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January - Ati-Atihan, Philippines

PHILIPPINES | Tuesday, 6 December 2011 | Views [3820]

Location: Kalibo, Philippines. Most of the action centres on Pastrana Park.

Dates: Third week in January

Level of Participation: 4 – prepare to be dragged into the heart of the parade


The amazing Ati-Atihan is the Philippines’ biggest, wildest and best Mardi Gras, a week-long street party that rages from dawn to dusk, peaking on the third Sunday in January. Honouring Santo Niño (an image of the infant Jesus), it’s a wetting of the head like no other, a religious celebration cloaked in very secular sequins.

The elements of Ati-Atihan date back to the 13th century, when a group of light-skinned Malay immigrants from Borneo chose to show their regard for the local Ati people by painting their faces black and singing and dancing in thanks for the land and food that was offered to them (worried about any pagan origins, the colonising Spanish later added Santo Niño into the mix). Today, in keeping with its origins, participants in the main parade paint their faces with black soot and wear costumes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Rio samba school.

Though the festival runs for a week, celebrations truly fire up in the final three days (Friday to Sunday). Things begin sombrely enough on the Friday morning with a mass service, but with the announcement ‘Viva Señor Santo Niño’ this gives way to mass hysteria in the streets. Drums boom, whistles and horns blast and people dance and drink their way into Saturday. There’s a pause that morning for a rosary procession before the real business of merry-making once again takes over Kalibo.

Sunday is the big day and it begins early, with the transfer of the venerated Santo Niño icon from Kalibo Cathedral to the adjoining Pastrana Park, where an open-air mass is conducted. The festival culminates late Sunday afternoon with an enormous parade, featuring soot-covered and elaborately costumed tribal groups carrying bamboo torches and Santo Niño images on a circuit course through the centre of the city. The crowd surges in, among and behind the groups – bystanders are all but unheard of in this parade – joining the frenzy they call sadsad (street dancing). A selection of parade prizes is awarded at a masquerade ball on Sunday night.

Essentials: Book a hotel in Kalibo at least a month in advance and expect to pay two to five times the usual rates. Many people simply camp on the beach.

Local Attractions: Kalibo is primarily known as an entry point to the famed holiday island of Boracay; White Beach is where all the pre- and post-Ati-Atihan action will be found. Kalibo is also the centre for various types of weaving, including pinya (a fine cloth from silk and pineapple-leaf fibres) and nito (a sturdy vine that is woven into stiff baskets and mats).

Travel Safety Advice from the World Nomads Safety Hub: Like any large event, there will always be a contingent of people who seek to cause trouble - and in the case of the Philippines, most likely try to get their hands on your gear. And all the colours and excitement can be very distracting, which is what pickpockets love. General safety rules apply here, keep your personal belongings tight, and watch your alcohol intake - if you are drunk, you a much easier target.

More Info: www.ati-atihan.net

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Information provided courtesy of Lonely Planet
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Tags: ati-atihan, philippines, world festivals

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