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More than just about Aetas

By Johnny Dayang

THE yearly week-long Ati-atihan Festival of Kalibo, Aklan every January has gained global popularity over the decades. It has become a must-see event in international tourism calendars.

Ati-atihan is linked to historical events in the Maragtas epic written by historian Pedro Alcantara Monteclaro, that has gone through repeated scrutiny, but which significance and provenance have never been debunked.

Recent discussions about Ati-Atihan have interestingly highlighted more preponderant themes associated with literacy, peace, culture, and ethnology. In his June 1852 Relacion de las Yslas Filipinas report, Spanish explorer-chronicler Miguel de Loarca, while in Arevalo, Panay, wrote about the Aetas, thus:

“[Since] these natives are not acquainted with the art of writing, they preserve their ancient lore through songs which they sing in a very pleasing manner, commonly while plying their oars, as they are island-dwellers. Also, during their revelries, the singers who have good voices, recite the exploits of olden times.”

This aspect of Aeta culture suggests their love for music, dance, and the preservation of the tribe’s traditions through oral and written records for the next generations to remember. The Ati-atihan’s original message, has since then been integrated into religious practices with the entry of Christianity, notably the festivities celebrated in honor of the Santo Niño.

The Ati-atihan festival, moreover, goes beyond the extravagance and pomp that characterize globally popular event. It is, first and foremost, a tribute to a tribe whose connection with adjacent islanders is exalted in their love for harmony and peaceful co-existence.

Contemporary anthropologists have expanded their interpretations of the Ati-atihan in recent years by inferring from orally transmitted traditions certain ethnological nuggets that tacitly narrate the tribe’s cultural links with some indigenous peoples from Mindanao.

While the authenticity of some of the claims in the Maragtas epic, including the 10 Bornean datus who fled to Panay, have undergone quite rigid inquiry recently, there are details in the saga that carry indisputable local color that make the Ati-atihan story authentic.

For regular Kalibo visitors who see, feel, and taste the Ati-atihan fervor, the celebration’s revelry has become part of their memorable experiences. Beyond that, the Kalibo folks’ hospitality stands out as something every visitor, local or foreign, loves to savor and reminisce.

More power to Kalibo Mayor William Lachica and Aklan Gov. Joeben Miraflores. Viva kay Sr. Sto. Niño, Viva!