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KALIBO: What to Expect in the Sto. Niño ATI-ATIHAN Festival in Kalibo?

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Kalibo's Ati-Atihan is the mother of all the big Sto. Niño festivals of Sinulog in Cebu and Dinagyang in Iloilo.  It's the biggest fiesta that is "non-commercialized" and stays true to its Filipino Fiesta vibe. It's a "participative fiesta" where you dance with the performers vs. a "spectator fiesta" where you just watch in the sidelines. They say you have not experienced a Filipino fiesta unless you've been to Ati-Atihan.

Ati-Atihan means "to become like Aetas" or in modern terms an "Ati Cosplay". It was originally a pagan animist festival that the Spaniards adapted in honor of the Sto. Niño celebrated every third sunday of January.

It started when 10 Bornean Datus escaped from the island of Borneo and migrated to the Island of Panay in the 13th century (c.1200 A.D.). They bought the Panay Island plains from the Ati's who were the original settlers in Maharlika (former name of the Philippines before the Spaniards) with gifts of golden salakot, brass basins,  bales of cloth and a very long necklace for the Ati chieftain.

The Aetas celebrated the occasion with eating, dancing, and merry making that became the inspiration of what we now call as the Filipino Fiesta.

Finally, I was able to bring the three boys to a cultural immersion and had fun in celebrating the mother of all fiestas -- The Ati-Atihan in Kalibo. Here's our Ati-Atihan experience:

 

THE BEST OF KALIBO SERIES:

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We flew in via Caticlan on a Thursday afternoon and took an almost 2- hour land trip to the municipality of Kalibo. (Read more info: KALIBO: Planning Your Kalibo Escape with your Family)

We missed one of the highlights of the festival which is the AKLAN HIGANTE CONTEST where they parade huge statues called higantes in giant- ecological-tourism-themed images.

(Tip: If you are attending with kids, make sure to arrive on Thursday morning to catch the parade and to avoid the heavy traffic that ensues after.)

 

FRIDAY

SADSAD PAGPASAEAMAT KAY SR. STO. NINO (Major Streets of Kalibo)

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On Friday, different socio-civic, religious, and balikbayan groups would parade and dance on the streets with a marching band. This thanksgiving devotion to Señor Santo Niño de Kalibo is called Sadsad. 

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You can hear the drums of the Sadsad starting at around 10.00am in the major streets of Kalibo.

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The main town area where the church and park are located is closed to vehicular traffic to give way to the festivities and you can participate in the fiesta on foot.

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At first, you enjoy watching them but after some time the beating of the drums mesmerizes and hypnotizes you to join them in the parade. To best experience sadsad, follow the group that you can relate to and enjoy their company.

(Note: Only thing about the Sadsad on Friday was that the people were still  not in costumes.)

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The major streets of Kalibo that are used for the Ati-Atihan festivities are bounded by Roxas Avenue, Mabini Street and the River.

 

PASTRANA PARK

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Pastrana Park is a huge center plaza fronting the Cathedral Church of St. John the Baptist bounded by: 19 Martyrs, C. Laserna, GM Reyes and Martelino Streets.

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The Park becomes the needed breathing space if you want to get out of the congested streets, and it’s a common area for public amenities that are  securely guarded by men in uniforms.

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It's a good place to rest and hang out for a while to imbibe the fiesta spirit.

 

CATHEDRAL PARISH OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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The center of the religious celebration is the Catheral of St. John Baptist.

(Make sure to check out the schedule of the religious activities.)

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Make sure to visit, say a prayer, make your three wishes and most of all, hear the Holy Mass.

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Make sure to pay tribute to the holy image of Señor Santo Niño de Kalibo.

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Prayer to the Santo Niño de Kalibo

O Señor Santo Niño de Kalibo, behold us prostrate at your feet imploring Your blessing and assistance. We firmly believe in Your goodness, Your love, and Your mercy. We also know that the more we honor You, the more You will bless us. Remember that You have told us to ask, to seek, and to knock at the door for Your Infinite Mercy. So it is with the greatest confidence that we kneel before You today. Teach us how to ask that we may receive; show us to see that we may find. Be pleased to listen while we knock. O Señor Santo Niño, and open Your loving heart to our trustful supplication.

(Pray 3 times the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. Ask  Señor Santo Niño the favor you want to obtain in this Novena)

O Miraculous Señor Santo Niño, prostrate before Your sacred image, we beseech You to cast a merciful look on our troubled hearts. Let Your tender hear so inclined to pity, be softened by our prayers, and grant us the grace for which we ardently implore You. Take from us all unbearable affliction and despair, all trials and misfortunes with which we are laden. For Your sacred infancy's sake hear our prayers and send us consolation and aid, that we may praise You, with the Father and the Holy Spirt, forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

KALIBO ATI-ATIHAN TRADE FAIR (@PASTRANA PARK)

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Since Friday is like a lean day, you can go around the different exhibits and trade fairs.

