Becoming An Ati
Kalibo Travel Blog› entry 3 of 12 › view all entries
January 18th, 2009 – by: planisphere
The Ati-atihan, held every 3rd Weekend of January is the wildest among Filipino fiestas. Locals would paint their faces with soot and wear bright and outlandish costumes, dance with the beat and get drunk.
However, another story said that since the Atis had already sold the land to the Borneans, they retreated to the mountains where they preferred to live under the cover of the forest. Every time the Atis would go down from the mountains to the plains to exchange products or even asks for products from the lighter skinned Borneans, the Atis would dance as a way to give thanks to the Borneans (the Borneans would soon be the lowlander Filipinos). The lowlanders in return would soon join the Atis in the celebration of the newly-found friendship by painting their faces with soot and dancing with the Atis. Making themselves look like their Ati friends. Ati-atihan literally means "Acting/Being an Ati". No matter what's the true beginning of the festival, the people of Panay would paint their faces with soot every 3rd week of January and this tradition will continue for the coming generations to come.
How the Sto Nino get into the picture of this pagan festival? There are many accounts about this as well. First account is that some encomiendero during the Spanish occupation made some deals with some Datu to include the child in the celebration. And since most Filipinos are Catholics by then, the practice was easily encorporated to the feast. Another one is, some opportunistic friars spread the word about Baby Jesus appeared to drive off a pirate attack. Such story was a calculated move to hasten the propagation of Christianity among locals, and it worked. No matter how Sto Nino came into the picture, the festival redefined Filipino spirituality by combining our animistic practices with the catholic tradition, the result is a tupsy-turvy revelry ending celebrants drunk, crazed and with faces painted with soot while shouting "Viva el Senor Sto Nino" (Hail live the Holy Child).
This was by far the biggest beer drinking festival I even encountered. People were drinking beer and rhum, the choice of drink was of course San MIguel Beer products such sa Lite, Pale and Red Horse. Mine was Red Horse of course. Young people who were on budget would drink Tanduay Rhum mixed with coke. Moderation was never part of this feast, people would drink too hard that some fights and commotions created by drunks were common sights. We established ourselves near the Police Station and we saw policemen bringing troublemakers to the station from time to time. There was for sure a full pack orgy of drunks and maybe high on drugs inside the station. The sight was really pretty wild and could be scary. However, if you stay low-key and acting like a normal tourist, you would be safe.
We started the day early with a breakfast at the plaza. We ate the normal Panay food - anything grilled especially chicken. I think I had some vermicelli and hotdog for breakfast. I just can't eat too much chicken, I got some allergies to it. For hours, we just walk around, danced with the band, took picture of interesting folks like a superman in adult diaper, a more that 6 feet drag queen with full feathers for a headress and many more. For me, I enjoyed the adorable looking kids covered with soot, clothed like their adult counterparts with anything feathery. They would dance as if they knew the motto of the festival - Hala Bira, Puera Pasma (Keep Going, No Tiring). The beat of Ati-atihan was simply crazy, I would estimate the number of bands playing, and I think more or less 30 sets of bands playing different tunes.
We really got tired after dancing and taking photos, then we decided to visit the Kalibo Cathedral. Well, we were forced to go inside the church because of heavy rain. As we settled inside the church, then I realized that the mass was in their local tongue. So, there's no chance for me to stay there. We decided to go out, the rain subsided somehow, the dancing outside didn't stop despite of the rain. By noontime, the sound of the drums slowly faded. I said, the dancing was over. That's when we felt hungry and time for lunch, we walked very far and asked a policewoman for a good resto. She suggested that we walk 4 blocks, turn right, look for RML. After few more minutes of walking we reached the place, and we were not disappointed at all!!!! They were serving oysters of less than a dollar per bucket.
At 3 PM, I got surprised that the "prusisyon" ( or the procession) was but a continuation of the wild revelry. I though that the "prusisyon" would be time to solemnize the supposedly religious festival.
As the last carosa with Sto Nino left the plaza, that's when we decided to go out the of the town center. I reckoned that it could get more wilder since people get more drunk. I won't be surprised if even the parish priest was already drunk by then. We were already satisfied with what we experienced for that day. We headed back to the hotel but first ate our dinner in a very good resto bar along the way. I had oyster for dinner, I succumbed to temptation. Hey, I am but human after all, and it's fiesta. No time for moderation. Hala Bira! Puera pasma! :)
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