It was a frenzy as costumed dancers, most in elaborate, multi-colored headresses and garb, danced in abrupt and syncopated movements to the beat of drums. At first look, their’s is a somewhat wild, agitated and chaotic, feels primeval, but it’s one orderly mass just going around Pastrana Plaza in Kalibo during the Ati-atihan Festival.
Kalibo’s Ati-atihan, in homage to the Sto. Nino is said to be the oldest festival in the country having its roots way back centuries even before the Spaniards came. It was said to be a celebration of the barter of Panay between the Atis, dark, short and with curly hair tribes who are believed to have first peopled the Philippines, and the Malays who arrived to find new life.
When the Spaniards came and baptized a thousand natives (thus the name of the town, Kalibo – by the thousand) and coincided with the barter commemoration, became a religious event centered around the icon of the Sto. Nino de Kalibo.
I love this festival. It has less of the pomp, pageantry and commercialism of the other major festivals like Cebu’s Sinulog and Iloilo’s Dinagyang. There is great participation by locals and it’s not uncommon to see people, with their icon of the Sto. Nino, get lost in their own revelry and dance in the middle of the crowd! The pre Ati-atihan festivities are also worth the visit.
While the early Ati-atihan probably resembled that of Ibajay’s Ati-Ati Festival, less pageantry, more on revelry and authentic, it was only a few decades ago that the costumes went garish and loud, a setup that we are familiar with today.
The route is short and it has fewer contingents than other festival but the beat, the frenzy and colour makes Kalibo’s Ati-atihan Festival one of the must go in the country.
Kalibo’s Ati-atihan is just one of the few ati-ati festival that happen during the month of January in Aklan but its the biggest and happens every third Sunday of January, coinciding with Sinulog. There are flights coming and going to Kalibo from Manila and Cebu. It is also well served by buses and passenger vans coming from Roxas City, Caticlan and Iloilo.
During the festival, hotel accommodations can shoot up several hundred percent and it is always advisable to book a few months before. To save, I based myself in Roxas City (just 2 hours to Kalibo).