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Honestly for locals, there's nothing interesting that you can buy.

 

AKLANON VISUAL ARTS EXHIBIT

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While you are in Kalibo, make sure to visit the Kalibo Museum. (P15 Entrance Fee)

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Check out the modern visual exhibit on the ground floor.

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It shows the history of the Ati-Atihan ...

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... and showcases Aklanon culture.

(They should have volunteer tour guides so that you can appreciate the exhibits more)

 

KALIBO ATI-ATIHAN STREET BAZAAR (VETERANS AVENUE)

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There is a street bazaar along Veterans Avenue, but there's nothing interesting to buy.

 

SATURDAY

TRIBAL, MODERN, BALIK-ATI AND INDIVIDUAL ATI-ATIHAN CONTEST

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The Ati-Atihan parade on Saturday is one of the highlights of the festival. It starts after the dawn procession at 4am and the devotee's mass at 5am.

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Most people who are in their own Ati costume paint their bodies with soot (said to be made of powdered charcoal mixed with oil).

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The streets are jampacked like a one big party.

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We had to carry the kids on our shoulders so that they can see and move through the crowds securely.

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Aside from the Ati costumes, some families would have their own costume presentation like this Snakeman Family in time for the year of the Water Snake.

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They are a bit scary and don't hesitate to put drama into their pictures.

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The beat of the drums gets you into the Ati-Atihan mood and you can't help but dance to its sounds.


Check out the drum beats at Kalibo's Ati-Atihan.

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As I was doing my research on Ati-Atihan, nobody mentioned that this Fiesta is wild because this is the only fiesta that legally and culturally allows drinking on the streets as a tradition.

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People will offer you beer and spirits to drink throughout the entire parade.

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Surprisingly, there are no security incidents or people fighting on the streets even if people are tipsy or dead drunk. (They dance wildly instead)

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You can come as raucous as you want to be,

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as eclectic as you want to be,

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... or as funny as you want to be, like this Michael Jackson impersonator with his goons.

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There are also balikbayan delegations from all around the world.

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An Ati Atlas is in the house too :)

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Our own little boy, Raphael, enjoying the parade...

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... and Aidan with the Ati-Atihan boys.

 

HALA BIRA ATI-ATIHAN NIGHTS (@ KALIBO MAGSAYSAY PARK)

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At night, the party shifts to the Plazoleta at Magsaysay Park.

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Don't miss the Saturday Ati-Atihan Eve party,

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where the young people dance throughout the night,

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and experience snake-dancing with the locals

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... to complete your Ati-Atihan Festival Experience.

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Unfortunately, we had to fly back to Manila on Sunday morning and missed the Feast Day religious celebrations of Señor Santo Niño de Kalibo. That is reserved  for another Ati-Atihan adventure :)

Hala Bira Puera PasmaViva Señor StoNiñoViva!

For more info, visit the official website www.kaliboatiatihan.ph

THE BEST OF KALIBO SERIES:

Live an Awesome Life,

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Founder, www.OurAwesomePlanet.com
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If you have tips on awesome food and travel destinations, please email me at anton@diaz.ph.

Full Disclosure: We paid for our family trip to Kalibo. I wrote this blog post myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I have no business relationship with any company mentioned in this post or any organization promoting it. As a policy, I don't receive compensation from food and travel places we feature in the blog. 

P.S. You move around the Kalibo town via Tricycles; rides cost about P9/person or P30 for a special exclusive ride. (Read more info: KALIBO: Planning Your Kalibo Escape with your Family)

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P.P.S. They should stop vendors from selling these cute little caged birds.

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Search restaurant menus and get freebies all over the metro.

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glad to see a post about the ati-atihan. it's kinda sad that this festival is being overshadowed by sinulog.

I am a devotee of this festival ever since I have experienced it way back 2009. i make sure to visit kalibo every year since then! Aklanons are very welcoming and they will get you dancing on your feet (while getting you drunk at the side:P)! Sharing my video documentation from last year here https://vimeo.com/35608468 :)

Hi! My kids and I finally got the chance to witness the Ati-Atihan this year. My mom has been asking us to experience it for years now, and finally I gave in. It was an unforgettable experience! All that my mom and aunts said was true! In spite of most people being intoxicated, there were no reports of any violence. I guess your kids and mine have something to share in their next Social Studies class or when they talk about places/events that they've experienced. Thank you for sharing these pictures. To those who haven't experienced the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, book your tickets now. I'll make sure that we come back soon.

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