Viva Sto. Niño! a joyous shout with full of devotion to the Holy Infant, Sr. Sto. Niño, a chant that you will probably hear during Ati- Atihan Festival. This festival is celebrated annually in the province of Kalibo, Aklan every third Sunday of January. It commemorates the 13th century land deal between the Malay datus who fled from Borneo and the aboriginal Ati, the original inhabitants of Panay Island.
Today, it is celebrated in honor of the miraculous child, Sto. Niño who blessed them with graces and protection against mishaps or illness. Traditionally, Ati- Atihan is the Mother of All Festivals, and from then on it was followed by Sinulog (Cebu), Dinagyang (Ilo-Ilo), Maskaran (Bacolod), Halaran (Capiz), and Binilirayan (Antique).
The parades are colorful and high-spirited, similar with the famous Mardi Gras in Brazil. To prepare for this celebration, some villagers who wish to join this amazing spectacle make their own bizarre costumes and form groups to choreograph well their dancing steps. Participants of this event will paint their body with black paint because the Ati are known for its black color skin, curly hair and short people.
The word Ati- Atihan translates as “To look like an Ati”. Winners of this event will be announced at the masquerade ball that signifies the end of festival. The highlight of the festival occurs on the last day where groups of different tribes compete with their most exceptional costumes including their headdress plus the faces that is painted with black colors and designed in different ways.
It is as merry as the event in Rio de Janeiro could offer. The intoxicating & ceaseless drum beat will get into you and before you realized you’re already shaking your hips, stumping your feet and waving your hands & shouting “Hala Bira” that means to strike with a blow- which really echoes all over the place and joining the thousands black painted dancers moving rhythmically and gracefully. A wonderful event that can give you the ultimate experience of a lifetime. It is said that the climax of this festival is the procession wherein a flock of devotees never fail to enter Kalibo church.
There are also parishioners who carry bamboo torches and various images of the Holy child. This much-celebrated festival is comparable with the famous festivals around the world. None will remain as an observer of the event as everyone will gladly join in the celebration by painting their faces and wearing regal costumes.
Aside from the enchanting festival, travelers also get a chance to taste the lavish foods prepared by the locals. The excitement builds up as the festival will end because most of the splendid events are going to happen. Of course, no fiesta would be complete without any beauty pageants that present the charming beauty of Aklanons. The tradition still continues to this day in much the same manner and remains as one of the most vivacious and brilliant celebration every year throughout the 7,107 islands of Philippine archipelago.