The Ati Atihan Festival is a feast held annually in January in honor of the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus), Held on the third Sunday, in the town of Kalibo Philippines in the island of Panay originally came from Batan, Aklan, then adopted later by some neighboring towns.
The name Ati Atihan means “to be like Atis” or “to make believe Atis“, the local name for the Aeta aborigines who first settled in Panay Island.
The festival consists of tribal dance, music, accompanied by indigenous costumes and weapons, and parade along the street. Christians and non-Christians observe this day with religious processions.
It has inspired many other Philippine Festivals including the Sinulog Festival of Cebu and Dinagyang of Iloilo City, both adaptations of the Kalibo’s Ati Atihan Festival, and legally holds the title “The Mother of All Philippine Festivals” in spite of the other two festivals’ claims of the same title.
The costumes worn at the festival is patterned after the African tribal design like those seen at the Rio Carnaval.
A 1200 A.D. event explains the origins of the festival. A group of 10 Malay chieftains called Datus, fleeing from the island of Borneo settled in the Philippines and were granted settlement by the Ati people, the tribes of Panay Island.
Datu Puti made a trade with the natives and bought the plains for a golden salakot, brass basins and bales of cloth. They gave a very long necklace to the wife of the Ati chieftain. Feasting and festivities followed soon after.
Sometime later, the Ati people were struggling with famine as the result of a bad harvest. They were forced to descend from their mountain village into the settlement below, to seek the generosity of the people who now lived there. The Datus obliged and gave them food. In return, the Ati danced and sang for them, grateful for the gifts they had been given.
The festivity was originally a pagan festival from this tribe practicing Animism, and they’re worshiping their anito god. Spanish missionaries gradually added a Christian meaning. Today, the Ati Atihan is celebrated as a religious festival.
In 2012, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the ICHCAP of UNESCO published Pinagmulan: Enumeration from the Philippine Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The first edition of the UNESCO-backed book included the Ati Atihan Festival, signifying its great importance to Philippine intangible cultural heritage.
The local government of Aklan, in cooperation with the NCCA, is given the right to nominate the Ati-atihan Festival in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
The people attend masses for the Santo Niño, and benefit dances sponsored by government organizations. The formal opening mass emphasizes the festival’s religious event.
The procession begins with a rhythmic drumbeat, and dances parading along the street. The second day begins at dawn with a rosary procession, which ends with a community mass, and procession.
The phrase “Hala Bira! Pwera Pasma!” is originally associated with the Sto. Nino Ati-Atihan Festival as the revelers and devotees keep on going with the festivities all over the town from morning to the wee hours of the next morning, rain or shine, for one week or even more.
They believe that the miraculous Child Jesus will protect them from harm and illness. The highlight of the festival occurs on the last day, the third Sunday of January when groups representing different tribes compete for tourists’ attention and prizes.
The festival ends with a procession of thousands of people carrying torches and different kinds of images of the Santo Niño. The contest winners are announced at a masquerade ball which officially ends the festival.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.