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A Guide to the Best Ati-Atihan Festival in the Philippines

Disclaimer:  I am from Ibajay so this post is slightly biased. 😉

The Ati-Atihan Festival is the mother of all Philippine festivals and perhaps one of the oldest in the country.

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Ati-Atihan originated from Aklan but due to its success, many have created similar festivals:  the Dinagyang of Iloilo, Masskara of Bacolod and Halaran of Capiz.

I won’t bore you with the complicated history of this famous festival but I will tell you this: the first Ati-Ati was celebrated in my hometown of Ibajay. (Okay, some historians may disagree 🙂 but there’s a whole Ibajaynon legend that has been passed on from several generations back. Read it here.)

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Origin arguments aside,  I have to say that of all Ati-Atihan Festivals I have attended in many different places, the Ibajay Ati-Ati is the best. Why?  Simply because it springs from the Ibajaynons’ deep devotion to their patron saint, the Santo Niño. Thus, it has not become a commercial affair.  There are no sponsored floats bearing logos of telecoms and famous softdrinks. Nor famous celebrities (well, we have one or two D-listers, at most).  It’s simply a week-long feast of thanksgiving. If you’re planning to attend the Ati-Ati Fiesta, here are some pointers.

First, learn to do the sadsad, the Ibajaynon version of street dancing which happens to be the coolest dance move on earth. It  is a cross between a march and the Cha-Cha:  you put one foot in front of you, take two half steps forward, do the same with your other foot and you’re good to go.

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Just remember to drag your feet a little (this is the reason why it’s called sadsad).  Hand movements are optional, mainly because tradition dictates that you hold a speared offering in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other, like so:

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Next,  you have to dress up for this party.

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Come as you are, or some character you’ve seen in a horror movie. Or as someone even your nightmares wouldn’t let inside your head.

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It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, as long as you have uling (charcoal) smeared on your face or your various limbs. In short, become an Ati. (That’s why it’s called Ati-Ati, silly.)

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And what would Ati-Ati be without the marching bands?! So you need to hire one to accompany you as you dance your away around town. It doesn’t matter if you’re alone, or if you’re with your family,  your FB Group or your whole barrio.  The important thing is that you dance to the beat of the drums! And don’t forget to shout:  Hala Bira! Puera Pasma! (note: Puera is pronounced “poy-rah”) and Viva kay Senor Santo Niño!

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Speaking of the Santo Niño, if you’re a true believer, you should do the sadsad before the image of the Santo Niño inside the church. Yes, the pews are cleared out of the way once a year to give way to the dancing. It’s the coolest thing you will ever see, I promise!

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My hometown’s Ati-Atihan Festival is the best there is. So if you’re planning your travels  next year, I urge you to consider going to Ibajay.  We celebrate on the fourth week of  January, a week after the Kalibo festivities. I promise you it’s a trip you will never forget.

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*All photos were taken by me during the Ati-Atihan Festival in 2011 and 2014. All rights reserved.



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