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Ati-atihan: a centuries-old celebration?


The Ati-atihan of Kalibo has been dubbed as a festival that dated from the early Spanish colonial times. It is said to have fused the elements of Spanish catholicism and those of animist aetas (atis) of the island of Panay. Instead of the moon or the spirit believed to be inhabiting a tree, the Santo Niņo became the focus of their veneration and celebration.

Present-day Ati-atihan celebrations are characterized by the wild dancing, the putting of soot on some parts of the body (usually the face), the loud cheering,  the colorful attire, and the culmination of the festival with a mass in the Kalibo cathedral.

Not too many people know or remember, however, that the festival began in the late 1950s -- not in some particular year of the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines. The Ati-atihan was conceived as a response to the drive of the national government to boost tourism in the country. Since the feast of the Sto. Niņo in Kalibo was already a popular event in the lives of Aklanons, a merging of the Catholic and low-land feast with the aetas of the mountains was viewed as a viable tourist-attracting ploy. An aeta-like celebration of the feast of the Sto. Niņo was thus born: an ati-ati, an imitation of the aetas or atis, an ati-atihan -- but with a Catholic spiritual flavor.