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Ati Atihan

Ati Atihan

The Ati-Atihan is a festival in honour of the Santo Niño, celebrated in the third week of January. During the last three days of this week-long festival (fiesta), a parade is characteristic. A colourful happening with celebrants who paint their faces in many different ways and who are dressed in the most exceptional costumes. The dancing on the rhythms of the drums makes this festival comparable with carnival in Rio in Brazil!

The fiesta is celebrated in Kalibo on the island of Panay (Visayas). 

Ati Atihan

Ati Atihan

Foto's Ati-Atihan: 





Frank Ossen

Ati Atihan


The origin

In the thirteenth century, long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, light-skinned immigrants from the island of Borneo (Kalimantan) in Indonesia arrived  on Panay. The local people of Panay, the  Ati (negritos), a small and dark (black) kinky-haired people, sold them a small piece of land and allowed them to settle down in the lowlands.  The Atis themselves, lived more upland in the mountains. 

One time the Ati people was in need of food because of  a bad harvest in their homelands. They came down to the lowlands of the Maraynon and asked them food. Every year since then, the Atis came down to the lowland inhabitants to ask for some food. They danced and sang in gratitude for the helping hand.  A real friendship was born and the Maraynon  started to paint  their faces black  in honor of the Atis and took part in the fiesta.


©  Photographer Frank Ossen


Spanish influence


After the Spaniards settled down in the Philippines, some Catholic elements infiltrated in the fiesta, especially honoring Santo Niño. A Spanish representative arranged a deal with the local leaders of the Atis and the leader of the immigrants from Borneo. The outcome of the deal was, that in the future the existing native celebration would be dedicated to the Santo Niño. Nowadays it is a mix of parades, procession and dancing people on the rhythms of monotonous music of  drums or the rhythmic tinkling of metal and stone on bottles. It looks as if the dancing never stops! The ritual dance originates from the Atis.  The name Ati-Atihan means "make-believe Atis."  


Viva kay Santo Niño!


It is said that the procession is the climax of the fiesta. It is held on the last Sunday. The  street dancers never fail to enter the Kalibo church every time they pass by.

Honoring Santo Nino

The slogan  "Viva kay Santo Niño!"  is repeated frequently. It is clear that it is Santo Niño who is honored. 


A fiesta for Filipinos coming from everywhere


Celebrants arrive by airplane or boat from all over the country. Tourists have discovered this fiesta too as a festival which should not be missed!  During days or the whole week they accommodate in hotels or in private homes and public buildings. Even camp on the beach is normal during these days. 

Other festivals copies of Ati-Atihan?


In the Visayas, the central part of the Philippines, many fiestas are in some way similar to the Ati-Atihan festival of Panay. It's true,  many islands if not all, have evolved their own version of the Ati-Atihan. In ilo-ilo City they have the festival Dinagyang, in Cebu City  they have the popular Sinulog and in Antique they have the Binirayan and Handugan festivals.


Black Nazarene






Santa Cruzan

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