Aklan Islands Philippines
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Performing Arts: Aklan Province Islands Philippines

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The origins of Ati-atihan are buried in myth and legend; hence, there are several versions. According to the Maragtas, there were occasional skirmishes that occurred between the Malays and the Aeta or Ati even after the barter of Panay. A peace pact ended the strife, and the two formerly warring groups celebrated. To emphasize their oneness in spirit, the Malays covered themselves with soot so as to look like the Ati. And so began the first Ati-ati which translates into the Tagalog word Ati-atihan, now the more popular term for it.

The famous ati-atihan festival in Kalibo is celebrated on the third Sunday of every January. However, having become a hodge-podge of Catholic ritual, social activity, indigenous drama, and a tourist attraction, the celebration now stretches over several days. Days before the festival itself, the people attend novena masses for the Holy Child or Santo Niño and benefit dances sponsored by civic organizations. The formal opening mass emphasizes the festival’s religious intent. The start of the revelry is signaled by rhythmic, insistent, intoxicating drumbeats, as the streets explode with the tumult of dancing people. The second day begins at dawn with a rosary procession, which ends with a community mass. The merrymaking is then resumed. The highlight of the festival occurs on the last day, when groups representing different tribes compete. Costumes, including the headdress, are made of abaca fibers, shells, feathers, bamboo, plant leaves, cogon, and sugar cane flowers. The day ends with a procession of parishioners carrying bamboo torches and different images of the Santo Niño. The contest winners are announced at a masquerade ball that officially ends the festival.

Another version, dating back to the Spanish Period, says that the festival began with the Aeta’s practice every Christmas of descending from their forest habitat and going from house to house in Ibajay town, in northwestern Aklan, about 35 km from Kalibo. The men played their gongs or bamboo flutes while the women danced. They were given food and drink, old clothes, beads, knives and odds and ends. When the Aeta stopped coming, the Ibajay townsfolk, who realized they had begun to look forward to its yearly practice, blackened themselves with soot, put on colorful headdresses and loincloths just as the Aeta had done, and danced from house to house requesting alms or gifts. Through the years it became a rowdy and spectacular show performed on a grand scale by everyone in the town wearing masks and costumes, beating cans, bamboo tubes and boards, or blowing on whistles and trumpets, and parading through the main streets until they wore themselves out. Every household was open to guests who were offered sumptuous food. The celebration spread to other towns and became a regional festival.

The Spaniards virtually ignored it but incorporated Catholic elements into the feast. This was a practice often resorted to by the Spanish friars whenever an indigenous practice persisted despite Catholic influence. In the 18th century, a priest moved the date of the festival to coincide with the feast day of the Santo Niño. Pilgrims then traveled to the town to fulfill a religious vow, and the street dancing imitated the playful pranks of the Santo Niño.

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Travel Quotes:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. Mary Ritter Beard

Desserts Food, Philippine Cuisine

As a tropical oriental country it should come as no surprise there are many treats made from rice and coconuts. One often seen dessert is bibingka, a hot rice cake optionally topped with a pat of butter, slices of kesong puti (white cheese), itlog na maalat (salted duck eggs), and sometimes grated coconut. There are also glutinous rice sweets called biko made with sugar, butter, and coconut milk.

More details at Desserts Food, Philippine Cuisine

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