Honoring the infant Jesus or Santo Nino, Ati-atihan festival dancers grace the streets with their outlandish paints on their faces, eccentric costumes and body rhythms and cheerful smiles. Celebrated on the bountiful province of Aklan on the island of Panay, the festival stands not to unwoven every tourist’s and spectator’s expectations of a week-long festivity with its parades, merrymaking, processions and of course the reason which every visitor has, street dancing. This event is history. Ati-atihan, meaning “make believe Atis” is not just any event of dancing and drumming, it is an event commemorating both history and faith.
The Atis are black kinky-haired people who lived in the mountains. There came a time where their harvest didn’t do well, and so they looked for food and found the lowlands. They asked for help and the lowlanders gratefully gave them food. With thanksgiving to the lowlanders’ kindness, they danced and sang. Every year then, the Atis come down and solicit for food and in return sing songs and dance with the beat. These lowlanders were originally settlers from Borneo who have chose to stay in the Philippines. They bought land that the Atis own. The Datus, in exchange of land gave the Atis a golden salakot, brass basins and bales of cloth. As time goes by, the Spaniards came and Christianized the people including those Atis who were formerly pagan people. With this, Ati-atihan festival came into being. Compressed with the nurturing fill of history and glossed with the unwavering faith of the people of Aklan to Santo Nino.
Latter, the festival had its own versions on the nearing towns and islands because of its fame and significance such as the Dinagyang festival of Ilo-Ilo, Halaran festival of Capiz, Biniyaran festival of Antique, MassKara festival of Bacolod and the Biniray festival of Romblon, Romblon.