They look like warriors of centuries ago in a festive mood, in celebration of an occasion. They fill the streets of Kalibo, Aklan, they sound up the drums and it is only once a year. Yes, it is the Ati-atihan festival.
Currently celebrated in honor of the Sto. Nino, the Ati-atihan festival is very lively, colorful and it is a week long fiesta! The blackened dancers attract tourists from all over the world and when the festivities are done, these tourists hit the beach on the white sands of a nearby island called Boracay for more parties.
Ati-atihan means "to be like aetas"or "make belive ati's." Aetas were the primary settlers in the islands according to history books. They too are the earliest settlers of Panay Island where the province of Aklan rests. According to accepted origin of the festival, in the 13th century, 10 datus from Borneo escaping a tyrant Sultan Makatunaw, came upon the island after sailing with their slaves, warriors, families and properties aboard "balangays." Headed by Datu Puti, Makatunaw's chief minister, they sailed for days guided by the stars in unchartered waters. Upon arrival, the Datu made a trade with the natives and bought the plains for a golden salakot, brass basins and bales of cloth. For the wife of the Ati chieftain, they gave a very long necklace. Feasting and festivities followed soon after.
It was a pact to be celebrated. A pact between two races and cultures. In effort to show appreciation to the kindness and hospitality of the Aetas, the Malays smeared themselves with soot from their cooking utensils. Thus the first Ati-atihan started.
Upon the colonization of the islands, the baptism of a huge number of the natives to Roman Catholicism was celebrated and the drums were sounded. Coinciding with the Ati-atihan of old, it became a combined celebration.
The Ati-atihan festival, the mother of all festivals in the Philippines, the origin of pinoy festivities. When there was just farming and warfare on other islands, there was partying on Aklan. For the past 800 years more or less, it has been a tradition. It will be carried on for generations to come, it will be our original, local Mardi Gras.HALA BIRA!!!