Travel Guide to Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo Aklan

March 19, 2018 7:00 pm by Karla Ramos
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The Ati-Atihan Experience

You’ve probably heard how amazing and colorful Ati-Atihan Festival could be and how it’s just one of the reasons why many tourists visit the Panay Island during the month of January?

Well, overrated or not, words will not suffice to describe how wonderful the Ati-Atihan Festival is. One word to describe this trip to anyone: Magnificent.

What is the Ati-Atihan Festival?

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Held every January to honor the Infant Jesus or better known as Sto. Niño, and celebrated both religious and non-religious individuals, Ati-Atihan Festival is considered the ‘Mother of All Philippine Festivals’ for its bountiful celebration that shows off the rich culture of the Filipinos. Celebrated in the town of Kalibo, Aklan, the festival composes of dance and music incorporated with indigenous costumes and parade across the street. Due to its undeniable popularity to the public, this festival has been adapted and recreated in different parts of Philippines such as Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Halaran of Capiz, Antique’s Binirayan and Iloilo City’s Dinagyang Festival. True enough, Ati-Atihan’s authenticity is the reason why even people from foreign countries visit Aklan just to witness this annual event.

Origin of Ati-Atihan Festival

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In 1200 A.D., the people of Ati have famished due to bad harvest they’ve been suffering. This left them no choice but to seek help from the Datus where they have given food. The Ati danced and sang for them as a sign of gratefulness for the gifts that has been bestowed to them. Originally, this was a pagan festival until the Spanish came and put a Christian influence to it, thus the birth of a religious festival now known as Ati-Atihan.

Ati-Atihan means pretending to be like an Ati or Negritos. You’ve probably heard how Hala Bira! was always shouted during the festival? It actually originated during the 17th century when raiders from the South have attacked Panay. Defenders of the island cried out Hala Bira which means hit them.

Even UNESCO through ICHCAP have acknowledged how vital Ati-Atihan festival is in the Philippine culture in a book published in 2012. The festival was even nominated as one of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

What to expect in Ati-Atihan Festival?

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This weeklong celebration that has been commemorated by its locals for almost 800 years and will be long carried by the next generations to come usually starts around mid-January (3rd Sunday of the month) until early February.  

Sadsad Pasaeamat

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On the third Friday around 10 in the morning, you’ll witness a devotion parade for Señor Sto. Niño de Kalibo and dance on the street of different religious and balikbayan groups incorporated with a marching band. The rhythmic sound of the drums will invite you to join the parade and enjoy their company on your feet! And to give you an idea, Sadsad means dance so don’t shy away to groove together with the locals even if you have both left feet for dancing.

Tribal, Modern, Balik-Ati and Ati-Atihan Contest

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On a Saturday morning, a procession will start followed by a devotee’s mass at 05:00 AM. After which, you’ll witness people in their Ati costume where they have painted their bodies. Free yourself and enjoy the dance whilst shouting ‘Hala bir purya pasma!’(Pour or dispense all means) and ‘Viva kay Señor Santo Niño!’ (Long live Child Jesus!)

Pastrana Park

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Located near the Cathedral Church of St. John the Baptist, this is the place where you may rest and hangout for a while when you’re a bit overwhelmed with the fiesta spirit. It’s also in Pastrana Park that you can go through various exhibits and trade fairs.

Cathedral Parish of Saint John the Baptist

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One of the most important destinations in the Ati-Atihan Festival experience is paying tribute to the image of Señor Sto. Niño de Kalibo and making a prayer after the Holy Mass are just the things you shouldn’t miss when you visit the church.

Aklan Higante Contest

This competition features parade of huge statues, higantes, where the higante that has the attracting and compelling ecological-themed will win.

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Aklanon Visual Arts Exhibit

With just PHP 15.00, you’ll get to see the Kalibo Museum and have deeper grasp on the history of Ati-Atihan and the culture of the people from Aklan. Together with a tour guide, the modern visual exhibit located at the ground floor will give you fresh outtake on the heritage of Kalibo.

Music Events

Stages are placed around the town because of different local and famous Filipino bands performing their hits and contributing to the lively and upbeat atmosphere in the town.

See Pagpadungog

Pagpadungog or To Honour is the finale for the celebration of Ati-Atihan where winners of the street dance competition will perform. Even on the last day of Ati-Atihan festival, it’ll still leave wistful of the events that has passed within a week. A blissful yet one of the most colorful event you can experience once a year.

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How to go to Kalibo, Aklan?

Since this festival will be jam-packed, it is advice to book tickets months before the event so that you won’t have to pay for expensive rate due to peak season. Flight would also take around one hour so you won’t have to worry if this would take long.

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What to eat in Kalibo, Aklan?

A Filipino festival wouldn’t be complete without the food to satisfy our stomach. Well, the town wouldn’t disappoint you with its local delicacies, street and fast foods favorites! Just take Saylo as an example. This Aklanon restaurant is just a few minutes away from the airport where you’ll get to relish their Inubarang Manok and Linapay (fresh-water shrimp) at a cost-effective price.

Liempo is also on the top list which you may find at Ramboy’s which will give you a higher standard on what a liempo should taste like. If you’re also into breads, Bread and Butter is there to satisfy your cravings for siopao and even cheese burger.

How to take good Ati-Atihan photos?

This is a constant dilemma to any travelers- taking a good photo. May it be used for your social media accounts, we always want to keep a good shot of every moment we’ve had on any significant event. Here are some tips on getting a good photo:

  1. Proper positioning

Always make sure that you’re early amongst others so you have the appropriate place and a commendable one to take good pictures.

  1. Don’t be shy

Most of the time, especially for first timers, we’re afraid to raise our cameras because we may offend someone by taking their pictures. But just go with the flow and vibe of the festival and people don’t actually mind if you’re going to take a photograph of them because they’re enjoying the festival themselves.  

  1. Natural lighting

Nothing beats a good photograph than a natural lighting from the sun. Just have the proper angle and positioning and you’re definitely going to have a shot worth remembering. Also wait for the proper lighting or the golden hour because day light can usually be harsh and at night you won’t capture the scenery or people as clearly as possible.

Explore more wonders

After you’ve enjoyed the weeklong celebration of Ati-Atihan, you may easily have the access to visit Boracay, still one of the most visited beaches in the Philippines to have a quick escapade and experience sunset.

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