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"Ati-Atihan-Kalibo, Philippines Mardi Gras"

"Praising God Through Street Dancing-The Kalibo Ati-Atihan"

sunny -17 °C

From the most expensive local vacation we had in Boracay, my wife and I arrived in Kalibo, Aklan in time for lunch on Friday, 18 January 2008. We express our heartfelt thanks to our friend hosts – Mr. Ramil Ng and his wife Mary Ann for their very warm hospitability. For lunch, they served us kalibo lechong baboy which had a different taste compared to other lechons I had eaten. Ramil’s mother Mommy Luds and his sisters – Marlene Penalosa and Lai who came from Manila, gave us company to join this several centuries-old festival of praising God through street dancing named Ati-atihan! Specifically, it is praising the image of baby Jesus (Sr. Sto. Nino) during His feastday.

The center of the festivities is the town plaza (town square) facing the Kalibo Catholic Church. Right after lunch, we joined our hosts and their relatives in the “sadsad” - the Kalibo word for the street dancing. We walked from our host compound in Mabini St. towards the main street (M. Roxas St) going to the town plaza. Along the way, we met several groups led by drummers playing musical drums of different sizes and followed by street dancers.

The drummers of the groups play the traditional beat of “hala bira!” and they are followed by the rest of the members of the group who were bringing images of Sr. Sto. Nino and dancing to the beat of the drums. Since it was only a Friday, the groups that were street dancing were only wearing t-shirts with prints of the name of their companies – that afternoon the groups were from the different banks in Kalibo.

As the groups danced their way to the plaza, people who were there to simply watch the festivities were free to join the groups, took souvenir pictures and joined in their dancing. There were some who had with them a glasses and bottles of a local brand of brandy being obviously promoted by the manufacturers. The people in the streets were being offered a shot of the brandy from a common glass!

The Saturday street dancing was more lively with participants already in their costumes: there was a group with their whole bodies painted in black, another one group had their bodies painted like snakes, another one painted like Dalmatians.

The delegation of the Metro Manila Development Authority led by Chairman Bayani Fernando was an eye catcher! I was wondering why of all groups or agencies would the MMDA be there! Its tarpauline streamers said: “The Metro Manila Mayors led by Chairman Bayani Fernando joins the people of Kalibo in celebrating Ati-atihan! Viva Sr. Sto. Nino!”. The delegation were all wearing pink pajama-like pants, pink t-shirts, and pink head gears making them appear like pink panthers!

As the groups were dancing and making their way around the plaza, our hosts commented that there was a great reduction in the prizes of the contest as to the best delegations or groups from P200,000.00 grand prize to only P80,000.00 this year. I then understand the reason why on the vesperas (one day before the fiesta) or that Saturday, I counted only less than 10 delegations. Moreover, during the afternoon, it rained further reducing the number of people that went to the plaza.

We were booked for the first flight on Sunday. I must admit the Ati-atihan festivities did not meet my expectation before the event. Medyo may kulang. Kapos. Well, it was only two years ago that there was a bloody massacre inside the catholic church doing the event. Or maybe the reduced prizes for the best delegation was the reason. Whatever that be, I am sure that Sr. Sto. Nino would not mind if the celebration was not as lively as expected. Street dancing is just one way of praising Him! I am sure the devotees love Him much and are expressing it in several other ways!


Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 23:28 Archived in Philippines Tagged tourist_sites

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