The “Hala Bira, Puera Pasma” Street Dancing in Kalibo
Philippine Mardi Gras comes in very spectacular style when the people of Kalibo take to the streets to dance through the night and parade their magnificent costumes. The Ati-Atihan Festival is known to be the wildest among the Philippine fiestas. It has grown in giving honor to Santo Niño, a depiction of the Child Jesus which held every year on the third Sunday of January, in the town of Kalibo, Aklan. Art is become a big factor as celebrants paint their faces with black soot and wear bright, peculiar costumes as they dance in revelry during the last three days of this two week-long festival. There 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 while celebrating the Ati-Atihan.
In the thirteenth century, the origin of the festival was first started when a small group of Malay datus sold some land by the Ati (negritos) people. They lived more upland in the mountains. The name Ati-Atihan literally means “make-believe Atis” which is also considered as “The Mother of all Philippine Festivals”. Today, Ati-Atihan is become a hodge-podge of Catholic ritual, social activity, indigenous drama, and a tourist attraction. Many people traditionally attend novena masses for the Holy Child (Santo Niño) as they prepare for the festival itself. The formal opening mass emphasizes the festival’s religious intent.
After the Spaniards settled down in the Philippines, the Roman Catholic people have celebrated their annual fiesta in honor of the Christ Child, the Santo Niño. A Spanish representative arranged a deal with the local leaders of the Atis and the leader of the immigrants from Borneo. The early acceptance of Catholic rituals had much to do with the eventual suppression of the natives’ ritual drinking. The Spanish clergy did not oppose moderate drinking but were able to attack excessive indulgence as a threat to public morality. What aroused the friars was that drinking was tightly bound to pagan celebrations of betrothals, weddings, and funerals. These activities would eventually be eliminated among Christianized Filipinos. However, this did not happen with the Ati-Atihan. It was originally called a pagan festival but missionaries gradually added Christian meaning. Ati-Atihan Festival was eventually copied by other similar celebrations across the Philippine archipelago. 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.