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The Ati- Atihan Festival: Where Culture Shines and Drums Echo

by Mia

The Ati-Atihan Festival is a feast held annually in January in honor of the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) in the island and town of Kalibo, Aklan. The name "Ati-Atihan" means "to be like Atis" or "make believe Atis," referring to the name of the Aeta natives who first settled in Panay Island and other parts of the archipelago. The festival is known for its vibrant parade, colorful costumes, street dancing, and rhythmic drumming. Ati-Atihan is also called the Filipino Version of Mardi Gras.


The origins of the festival can be traced back to the 13th century when a group of Malay chieftains called Datus fled from Borneo and were granted settlement by the Ati, the indigenous people of Panay Island. As a sign of gratitude, the Datus celebrated with feasts and dances. Over time, with the arrival of Spanish settlers and the introduction of Christianity, the festival evolved to include Christian elements.


The main feature of the festival is the parade, which involves participants painting their faces with soot to resemble the dark skin of the Ati people and wearing indigenous attire.

The participants dance to the beat of drums (which is said to mimic the Ati's celebration of a good harvest) and other native instruments. There's a sense of unity as both locals and tourists merge in a spirited display of camaraderie and revelry. The festival also has a religious component, with many activities centered around the Santo Niño.

Participants carry various versions of the Santo Niño statue, and there are prayer dances and other devotional acts. The festival is both a pagan and religious celebration, reflecting the syncretic nature of Filipino culture.

**Socio-Cultural Impact:**

Ati-Atihan has a profound socio-cultural impact as it's an embodiment of Filipino identity, showcasing the archipelago's history, art, and religion. It has also influenced other festivals in the Philippines, most notably the Sinulog Festival of Cebu and the Dinagyang of Iloilo City, both of which are also celebrated in honor of the Santo Niño.


The Ati-Atihan is a significant tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the globe. Hotels, streets, and businesses bustle with activity during the festival period, which has a positive economic impact on local businesses.

**Date and Events:**

The festival usually spans a week, culminating on the third Sunday of January, with various events leading up to the grand parade.

During this period, there are also markets, street parties, and other cultural presentations that highlight the traditions of the Filipino people.

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