Festival: Kalibo Ati-Atihan
Filed Under: Aklan, Bohol, Featured, Festival, Luzon, Photos
All photographs by Kickflickr
Celebrated every third weekend of January (Ati-atihan peaks on the last three days but people start dancing on the streets as soon as the New Year’s Day hangover is finished), one can hear the echoes of the drums in the distance the moment one steps on the tarmac of the Kalibo Airport. The entire town center erupts in frenzied, non-choreographed dancing and shouting “Hala Bira! Puwera Pasma!” to the beats of snare drums, bass drums, trumpets, xylophones and a cacophony of other instruments seemingly playing from all the corners of this sleepy little boomtown of Kalibo.
Kalibo Ati-atihan, which started as pagan festival gained religious significance when the Spaniards injected Christianity into the celebrations, thus, pictures, images and paintings of the Child Jesus are widespread. Christian traditions have been inserted as well such as the paeapak, where a little statue of the Child Jesus or more commonly known as the Santo Niño are rubbed all over a devotee’s body (this is held at the Kalibo Cathedral all throughout the duration of the festival) and is believed to take away the exhaustion and any ailments of the devotee. A religious procession (with very drunk revelers dancing in the streets with grandma in Mardi Gras garb clutching her own statue of the Child Jesus next to a man dressed in Vampire costume – complete with a stake buried to his heart dancing along with a giant papier mache effigy of a Bornean datu) and a fireworks display cap the entire event.
This spectacular event got so famous that similar festivals were copied all throughout in different cities in the Philippines – Dinagyang of Iloilo, Sinulog of Cebu, and Masskara of Bacolod amongst others. Filipino communities especially in North America stage their own versions of Kalibo Ati-atihan dancing through the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Toronto. Even Cayman Islanders got a special treat when Kalibo Ati-atihan participated and eventually won in a competition in the Caribbean island-nation. Travelers to Kalibo are advised to book their hotels and plane tickets at least 2 months in advance as there is a dearth of accommodations during this period.
A food festival on the streets and an agro-industrial trade fair showcasing Aklan’s different arts, crafts, plants, foodstuffs and souvenir items are on display during the week-long festivities while ‘snake-dancing’, which is more like a more complicated, more inebriated and more packed conga line dancing at the Magsaysay Park happens nightly. Think of it like a mix of a New Year’s Eve party, Woodstock mosh pit, A Night in The New Orlean’s French Quarter, a Filipino Fiesta and a crazy Gloria Estefan concert rolled into one. With the thousands of people spilling into the streets, snake-dancing is relatively safe and quite enjoyable if you want your community dancing turned into some kind of contact sport. No report of a stampede has occurred so far, and while Aklan locals are relatively peace-loving people, the influx of people into Kalibo coming from other provinces of course comes with a smart caveat – watch out for your valuables. Wear comfortable shoes (never wear flip-flops and no wearing heels for the ladies especially when snake dancing). That being said, keep your skirts in the closet ladies (although Korean women mindlessly wear them- which I personally think a bit moronic at the very least).
Saturday morning usually is the best time for photographers to catch the best photos for the festival as the competition proper kicks off at around 7 in the morning- you will get fresh takes on the garish, colorful and the most whimsical costumes. Foreign and local tourists can join the parade at any time – and yes, you can play dress up too! Spotted in Ati-atihan is a Scotsman proudly wearing a kilt (and apparently nothing underneath it), an androgynous man/woman entirely painted in gold and in a skimpy bikini, an entire group of men and women painted like snakes, a group of aging local transvestites in full Mardi Gras gear and flags from all the different nations of the world. Other Aklan towns that also celebrate their own versions of Ati-atihan are Batan and Ibajay (late January), Makato (15 January) and Altavas (22 January).
Ryan supports socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable tourism, as well as the promotion of the Philippines as an alternative Asian tourist destination.
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