DAY OF THE STO. NIÑO. The urge to celebrate occurs naturally to Filipinos. After celebrating Christmas and New Year, it is only a few days before another nationwide fiesta is celebrated on the first month of the year. The third Sunday of January is the day of the Sto. Niño and the Ati-atihan. The Ati-atihan is a street-dancing festival in honor of the Sto. Niño, which at one time is exclusively celebrated in the Visayas.
Not so long ago the mardi gras-type of revelry of the Ati-atihan spread nationwide, especially in towns and cities where the devotion to the Sto. Niño is intense. In San Mateo Rizal, the Ati-atihan Competition was held in line with the 34th Sto. Niño Festival.
ATI-ATIHAN STREET DANCING. By two in the afternoon, the street in front of the San Mateo Municipal Hall was filling up, as if the town’s population has showed up to watch the Ati-atihan street-dancing competition among San Mateo schools.
The air was filled with the chart buster Justin Bieber music and latest Shembot dance craze coming from the enormous loudspeakers.
ATI-ATIHAN TRADITION. After the wait, the first group of contestants showed their dancing prowess, complete with colorful body painting, props, costumes, and an army of tambolistas or drummers. The first group of dancers set the tone for the other groups that followed. All the competing schools danced with uncontrolled enthusiasm and presented elaborate interpretations of the Maragtas.
MARAGTAS LEGEND. The Visayan epic Maragtas relates the compact of friendship between the Ati tribe and Bornean immigrants. The Ati-atihan commemorates the purchase of Panay from the Ati tribe by the 10 Bornean datus who landed on the island in 1212 A.D. while escaping political oppression in their homeland.
The basic story of Maragtas is celebrated across Panay as the Ati-atihan in Kalibo, Dinagyan in Iloilo, and Binirayan in Antique.
SANG KA LIBO. When the Spanish friars founded Kalibo, (from sang ka libo or the thousand natives they baptized in a single day), they made attempts to abolish pagan practices including the Ati-atihan. It is said that when friars found the tradition to be deeply rooted to eradicate, they converted it as a fiesta in honor of the Sto. Niño.
HALA BIRA. Another story traced the Christian beginnings of the Ati-atihan to a fort in Panay named after the Sto. Niño. In the 17th century, Moro pirates raided the fort. The island’s defenders fired cannon after cannon, shouting Hala Bira! As the smoke cleared, the heroic defenders emerged covered with gun powder smoke, smudged black as the aboriginal Ati tribe.
The townspeople gathered around their heroes, crying Viva Sto. Niño! in honor of their fort patron. In the celebration that followed, the revelers blackened their faces and bodies with soot to identify themselves with their heroic defenders. This tradition continues in the Ati-atihan Festival where revelers shout the same battle cry Hala Bira! and triumphant yell Viva Sto. Niño! to the deafening beat of tribal drums.
EPILOGUE. The Ati-atihan street dancing contest in San Mateo finished early since only four school prepared for the competition. Before announcing the winners, the master of ceremonies invited the crowd to join the Grand Sto. Niño Procession.
TOF on Youscoop
Click the link below to view TOF photos of the 34th Sto. Niño Festival in San Mateo Rizal selected for GMA News 24Oras: