuentes. The testament was legalized by Ramon Barrios, who was the gobernadorcillo of Kalibo during that time. Witnessing were Jose Isturis and Lucas de la Concepcion.

During those times, the revelry was held every noon as a sign of penance while holding dancing in the streets.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) named the Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-atihan Festival as “The Mother of Philippine Festivals.” It was through the Kalibo Ati-atihan Festival that inspired the origin of the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo, the Sinulog Festival in Cebu, among others.

In the 1970s then-President Ferdinand Marcos mandated the Department of Education to help promote the Kalibo Ati-atihan Festival every January.”



Aklan Government. Accessed May 14, 2020. http://aklan.gov.ph/tourism/kalibo/
Aguirre, J., 2018. Accessed May 14, 2020. Business Mirror. https://businessmirror.com.ph/2018/03/04/legend-of-the-ati-atihan-fest-in-aklan/


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