In Honor of the Christ Child

Ati-Atihan was originally a pagan festival. Missionaries gradually added Christian meaning. Today, Ati-Atihan is celenbrated in honor of the Christ Child, the Santo Niņo. Three days of parades lead up to the main procession that starts in the church on Sunday afternoon. The parades are colorful and vibrant, much like the Mardi Gras carnival in Brazil.

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Read a story

No one is certain how Ati-Atihan started. One legend, however, says it dates back to the year 1212, when 10 datus, or patriarchal chiefs, and the companions fled from a tyrannical sultan in Sabah, Borneo, and landed on the island of Panay. Their leader, Datu Puti, traded with the chief of Panay, an Ati named Marikudo.

Datu Puti exchanged gold and other gifts in return for the coastal lowlands. The bargain was sealed with a great feast and dancing during which the Borneans blackened their faces with soot to resembled the dark-skined Atis. Modern day celebrants of Ati-Atihan paint their faces and bodies with black soot to remember the Atis. Today, the Atis are a minority.

The excitement builds

Ati-Atihan takes place at Kalibo in Panay in the second week of January, then at Ibajay and Makati one week later. To prepare for the festival, villagers make their own unique costumes and form groups to practice dances. Their costumes look either bizarre or regal. Anticipation builds up during the last few days of preparation and reaches an exciting climax on Friday, when the dancing and partying start.

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Join in the fun!

No one remains a spectator at Ati-Atihan for long. Many travelers join in the celebration by painting their faces and wearing costumes. In Kalibo, besides being part of the procession, visitors also get to feast on the sumptuous food prepared by the residents of the province.

Hala, bira!

During Ati-Atihan, streets are filled with people singing and dancing in striking costumes. These costumes are usually brightly colored, with tall, impressive headdresses. Faces blackened with soot, parade participants move to the rhythm of drum beats adn the clanging sound of tin cans, crying "Hala, bira!" (ha-LAH bee-RAH) which means "to strike a blow." School bands and orchestras add to the music, and the revelers celebrate late into the night.

In contrast to the riotous festivities that happen throughout the three-day celebration, Ati-Atihan ends somberly with a procession on Sunday. Participants carry torches and, starting from their town churches, walk along the streets that outline the town.                

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Source: Festivals of the World: Philippines