Friday, June 14, 2013


What Is The Truth About Sto. Niño Ati-atihan Festival 
And Datu Kalantiao?


Pres. Ambeth Ocampo of the National Historical Commission six years ago said that based on their exhaustive study, investigation and documentation, the existence of the Barter of Panay and the Kalantiao Code are hoaxes. 

Our local historian and author, the late Roman A. dela Cruz fought bitterly against its prejudice and damming evidence but to no avail. Arrival of the 10 Bornean chieftains among them Datu Puti, Datu Sumakwel and Datu Paiborong in the Southern shores of Panay Island in 1212 cannot be credible since rough seas or bad weather foil any attempt to navigate the vast Visayan sea aboard frail vintas. 

What on earth could this happen when Tausugs and natives of Sabah are noted sea farers and adventurers? Long distance travels are negotiated by balangays that has capacity of 30-50 passengers.

This negative existence of Datu Kalantiao and the Barter of Panay are echoed by Prof. Jose Eleazar Bersales, resident archaeologist of the University of San Carlos, Cebu City. In an interview with Mr. Odon S. Bandiola, Bersales branded what has been taught previously in our schools are folklores or old wives tales. Spanish and Philippine archives fail to mention anything of Bornean settlers in Panay. Relics or manuscripts offering clues to existence of Datu Kalantiaw and his Code are non-existent, Bersales argued. What is more appalling than a scathing criticism that the Code is barbaric, inhuman and unjust. As Aklanons, we mourn the death of our cultural heritage be it sin of omission or commission of events dating pre-hispanic times.

But what are the evidence of Mr. Ocampo and Mr. Bersales to conclude that Datu Kalatiao is fake and Barter of Panay did not occur?  

Fallout from the debacle could be overhaul of our individual physical, mental and emotional psyche. Probable icons like Kalantiaw Shrine, Golden Salakot marker, musical score on Barter of Panay and popular namesake, “Ati-atihan Town of Kalibo” must be evaluated for their individual worth. 

Worse affected is the Kalibo Sto. Niño Ati-atihan festival. Based on an article, “Purchase of Panay by Maraynons” by Nabor and Orbista, Barter of Panay was contracted between Datu Puti and Ati King Marikudo. Golden sarok, gold necklace, bolts of cloth and golden trinkets were presented as mode of payment. The consummation of the deal led to merrymaking spree of dancing, singing, eating and drinking. Historians aptly recorded this event as beginnings of the Ati-atihan festival. This is because the Maraynons being fair skinned daub themselves with black soot to mimic their Ati friends’ complexion. 

How can this Ati-atihan festival originate and become full blown celebration when the arrival of Spanish missionaries in Aklan was in 1566 or 354 years after the supposed Barter of Panay? Evidently during those years, the native populations were still pagan or spirit worshippers and would reject outside interference of their beliefs, customs and traditions. Moreover, the Ati tribesmen moved and occupied the hinterlands leaving the Maraynons in the lowland. 

A more compelling account is written by Roman A. Dela Cruz in his book, Town of a Thousand” depicting 1000 natives baptized en masse by Father Andres de Aguirre in Madianos (Marianos), Numancia. The year was 1566 and fell auspiciously on the 3rd Sunday of January or the Feast of the Holy Infant. To celebrate the great event, the natives and Spaniards went about the place beating drums and dancing, shouting and greeting one another. 

“The feast in Kalibo used to fall on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany until later in 1960 when it was made to fall on the 3rd Sunday of January throughout the Philippines. Kalibonhons used to call it “ati-ati” but then in the post war years, an Aklanon writer named Dr. Artemio Nabor wrote an article in a nationally circulated magazine calling it ati-atihan which is a Tagalog term and the latter struck to the present time”. 

Based on historical facts, the real Kalibo celebration that falls on the 3rd Sunday of January each year is Sto. Niño festival. This is similar to one observed in Ibajay, Makato, Batan, Altavas and Malinao. Fr. Ulysis Dalida, Parish Priest of Kalibo during the opening of Sto. Niño festival 2013 said that the celebration is one way of prolonging the Christmas season. This makes sense of Christian giving and sharing of gifts exemplified by the three Magi adoring the Infant Jesus and offering their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Indeed, Ati-atihan is non-Aklanon term and does not represent its real cultural heritage. The atis or aborigines of Panay have no part whatsoever of the religious celebration. This discovery would have momentous impact on other festivals like Dinagyang of Iloilo and Binirayan of Antique. It should be recalled that Ilonggos merely copied their festival from Aklan while Antiqueños the supposed landing of Muslim datus on their shores.

What moral lessons can be learned from this sudden turn of events? 

Well, at stake is cultural and religious identity of the celebration. Faith must be anchored on truth because we must worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). It is clearly understood that baptism symbolizes acceptance of Christ’s Deity and repentance of past sins. Pagan practices must give way to Christian love and fellowship. Town of a Thousand figured out by Mr. de la Cruz portrays triumph over evil, despondency and war. This theme must be reflected in future Sto. Niño celebration rather than the rowdy, gutsy observance that appeal only to the senses. /MP  

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