The Santo Niño in a pagan ritual

I was planning on going back to Kalibo for this year’s Ati-atihan festival, but I had to go somewhere else for work. I’m reposting this old blog entry instead.


Kalibo’s ati-atihan festival has got to be the wildest fiesta celebration honoring the Santo Niño. I caught the last three days of the celebration, which was the highlight of the festival.

one of the ati tribes

On Friday, various groups (barangay representatives, organizations, local business establishments, large corporations) paraded themselves to the loud beating of their respective drums. I stood in the middle of the intersecting street of the plaza where these parading groups would merge. There was frenzied dancing and shouting of “Viva Senor Santo Niño!” coming from all directions. Some groups in ati makeup and costume joined in the fun.

one of the floats carrying images of the Santo Niño

On Saturday, there were more parades. This time, the ati-atihan groups dominated the parade. It didn’t matter that it rained that morning. The Aklanons, apparently, are used to the rains during the festival.

souvenirs for sale

On Sunday morning, the rain poured harder. A blessing, as one native Aklanon told me. It gave me, an ignorant tourist, a reason to like the people of this beautiful province more. We could learn from their spirit, I thought.

Batman was there, along with other characters, mostly from movies

By 3pm, the “procession” started. It wasn’t the kind of procession I’m used to. It was wilder than the two previous days. People danced everywhere. We danced along in the middle of the streets. One doesn’t have to know how to dance to join in the fun. You just have to move! Foreigners are also in it, either as revelers or as ati-atihan tribesmen.

It’s sad, though, that not all who join the festivities know the origin of the ati-atihan, and what the Santo Niño is doing in a pagan-like ritual.

they dressed up, carried, and danced with the Santo Nino
they gamely posed for those who want to take pictures. Some even let visitors borrow their headgear for photo purposes

It was said that the atis are highlanders whose crops got wiped out by heavy rains. They went down and asked for food from lowlanders who gladly shared food with the atis. As a sign of gratitidue, the mountain people danced and sang for their generous donors. The ati-atihan, therefore, means to imitate the dancing and singing of the atis.

As for the Santo Niño, it was said that Don Antonio Flores, Aklan’s first encomiendero, asked the natives to include the Santo Niño in their pagan festivities.

I’m glad I came to Kalibo to witness one of the country’s richest cultural heritage. Next year, I will visit Cebu for its Sinulog. Viva Santo Niño!

booze are being sold by the sidewalk, as drinking is allowed throughout the festivities

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