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Ati-atihan Festival
January 12 to 18 Kalibo, Aklan

A week long festival in the Province of Aklan is the highlight of events in the province during the month of January, it is known throughout the world as the Kalibo Ati-Atihan Festival and to give you a glimpse of the history and origin, this traditional fiesta is dedicated to the celebration of the Feast of the Santo Niño or the Holy Infant Jesus.

This began as a feast of reconciliation between the immigrant Malays from Borneo and the resident Ati until the Spanish injected some Catholic elements into it It is a three day colorful tribal feast events. It is a gigantic dance and masked ball, in which all inhibitions are thrown to the winds. "Puera pasma! Hala Bira! Viva Santo Nino!". The rousing cries echo through the little town of Kalibo, until the drums fall silent and everyone collapses exhausted.

The Ati-Atihan, held every third Sunday of January in the town of Kalibo in the province of Aklan on the island of Panay, is the wildest among Philippine fiestas. Celebrants paint their faces with black soot and wear bright, outlandish costumes as they dance in revelry during the last three days of this two week-long festival. The Ati-Atihan, a feast in honor of the Santo Niño, is celebrated on the second Sunday after Epiphany. Catholics observe this special day with processions, parades, dancing, and merrymaking. 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. Although the Ati-Atihan seems to show only revelry, a closer look shows that it has historic origins.

A celebration honoring the Sto.Niño, a harvest thanksgiving, and a 13th-century friendship pact between the native aetas and the Malays. It can be considered the Mardi Gras of the Philippines: a weekend of uninhibited merriment, of endless parades and processions of grouped revelers, soothed and intricately costumed, marching an endless loop of streets, dancing to the continuous, rhythmic and hypnotic beating of drums, while countless Sto. Niño statues are carried by or hoisted over the parading crowds or pushed through small make-do floats. It is a non-stop hyperkinetic street celebration, from morning until dusk, gradually building to a maddening merging of dance, drumbeats and bacchanalia.

The famous ati-atihan festival however, having become a hodge-podge of Catholic ritual, social activity, indigenous drama, and a tourist attraction, the celebration now stretches over several days. Days before the festival itself, the people attend novena masses for the Holy Child or Santo Niño and benefit dances sponsored by civic organizations. The formal opening mass emphasizes the festival’s religious intent. The start of the revelry is signaled by rhythmic, insistent, intoxicating drumbeats, as the streets explode with the tumult of dancing people. The second day begins at dawn with a rosary procession, which ends with a community mass. The merrymaking is then resumed. The highlight of the festival occurs on the last day, when groups representing different tribes compete. Costumes, including the headdress, are made of abaca fibers, shells, feathers, bamboo, plant leaves, cogon, sugar cane flowers, beads, trinkets and an assortment of pieces of glass, metals and plastics. The day ends with a procession of parishioners carrying bamboo torches and different images of the Santo Niño. The contest winners are announced at a masquerade ball that officially ends the festival.

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