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Once upon a time, there were ten enterprising Malay Datus (chieftains) who arrived at an island claimed to be owned by Aetas, dark-skinned and spear-toting fierce natives. Charmed by the fine sand beaches and the lush flora, the Datus wanted to own the place. Using their wit, creativity, and treasures, the ten Datus were able to buy the island. This historical event is known as the Purchase of Panay. And this is reenacted every year during the Ati-Atihan festival in Kalibo, Aklan.
Ati-atihan is a mad festive riot of colors and sounds. Since this festival is dedicated to the Sto. NiÃ±o, the Holy Child Jesus, a tourist will witness several religious activities. There is the traditional blessing of school-age children by the Bishop of Kalibo.
Devotees and pilgrims pray the rosary at wee hours of the morning. Ati-Warriors and guests attend a concelebrated field mass offering. For this mass, the miraculous image of the Sto. NiÃ±o of Kalibo is transferred from the Kalibo Cathedral to the Pastran Park. Such field mass is believed to shower blessings for the people of Aklan.
To give thanks and to revere the image, the Aklan people beat the drums passionately. They play the lyres enthusiastically. And they chant â€œHala Bira! Viva kay SeÃ±or Sto. NiÃ±o!â€. If you were wishing for a certain healing miracle to happen, you must join the already world-famous Nine Days Novena to the Sto. NiÃ±o. Or you may attend the â€œPahilotâ€ or â€œPabapakâ€, a faith healing tradition for the cure of diseases.
Like any other festival, a tourist will also find an exhibit of quality-handcrafted products of local artists and of a wide variety of plants, which are sold at unbelievably low prices. There will be a fireworks display and a beauty pageant participated by the most enchanting maidens of the province. After the coronation, the winner, called â€œMutya of Kaliboâ€ joins the parade of vibrantly colored giant paper mache.
The most unforgettable event, however, is the Ati-Atihan Nights. Energetic people who dance and celebrate amidst the frenzied beat of drums crowd the major streets of the town. Many of them wear costumes and masks. They start at early evening and continue until dawn. But not everyone who joined the street dancing is there for the fun and excitement.
Businessmen join it so that their ventures will be profitable. Barren women join it so that they may obtain the miracle of conceiving children. And some people join it so that they may obtain healing for loved ones who were afflicted by illnesses diagnosed to be beyond any medical relief. This is why the event is described as â€œSpiritual Street dancingâ€.
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