The Ati-Atihan Festival is held every year in January in Kalibo, the capital of Aklan province. It is a two-week festival that ends on the third Sunday of the month.
Kalibo has been known for its Ati-Atihan before all the other neighboring provinces started their own.
The Ati-Atihan Festival of Aklan is called the Mother of All Filipino Festivals. The name of the festival means “pretending to be like an Ati.” The Ati, also known as Negritos, are an indigenous people who have distinctively black skin and curly hair. In the year 1212 AD, ten datus from Borneo landed on Panay island (where Aklan is located) and amicably purchased land from the native king Marikudo. They had a feast to celebrate. Today, celebrants of the Ati-atihan Festival paint their faces with black soot. Locals who perform in the parade also wear colorful elaborate costumes. It can be compared with Mardi Gras in other parts of the world.
On account of the historical influence of the Catholic church, the Ati-Atihan festival is said to honor the Santo Niño (Christ Child). In fact, the name of Kalibo means “one thousand,” which is the number of people who were baptized in a single day by early Spanish missionaries.
A shout associated with the Ati-Atihan Festival is Hala Bira! Every Filipino knows this phrase, but not its origin. In the 17th century, Moro raiders from the south were attacking Panay. The defenders of the island used artillery with the battle cry Hala bira (“Hit them!”). The gunpowder blackened their faces and after the fight they looked like the black-skinned Ati. The Santo Nino is credited with saving the locals from the Moros.