Ati Atihan Festival, Philippines
Feb 7 2014

Philippine festival known for pageantry and devotion

By Loretta Shea Kline, managing editor, Unbound

One of the beautiful aspects of the relationships built through sponsoring a child or elderly friend is learning about the vibrancy and richness of other cultures.

Sponsored friends often write to their sponsors about celebrating cultural events or holidays in their countries.

One such event recently took place in the Philippines. The Ati-Atihan Festival features parades known for their lively tribal dances, colorful indigenous costumes and sounds of drums and lyres (small harp-like instruments).

The annual festival is celebrated the third week of January in honor of Santo Niño, the Holy Child. It takes place in Kalibo, the capital of the Aklan province on the island of Panay. The area was hit hard by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November.

Fourteen-year-old sponsored youth James played drums in a festival parade. The expression on his painted face showed how hard he was concentrating on the beat and keeping time with the music.

James and his family were among those who lost their homes in Typhoon Haiyan and are getting help from Unbound to rebuild. His thoughts on the day of the parade, however, were focused on the celebration.

“I am really enjoying the festival — the live music, the happy faces of people and the joy that it brings to me, as a sign of my thanksgiving and love to Santo Niño,” James said after the parade. “I will always be part of the Ati-Atihan Festival.”

Sponsored youth Gelica wore a yellow, orange and black indigenous costume with headdress as she danced gracefully through the parade route.

“I really enjoy dancing with my friends in our group,” the 15-year-old said. “I am joining the Ati-Atihan parade since I was in elementary. Every time I hear the music of the drums and lyre I feel very energetic.”

“I will do this devotion for Santo Niño as long as I can. … It is my family’s tradition and a way of giving thanks for all the blessings that we receive, to feel the true meaning of the festival and to enjoy the feeling of dancing in the street.”

The festival has its origins in tribal traditions, and Spanish missionaries added a Christian meaning.

This year’s grand Santo Niño procession lasted nearly seven hours. It featured 72 images of Santo Niño and ended at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, said Tristan John Cabrera, communications liaison for Unbound in the Philippines.

“The festival has been attended by millions of devotees from all walks of life, carrying their own image of Santo Niño while dancing to the rhythm of drums and lyres in the streets,” Tristan said.

“It’s truly a remarkable and magnificent event of the Philippines.”

6 thoughts on “Philippine festival known for pageantry and devotion”

    1. That’s a great question, Bob. Ati-Atihan basically means “to be like the Ati’s”, who were among the first known settlers of the Kalibo area. You can visit the official festival page here for more information and history. Thanks! -Jordan Kimbrell, Unbound writer/editor

    1. Thanks for your input, Joelle. From our understanding, that is exactly the basis of the festival, with Sto. Nino representing the baby Jesus. -Jordan Kimbrell, Unbound writer/editor

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