Rowdy fun in Ibajay’s Ati-ati Festival

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Dressed as an Ati with a Sto. Nino icon
Succulent mud crabs!

It’s just a small festival, colors are more subdued and less contingents than Cebu’s Sinulog but the Ibajaynons surely takes centerstage and knows how to have fun!

It was already 9 AM and the road infront of the municipal hall was already crowded with festival participants. Their skin blackened with soot and their costumes made from native materials adroitly fashioned into feathers, headresses and vests.

A couple of meters were simple floats decorated with palm fronds, cooked fish and crabs and an image of the Sto. Nino, the town’s patron saint. As the clock ticks to the start, in a few minutes, the participants are rushing last minute fixes.

The whistle blows and the drumbeats start, the dancer open with a few sways and stops, sways and stops and motions of their hands and feet. Stomp, stomp, stomp and quick pushes and pulls with their arms, head sway to the beat of the drums. Shouts of Viva Sto. Nino fill the air.

Another sooted and costumed dancer. CLICK TO ENLARGE.
Revelry participant in a woman's clothes

The crowd mill around, taking photos, craning necks and laughing. Some curious about what’s happening while others just stood there, ejoying the beat and the performance as the parade passed, with a bottle of beer in one hand. In my case, since it was my first Ati-ati festival, I was busy taking photos, stopping for a few minutes to look then shoot again.

After the dancers, groups of people pass in their festive march coupled with short dances. Step forward, gyrate and sway. Some in women costumes, men holding baby dolls, and the now ubiquitous seafood and grilled chicken on stakes being paraded. On floats are fruits, vegetables and meat. One even had several lechons (roasted pigs) paraded.

In the next few hours until lunch, the parade will wind through town, from the municipal hall to the main highway and back to the town center ending with an entrance to the church for a blessing.

Live moro-moro, a play-fight between Christians and Muslims at an open space near the church

The Ati-ati Festival of Ibajay follows the same storyline as that of Kalibo’s Ati-atihan Festival, Makato’s and Altavas’s and even Boracay which according to some historians, commemorate the barter of Panay and later, during the Spanish colonial period, the religious part was incorporated. While many contest this one, even putting forward a legend, what is important is that the celebration is meaningful to the townspeople.

At the church, people queue to have themselves blessed with the image of the Sto. Nino

There’s more to the western part of Panay than Boracay. In fact, there are many interesting places in the provinces of Aklan, Antique and western Iloilo that just amazes without driving all the way to Caticlan. Ruins, churches, food and rowdy festivals are there waiting. While the Sinulog is very colorful, well choreographed and long, Ibajay’s Ati-ati Festival, personally, is better. There’s no big cash prize and contests for the best float or costume or dancing but its more of participation by the different barangays and the visitors who just come here for the festivities.

Ibajay’s Ati-ati Festival still retain that authentic festival flavor that is, sadly, lacking in most major festivals in the country.

Ang Langyaw’s Panay Island trip courtesy of Airphilexpress, the fastest growing budget airline in the Philippines that made this trip possible!

Stan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London).

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. Open for work, collaborations and inquiries for site features.

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