Ati-Atihan, Dinagyang, Sinulog: A look at 3 festivals honoring Sto. Niño

Dolly Dy-Zulueta – Philstar.com

January 28, 2024 | 5:02pm

MANILA, Philippines — Three major festivals honoring the Sto. Niño, or the Image of the Child Jesus, take place in January. In a way, they serve as the opening salvo to another year replete with festivals in the Philippines.

Two of them take place simultaneously — Cebu’s Sinulog Festival and Aklan’s Ati-Atihan Festival — on the third Sunday of January, while Iloilo’s Dinagyang Festival pulsates with color and drumbeat every fourth Sunday of January.

One of the most colorful and vibrant festivals in the country, the Sinulog Festival is an annual cultural and religious festival honoring the Sto. Niño. It recalls the story of how Christianity came to the Philippines, particularly Cebu, and how devotion to the Sto. Niño has shaped the cultural and religious traditions of Cebuanos.

It begins with the story of Portuguese conquistador Ferdinand Magellan, who arrived on the shores of Cebu on March 16, 1521, and planted a cross there to claim the territory for Spain. He presented an image of the Child Jesus to Rajah Humabon and his wife Hara Humanay (or Amihan), who were baptized into the Roman Catholic faith along with hundreds of their subjects. Their names were changed to Carlos and Juana. The Sto. Niño image was Magellan’s baptismal gift to them.

The Ati-Atihan Festival in Aklan takes place at exactly the same time as the Sinulog Festival. While everyone shouts “Pit señor!” during the Sinulog Festival in Cebu, it is loud chants of “Hala Bira!” that fill the air in Kalibo, Aklan, as the place stages its annual Ati-Atihan Festival. It has been officially given the title “The Mother of All Philippine Festivals” by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) because it is said to have inspired the creation of Cebu’s Sinulog Festival and Iloilo’s Dinagyang Festival.

The festival is religious in nature, as it pays homage to the Sto. Niño, and at the same time cultural, since it traces its roots back to 1200 A.D., when 10 Bornean Datus who were fleeing from their own country landed on Panay Island and were greeted by the Aytas (Aetas) and allowed to settle among themselves.

Once a pagan festival but now a religious celebration, the Ati-Atihan Festival sees participants color themselves black and wear ethnic costumes. They also don ethnic headdresses, carry indigenous weapons and do tribal dance moves as they make their way down the streets during the parade.

Culminating the feasts held in honor of the Sto. Niño is Iloilo’s Dinagyang Festival, a weeklong celebration with much pomp and pageantry, street dancing and parade, which culminates this Sunday, January 28, 2024. The climax, which is the Ati Competition, showcases choreographed street dances of competing tribes.

Performers with painted faces and bodies and garbed in colorful tribal warrior costumes complete with feathered headdresses dance to thundering drumbeat. These tribes come from the different cities and municipalities in Iloilo and they are represented by schools. In the end, the best of the best is awarded the grand championship, with four runners-up also chosen, as well as recipients for special awards, such as Best Choreographer, Best Choreography and Best in Performance. 

With this being a busy time of the year for both foreign and domestic tourists, all roads lead from Cebu and Aklan to Iloilo for the grand celebration of Dinagyang this Sunday.

RELATED: Dinagyang Festival: 10-day gun ban set

 

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