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Published: January 25th 2014
In Full Color
An Ati-Atihan parade participant is in costume and has his face covered in soot.
It’s ten o’clock on a Sunday morning in January and the winds of Kalibo are blowing hard. “Can you take me to the town center?” I ask the tricycle driver as soon as we get out of the airport. Soon we’re zooming through the highway and snaking our way through small trucks with people clutching Sto. Niño,
figures of the Infant Jesus. The town center is filled with people walking around narrow streets, filled with anticipation for a day that will later crescendo to a boisterous evening.
The capital of Aklan province is celebrating the Ati-Atihan
Festival. For about a week, the locals take to the streets in extravagant costumes, dancing spontaneously to the loud beat of the drums. The events climax on the third Sunday of January, starting with a slow-moving procession that goes around the town. The Sinulog
in Cebu and the Dinagyang
in Ilo-Ilo might grab the headlines, with their wonderfully choreographed parades and grandiose programs. But for all their merits, the Sinulog
and the Dinagyang
have become mostly commercialized – the kind of events used by local television stations to drum up their ratings.
, by contrast, despite the prestige it has acquired centuries
A parade member dancing in the street
after it was started, retains a genuine street party vibe. The ordinary townsfolk run the show and tourists are welcome to join the parade and dance along, joining a large crowd of soot-covered people furiously moving to the beat of the thunderous drums. It’s a fiesta showcasing the all-consuming passion for the locals and the foreigners who join them dancing in the streets. For a few days, the frustrations and difficulties of living in a region heavily affected by a spate of natural disasters the past year are traded for a weekend of gung ho merrymaking.
Nonetheless, it’s more than just a grand party. From its origins as a pagan parade to celebrate the peace treaty signed by the Negritos and the Malays, the festival has evolved into an important Filipino expression for their faith. It’s now especially true, when the bureaucracies and politicking among the leaders of the country during the crisis have left the people grasping for a higher authority they can have faith in.
As the day progresses on, the parade climaxes into a queue of an indiscernible crowd. There are no more locals nor tourists – just people who want to have fun. Blink
Tourists pose with locals in outrageous costumes
for a moment and you lose your companions. But it doesn’t matter. Here, everyone’s a friend. The spirit of the moment grabs your heart and everyone is lost in the euphoria, celebrating who we are as Filipinos.
1. Kalibo is the capital of Aklan province, where Boracay is located. As such, it is a major hub, with flights from Manila, Cebu and Davao several times a week. There are also a couple of international flights from Incheon and Shanghai.
2. Getting into town from the airport costs PHP 100.00 by tricycle. The town center itself is small enough and can be navigated by foot. Besides, during the parades, transportation of all forms are not allowed, as the site is reserved for pedestrians.
3. This is obvious, but book your accommodation well in advance
– if possible, three months ahead. Kalibo is a small town with just a handful of sleeping options and during the festival, it's overrun with tourists. Put it off too late and you're bound to sleep in some lobby of a hotel a few kilometers out of town or rely on the mercy of a Couchsurfing host.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
AKA Kalibo Cathedral in the town center, where the processions start
more pictures, click here
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