Long ago. Before you heard about the festivals Sinulog, Masskara, Kadayawan, and Dinagyang, there was The Ati-Atihan held every January in Kalibo, Aklan in honor of the Sto. Niño which had its origins in the 13th Century. In fact, when I was growing up, I could remember the Ati-Atihan as THE Festival to attend in the Philippines… the others did not exist yet. In recent years, Sinulog — which only started in 1980 — with marketing and promotions from Cebu has made it the biggest and most popular of the Philippines’ Festivals overshadowing the Ati-Atihan. Adding insult to injury… both festivals honoring the Sto. Niño fall on the same week.

In 2009 and 2010, I visited the Sinulog Festival (post here) in Cebu which was actually my first festival experience as The Lakwatsero. This year, I flew to Kalibo to finally experience the famous Ati-Atihan.

View Kalibo, Aklan in a larger map

On this trip, I took along my two Nieces, Leia and Kitkat. These two have been asking to join me on one of my lakwatsas all through 2010. So after teasing them about joining during family Christmas dinner, I asked them a few weeks ago if they would like to join my trio Kalibo. Of course I did offer the trip as all-expenses-paid.

We took the 8:55am flight on PAL.

Landing in Kalibo our plane was greeted with full military honors. It wasn’t for us obviously, rather it was for my seatmate. Until 30 min into the flight I hadn’t realized that I was seated beside Senator Loren Legarda. It was only after she spoke to the flight attendant that I recognized that very characteristic voice. Realizing that she valued her privacy and her space, I didn’t make a fuss. I just said “hi” and she asked me if I was attending the Ati-Atihan.

Leaving the airport, we ventured to acquire transportation to the town proper of Kalibo. As one would expect of any airport to which tourists frequent (Kalibo is one option to get to Boracay), you can always expect all sorts of transportation outside. We opted for a Tricycle.

It was a comfortable short trip from the airport to the town proper. The tricycle driver brought us as close to the town plaza as he could as many of the streets were closed of due to the Festival.

After just walking for a few minutes, we encountered our first group that was making its way through the streets.

From this point on, we were on Festival mode. Everywhere we looked we’d see an array of street dancers parade around the streets near the town plaza. The streets were full of Townsfolk, Tourists, and Photographers taking pictures with the characters on the street.

I had read on the Mabuhay Magazine on the plane that one of the characteristics which differentiates the Ati-Atihan with other festivals is “audience participation.” In Sinlog, for example, people are left to watch the parade from behind cordoned-off areas on the street as the parades pass through. At the “Ati-Atihan", everyone is invited to be part of the parade and dance along.

At this point I began to appreciate the Ati-Atihan Spirit.

For the Ati-Atihan purists, the costumes are made from indigenous materials. And of course the distinctive blackening make-up of either charcoal, oil, or shoe-polish.

My two nieces attending their first street festival ever.

And one thing you get a lot of… smiles Smile

The streets were full of people taking pictures of each others weaving through the parade.

So… who am I not to join in on the tradition? (Me and Leia)

After a while, we decided to make our way to the Kalibo Cathedral for a change of scene.

We passed through the Pastrana Park

The Kalibo Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral was the “Blessing of Children” as Children of different ages gather for the traditional blessing to honor the Holy Child officiated by the Parish Priest.

From the Cathedral, at around 11:30am I thought that we should start foraging for food.

We stopped at a little street side diner which served an array of typical Filipino food.

After lunch we realized that the streets were quiet and there were significantly less people. We decided to take a break from the Festival and we asked a tricycle drive to take us to the town of New Washington where we went to a place known as Sampaguita Guardens Restort (But that is another post)

After a brief visit to Sampaguita Gardens, we proceed back to Kalibo for the afternoon scene. It was more lively in the afternoon than it was in the morning. I got to notice a number of things. After a while you get to realize that the groups really went around the city in a long route… if you waited long enough you would see the group again… and again. Every now and then I would think to myself…wait, I’ve seen this kid before.

Despite looking tired, it didn’t seem like people were  less into it…

And as the day went on… the kodakan continued…

Everyone was getting in on the act… the foreigners were loving it. I actually realized that the foreigners were into the scene even more than the locals… which was great!

… and same with us. (Me and Kitkat)

There was no shortage of characters…


After a while, we took a short break from the heat and the crowds and when we came back to the same spot… the crowd had ballooned in size and energy!

Here are some scenes from festival…

a few scenes from Ati-Atihan 2011 showing the sound and the atmosphere of the festival.

One of the last floats we saw was rather… strange. It had characters from DC Comics’ Justice League. Green Lantern, Robin, Batman, and Super boy were in front of a truck which had Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Spider Woman, and Superman. Behind was Catwoman, Bat Girl, and a female Robin.

What they say about Ati-Atihan is true. Everyone really gets into. People dancing on the streets and just having a great time. It’s definitely different from the more commercial aspect of Sinulog.

I guess the original is still the best!

Final Observation: From year’s past, I always thought the the slogan for Ati-Atihan was “Hala Bira!” and that it is chanted on the streets. I did see the words on few banners on the streets, but I saw more “Viva Sto. Niño”. And as for chanting? I didn’t hear the phrase shouted out at all.

Next week, I am off to Iloilo for The Dinagyang Festival