Becoming An Ati

Kalibo Travel Blog

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Ati-atihan Mask
It was already late when we slept the night before but I still set my alarm to 7 AM. There was no way we would miss the fun in Kalibo, the earlier the better. By 9 AM, we were already ready to leave. It was another long ride along the mud-hole infested roads of Numancia to Kalibo. Upon arrival to the town, we encountered hordes of people from different walks of life. It looked like the whole of Panay Island poured into Kalibo. Who's to blame them, Ati-atihan for one is the mother of all Filipino festivities like this. Anything is but an imitation of Ati-atihan.

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.
The True Atis
Tourists would try to be in by getting a line or two of soot to their faces. This celebration is for the feast of Sto Nino. It sounds religious but the roots of Ati-atihan festival is actually a pagan celebration. The festival is a reenactment of the selling of Panay land by Atis to the Borneans. It is estimated to have happened in 13th century prior to the Western arrival to the archipelago. Atis, the original inhabitants of the island have darker skin. By oral tradition, It was told that to show gratitude to the Atis, the Borneans painted their faces and body with soot to signify their equality among the host people as they danced to celebrate the not so lucrative real estate deal between the Atis and the Borneans. The Borneans led by Datu Puti paid the Ati chief with gold hat and a basin in exchange of the land.
Filipino Spirituality
This was the start of this fiesta.

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.
Man covered with Soot


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).
Pretty girl Joining the Feast


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.
Horseman and Sto Nino


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.
Spider People


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.
The Baby (Nino)
I was soooo tempted to have it for lunch, but no, I am in constant checking of my cholesterol. After lunch, we asked so locals for what more to expect, she said that the procession of Sto Ninos would be at 3 PM. We thought that it could be boring since we thought a procession would be as solemn as the convent with devotees praying the rosary out loud. Then again we still decided to go back, we wanted to fully experienced the full cycle of Ati-atihan. We went back to the town center while the rain would continue to pour and would stop for a moment but would go back to make the people more wet. The sky was gray all day long.

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.
Macho Man in Spagetti Shirt
All the weirdos I saw that morning were joining the procession, all the bands and the dancers were also part of it. I said to myself, this is crazy. Another thing I noticed, Ati-atihan allowed fathers to be on drag, one man were on a golden tube while driving his tricycle, jeez. Also, mothers were dancing like chickens! I think the feast allows parents to act badly in front of their kids. Anyway, this just once a year...There is something I really cannot reconcile, how could someone pulling the carriage (carosa) of Sto Nino be drunk and holding a bottle of alcohol while walking and dancing at the same time? That's mental! Anyway, who am I to question tradition. For hours, we were on the side street, watching people, laughing with them, taking more pictures, dancing with the crowd.
What insects are they?
This all happened while the rain was pouring.

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! :)
planisphere says:
meron ako videos, kaso niatamad ako mag upload. hahahha
Posted on: Jan 26, 2009
aoisoba says:
sana nag video ka na rin :D
Posted on: Jan 26, 2009
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Ati-atihan Mask
Ati-atihan Mask
The True Atis
The True Atis
Filipino Spirituality
Filipino Spirituality
Man covered with Soot
Man covered with Soot
Pretty girl Joining the Feast
Pretty girl Joining the Feast
Horseman and Sto Nino
Horseman and Sto Nino
Spider People
Spider People
The Baby (Nino)
The Baby (Nino)
Macho Man in Spagetti Shirt
Macho Man in Spagetti Shirt
What insects are they?
What insects are they?
Some Elderly Devotees with Sto Nino
Some Elderly Devotees with Sto Nino
Kalibo
photo by: planisphere