Have you been to Kalibo from where the famous centuries old Ati-atihan festival originated? It is the capital of the Aklan Province which is located in the northwest of Panay Island. It is also the gateway to the world famous beach of Boracay island. The name "Kalibo" was derived from the one thousand natives who were baptized and converted to christianity by Father Juan de Alba in 1569. The place of baptism was then called Calivo, meaning thousand. As time passed by, the name was changed to Kalibo which it remained till today.
The Ati-atihan is the famous festival of Kalibo that is celebrated every 3rd Sunday of January in the honor of the Jesus Child - Sto. Niño. The locals, Filipino immigrants (balikbayans), and tourists participate devotedly in its traditional street dancing (sadsad) and paint their faces with black make-up color. This festival mimics the first inhabitants of the Panay island, the black-skinned aborigines known as the Atis.
The festival is believed to date back to 1212 when the Bornean Datus led by Datu Puti landed in Panay and made an agreement with the Ati Chieftain Marikudo. Datu Puti asked a favor of Chieftain Marikudo whether the local inhabitants could move to the hinterland to give way to the newcomers. In exchange for the favor, Bornean Datus gave a gold helmet, a gold necklace, and other gifts consisting of colorful clothes, garments and jewelries to the native chieftain. This historical event was celebrated with a sumptuous banquet attended by the Atis and Borneans. The entire island celebrated with feasting, dancing, and singing. This event continued to be celebrated every year, especially during the mangoes blooming season since it is almost the same time when the purchase of the land took place. As time went by, most of the Atis were not able anymore to attend said annual festival hence the lowlanders mimiced the former by painting their faces and bodies black. Since then, the event is passed from generation to generation and that was the birth of the Ati-Atihan Festival.
The Ati-atihan Festival is believed to be the mother of all Philippine festivals, also known as thePhilippine Madris Gras. Other regions throughout the country have created their own versions, the most famous amongst them being the Sinulog of Cebu and Dinagyang of Ilo-ilo. These festivals have two things in common: They are native festivities and in honor of the Jesus Child - Sto. Niño. But there are distinct practices in Kalibo that other regions do not share, namely the traditional paeapak and sadsad. The Paeapak is one of the most eagerly awaited religious practices by Akeanons in honor of the Senor de Sto. Niño de Kalibo:One lightly presses the blessed image of the Sto. Niño to the individual's vital body parts for healing while saying a prayer of healing. Originally, people only kissed the image but later the Paeapak was introduced as a way of asking for a miracle healing for those who are sick or asking for protection and family blessing from the Senor Sto. Niño. The Sadsad on the other hand is the never ending street dancing of the people from all walks of life, old and young, local and foreign, rich and poor, individuals and groups in the tune of loud and lively drums. Every day from morning to evening, people dance on the streets surrounding Pastrana Park and passing through the Kalibo Cathedral to honor the Senor Sto. Niño. These are the two activities that one should not miss while enjoying the whole week festivity of Ati-atihan.
There are also night events and shows simultaneously in Pastrana Park and in the church's vicinities. Students and teachers present a cultural show reenacting the friendship pact made between the Borneans and Atis. Street dancing can also be witnessed on the next morning with the participation of different agencies of the government and districts of the entire province. Participants present their best dance moves, costumes and props reflecting the famous history of their place. On the final day of the festival which is Sunday (3rd Sunday of January), the devotees of Senor Sto. Niño and the street dancers occupy the entire street. The joyful sounds from different bands fill the town with orchestrated music honoring the patron. Other groups bring grilled chicken or entire roasted pigs while dancing on the street.
Aside from the Ati-atihan festival, there are other activities and points of interests that can be experienced in Kalibo and nearby towns. The Kalibo Cathedral itself is one of the festival's witnesses for centuries. The physical structure was originally built from 1804 until 1826 in the honor of San Juan Bautista, hence it is named as San Juan Cathedral of Kalibo. In May 1885, the church was razed by fire, but it wasswiflty reconstructed within one year. Sometime in June 1990, some parts of the church were damaged due to the huge earthquake, especially the brick walls that suffered several cracks. The present cathedral is of modern architecture but has preserved post war church style especially the interior design. Currently, the Sto. Niño de Kalibo is the center of the catholic faith that attracts thousands of pilgrims during the Ati-atihan festival.
If you are interested to learn more about Aklan and its people, then you could visit the Museo it Akean (Aklan Museum) just right next to the Cathedral . It houses items of the province's cultural and historical heritage, such as artifacts, jars, stones, contemporary paintings, and aqua and agricultural traditional technologies. The second floor of the museum features the lives of religious personalities hailed from Aklan, the baro't saya made of Piña cloth which is a distinguished product of Aklan, and furniture from the Spanish era. The museum is in a Spanish colonial building from 1882 located in Martelino Street. The entrance fee is only Php50 per person.
Another interesting landmark is the Aklan Freedom Shrine, a historical monument that can be visited as well. It was built in the honor of the nineteen (19) martyrs of Aklan who were executed by musketry on March 1897. The monument shows the statue of Gen. Francisco del Castillo, Aklan's Katipunan leader. It is located along Maagma Street and Veteran's Avenue.
In 1990, a mangrove restoration was established in Kalibo under the NGO of Kalibo Save the Mangroove Association (KASAMA). It is situated in a 220 hectares mangrove area at Barangay New Buswang. In Bakhawan Eco Park there is a 1.3 kilometers long bamboo walkway about 2 m above ground that will lead you to a beautiful ocean view. It is a perfect place to commune with the nature after a whole day of roaming around town and dancing in the Ati-atihan festival. To reach Bakhawan Eco Park, one can take a tricycle from the center which costs Php15 per person and approximately 15 minutes travel. Either you can hire the same tricycle going back the town for an extra cost or take one of the parked tricycle in front of the Park. However, the tricycles there will charge more than double the regular fare since they are waiting for tourist going back to town. The entrance fee at the mangrove park is Php120 per person.
The Public Market is the best area to find local and traditional Akeanon delicacies that are freshly cooked or made. There are also varieties of fresh fruit available especially in the morning. Some local restaurants serve precooked meals inside the market. The market is also famous of its lumpia wrapper making. Souvenir items made from local materials such as bags, mats, home decor, hammocks, and the likes are also available at a lesser price compared to souvenir shops in town.
Another place to see is the 2.6 hectares Sampaguita Garden Resort located in the municipality of New Washington, on the outskirt of Kalibo. It is approximately 30 minutes away from Kalibo center either by riding a private car or taking a public multicab. The resort features the Precious Moments experience, the signature teardrop eyes of the characters created by Samuel John Butcher, an American artist. The resort is also the home to Jojo's Christmas cottage, a whole year round Christmas house featuring Christmas items, decorations and souvenirs. The resort has 48 standard and suite rooms, fitness center, spa, restaurant and swimming pool. The day tour entrance fee is only Php50 for adult and Php30 for children under 12 years old and includes a free drink or souvenir.
Kalibo is one of the places in the Philippines that in spite of modernization, has preserved its culture and tradition with pride and dignity. The Akeanos take pride in showcasing their cultural heritage way back from their ancestors, the Atis, and handing it over to the next generations. I personally experienced the amazing traditions; the Paeapak and Sadsad. I will keep coming back to this place and offer my prayers to the Señor Sto. Niño. This is an amazing tradition that must continue and is a great thing to be experienced by every Filipino. So what are you waiting for? Mark your calendar for next year's events and consider Aklan as your next truly WOW Philippines experience.
By Chef Jam