The proud ancient town of Kalibo was established between 1212-1250 A.D. when Malayan settlers arrived in Aninipay (now Panay Island) from Borneo.
The island then inhabited by aboriginal aetas, was renamed the settlers as “Madyaas” after the majestic mountain that bordered the three original geographical divisions (sakups) they created for the island, namely Hamtik (now Antique), Irong-Irong (now Iloilo) and Akean (now Aklan) which included the present province of Capiz.
In its glory, Madyanos (meaning little paradise), the precursor of Akean (derived from the name of the river that traverses the valley) and what is now Kalibo, was a center of the intellectual, cultural, spiritual and political life not only of the entire province (minuro or sakup) but also of the entire Katieingban it Madyaas (Confederation of Madyaas).
The Spanish era marked tremendous changes and development in the socio-economic-political make-up of early Kalibonhons.
Some historical notes attest the Miguel Lopez de Legaspi while in Panay sent forth Juan de Salcedo together with Spanish soldiers in response to the appeal for assistance of Aklanons.
Kalibo has many attractions besides the Santo Niño Ati-Atihan Festival. There are religious, cultural and eco-tourist aspects as well.
Foremost is the Cathedral Parish of Saint John the Baptist, the center of faith of Kalibonhons, formerly known as the Kalibo Parish Church with Saint John the Baptist as its Patron Saint.
Created on September 18, 1581 with Padre Fray Andres de Ibarra, OSA as the First Friar, this Parish Church and in 1804 constructed at its new, bigger, spacious and sturdy church; second, in 1947-1948 by His Grace Gabriel Martelino Reyes, D.D., Archbishop of Cebu and of Manila, it was remodelled and reconstructed due to earthquake.
From 1993-1997, the Kalibo Cathedral and the Diocesan Shrie of the Holy Child underwent a final reconstruction, due to earthquake in Aklan in June 1991 under the leadership of Most Reverend Gabriel Villaruz Reyes, D.D., Bishop of Kalibo with the help of His Eminence Jaime Lachica Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila and a devoted son of Aklan and other generous Aklanon and non-Aklanon benefactors.
Ati-Atihan in Aklan is easily the most gaily celebrated festival in the Philippines. For two full days but oftentimes extending to a week, townsfolk and foreigners intermingle in the streets in frenetic merriment, singing, dancing, jogging and dressed in colorful and outlandish costumes. Other covers their bodies and faces with soot, all beating drums, cans, tom-toms, and shouting ‘Viva kay Senor Santo Nino.”
The celebrants in soot imitate the Atis, a local name for the aboriginal highland tribe that could still be found in the backwoods of Panay. Others wear costumes that range from the ragged to the regal, from Oriental to the Western, and from the primitive to the space age.
The celebration is climaxed on its last day, always a Sunday, with a torch procession which starts and ends at the church. It is a slow moving procession of singing, dancing, prancing, chanting, and cheering throng that snakes through the town’s main streets to provide the awed on-looker a fantastic sight of a long and compact line of humanity bobbing up and down under torch flames.
The origin of the Ati-Atihan dates back to the 13th century when the region of Aklan was peopled by the Negritos. This rustic scene was one day broken with the arrival of boatloads of foreigners from Borneo who had fled from their land in search for better life.
This was resented by the Negritos and soon bloody encounters occurred between them. Desiring a peaceful life, the foreigners, the Maraynons initiated a peace talk with the aborigines and peace was ushered in with a rejoicing.
The epic event was celebrated with a feast, with the Maraynons daubing their faces with soot to show their desire to live in harmony with the natives.
Later, the Ati-Atihan was celebrated during the harvest season. During the Spanish era, however, Don Flores, the first Spanish encomiendero of Aklan, arranged with Datu Malanga and Madayag to hold the merriment during the celebration of the feast of the Holy Child Jesus.
Since then, Ati-Atihan is staged on the third Sunday after Three Kings.
Taken from Souvenir Magazine Ati-Atihan 1987
Warmest Welcome to Kalibo, the town with the wealth of wonders.
In Kalibo, you will witness the always imitated but unequalled Kalibo Ati-Atihan Festival where
history, religion and cultural traditions are fused in the celebration.
You will be swept off your feet by the elegance and majesty of the Queen of Philippine Fabrics, the pina fiber. You will be transported to a site where the environment and sustainable ecological diversity is given premium at the multi-awarded “Bakhawan Eco-Park.” You will meet one of the most hospitable Filipinos always ready to welcome you.
All these and more await you in Kalibo ! Be there and be transported to a world of wonders!
WILLIAM S. LACHICA