Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Kalibo Ati-Atihan Compared

So I watched the Ati-atihan this year. And yes, there were many things different if I compare it to what I saw or witnessed some 3 years ago. Still both are even radically different from what I saw many years ago. So it is evolving – to having some things I like and to some things I love. Just like any other festival actually. But what makes this Ati-atihan different from the others?

Let me recount the ways…

Foremost, it is widely recognized the the first such of many festivals in the country to have drawn attention from both local and foreign visitors alike. Long before, as in even many years ago, before the Sinulog of Cebu even materialized. If we are looking for just a difference per se, there you have it – you can actually say it was the original. Whatever! But there are more, and you can’t help but compare the Ati-atihan to other festivals and even to itself, if I may call it that way.

Its a sooting festival! Read the word again… “soot”, yes! As before, and until now, aside from the “nativized” costumes, the dancers in this festival “color” themselves black or near-black with (originally) soot - but nowadays I see they use other materials including paint! This was/is to portray the natives who were then believed to be darker than what we the present Filipinos are, celebrating the miracles of the Sto. Nino and thanking him for the blessings – purportedly! I placed that last word for those of you who do not believe in that!

Other festivals that emulated this “original” ati-atihan, you will notice also started with the dancers covering every exposed part of themselves in soot. Whatever else they used, it was always black or dark and darkest brown. The easiest way to get that coloration was from charcoal – not the special commercially available material you use for painting on a canvass, but plain charcoal that you get after burning wood or coconut shells and similar materials. I hear it is usually mixed with oil to ensure the color sticks to the skin at least for the entire performance.

Those ‘other festivals’ have evolved too, in that there are now dancers that do not necessarily have to color themselves black. The focus instead has shifted to the costumes worn by the dancers and not their skin color. The more colorful and fantastic, the brighter, the better they are considered. That is how they are today! As for the Ati-atihan, as of yesterday anyway, most dancers would still wear the dark-colored skin. But as with the others, it is evolving. I mean it is getting lighter!

The term “dancers” too has evolved into what is now more appropriately called “performers” especially at other festivals! Yeah yeah, it is because some of these participants now have specific roles or routines that they are not really dancing anymore. Some are there to do the acrobatics, some to raise or lower somebody, something or anything and yet others more to flip, push or pull the myriad of props that can sometimes be as big as trucks and houses. At the Ati-atihan, this is not yet that evident, but as I said above… it is evolving.

Like in most festivals too, the Ati-atihan has also evolved into incorporating (whether the organizers want it or not) other props, costumes or performances that are irrelevant, off-tangent or just plainly stupid – and glaringly away from the original essence that is to dance to venerate the baby Jesus. Most common are the costumes with political overtones and some with disturbing social messages like massacres, drugs, etc.Hasus, there are even transvestites who walk around like butterflies with big wide colorful wings but skimpily clad in minute bikinis!

Am not sure I abhor the “new” developments though. They do add some fun and fantasy to the spectacles.It just makes me think or re-think when I start telling friends (like now in this blog what the festival is all about and they see my pictures of seemingly off-topic characters hehe! Disturbing, sometimes! Especially when I get to be asked if it was a parade or procession! Awk!

Parade? In the past, you could really say, the Ati-atihan did not have a parade. The thing on the streets was called like a dancing processionIn the latter years, there became some kind of socio-civic-military parade but they were generally considered ho-hum! Yep, how loud ever the bands that foretold the mayor’s delegation was approaching, nobody really bothered. The highlight that everyone awaited was/is the street dancing – which is a different thing.

As of today, the Ati-atihan’s street dancing remains to be the one and only of its kind. It is not a procession, I will concede, but neither it is a parade like in other festivals. While the Sinulog and/or the Dinagyang have to (must) start in a carousel route with final performance at some designated stage, at the Ati-atihan each group roams town as they please – whichever way they want to go or pass by, even if again and again!

That for me is one of the things that make Ati-atihan a dizzying kind of fun to witness. You have to keep guessing where this or that group will pass next and you have to keep on the lookout if your favorite group is that one approaching. I do hear organizers have set some common courtesies amongst dancing groups so they don’t jam and rumble at any one street or corner hehe. They are now also required to pass a certain area and dance the best of their best as that is a judging station.

Don’t worry visitor, all you have to do is pop yourself in and around the town plaza near the church. You are sure to catch a glimpse of every single group, since they all pass and dance in front of the church to pay their respects and dance as their act veneration!

The one thing I like with Ati-atihan (and it seems to be slowly ebbing) is the interactivity between each group and the public – yeah the audience like we all are. You are free to dance with them, they even have dancers on hand who will do some quick instructions on how you could jive with the whole group – and you can be dancing with the group of your choice as long as you like! Generally though, you’d have to contain yourself somewhere at the back for you are not in their costume and you are not that well-versed of their dance steps. Meaning, don’t be so confident staying up front for you might ruin their show hahaha!

Thus, there is generally no need in Kalibo to field people and the military who must lay out kilometers worth of rope to barricade the streets (except somewhere at the plaza where it gets really too crowded). Why? Because anyone can join in the fun! Try doing that at the other festivals and you might even get arrested hehe!

At night they have what is called the “sadsad”. Its nothing but a dance at the plaza with modern tunes and flooding beer. But ironically, this is one such “party” that younger folks like but where parents push to encourage their children who don’t want to go! I think there is also some religious belief in them doing this dance. And its really fun – more of so many snake dances occurring all over the place where people who don't even know each other must hold on to shoulders or waistlines of others as they make a run in that snaking chain of linked humanity! Fun!

Alright those are the main differences.

However, there are also things Ati-atihan that are similar to what you see or do in other festivals. Like? Shopping hehe! the bazaars are all over the place! Some are of the products and produce from farmers and/or cooperatives, some are the usual DVD and cellphone vendors that proliferate in any a fiesta! There are contests too and other sports, cultural, etc activities!

What made my chinky eyes grow really big this year was them having sky-divers land into that small a plaza! it got too windy on a gloomy afternoon that I really though it was already unsafe for the divers. Well, they are experts I suppose, but one of them landed so fast that he rammed unto one of those light-posts and the bang was heard all over the place. An ambulance immediately whisked the officer away. I hope he is safe!

Hala Bira!


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