Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kalibo Ati-atihan No More


There was a time when I knew a festive week-long event in my native Kalibo. It was the opening salvo of each year. Personally, I just can't wait for the second week of January to come. I never really care if Christmas day and New's Eve have come to pass. I always look forward to the Ati-atihan.

When I was a kid, Ati-atihan is more than three days of craziness - when Kalibonhons throw caution to the wind and smear themselves with soot like what my Lolo Coroy would do. It was not only known as a wild carnival that guzzles all the San Miguel Beer that its breweries can muster. It was one celebration of devotion that brings the clan together. My Lolo Jose and his brood from Iloilo, Tito Bavi and Tita Fe too, Tito Bugay from Manila and of course of relatives from the barrios who join the festivities in Kalibo. I remember Lolo Jose would bring his wooden replicas of the Thompson submachine gun, the Colt "cowboy" revolver and other "firewoods". I remember the time when Tita India came up with towering "higantes" that attracted both the young and old. Of course, Lolo Coroy's au naturelle ensemble of dark black soot from the takori is an all time favorite. He even carried a stick where various fruits are tied and guests would just pick and eat what they like (Bananas were in demand - they just disappear half into the parade).

The extra ordinary fanfare of the Ati-atihan was mostly due to my father's fondness for treating a ton of guests. The week-long celebration usually converts our house into a beer bodega and wine cellar. Our guest rooms are packed to the hilt and our dining area becomes a standing room during meals. The guests are treated to an orgy of sumptuous fresh seafoods and greasy battalion of lechon (this is the reason why I totally abhor crabs but totally addicted to lechon) bottles of free flowing beer and whisky complete with an Ati-atihan band playing in the background. Guests can just dance the "sad-sad" anytime or while food and drinks are being served.

 Just any other big clan, our family sponsored an entire Ati-atihan group called "Birds of Paradise" - most of them our relatives from Tinigaw who uniquely dressed them up as white birds (I pity the hundred of white chickens they butchered to come up with white feathers for their costume). But the bird men of Tinigaw were just a gem to watch. As such relatives and friends who joins us during the ati-atihan gets to dance with the Birdmen - a very cool thing to do.

For me what makes the Ati-atihan very special are the traditions that we used to observe as a family. Foremost is the early morning "Diana" when all of the male members of our family would wake up around 5am and start merrymaking. Even my grandparents would join the soul rousing parade that leads to the Kalibo Cathedral for the early Sunday service. Uncles, cousins and close friends would beat their own drums and cared less about waking the sleeping neighborhood. Along the way we would stop at houses of relatives and friends to egg them to join -well, most of them would even still half awake. But it was really fun. The old timers knew how to play the original drumbeat which is slow paced and very danceable.

I also remember the culminating weekend of the Ati-atihan to be really fun as guests from all over troop to Kalibo. It is but normal to see movie celebrities, politicians and other bigwigs joining the "sad-sad". Richard Gomez (pre-Lucy Torres) and his entourage would usually billet themselves at the popular pension house overlooking the plaza. Other frequent celebrity visitors like Ina Raymundo and Larry "Pipoy" Silva would mingle with the ati-atihan groups but are not easily recognized nor bothered. There are just too many interesting and beautiful people in the crowd. And it was safe and peaceful, foreign tourists who passed out drunk in the streets are left alone to regain their wits. Locals share their beers and whisky to guests as if these were free flowing water.

As the celebration comes to a close, the religious procession takes center stage. Images of the Sto. Nino were paraded around the town amidst frenzy beating of drums and dancing drunks. But again, it was peaceful and fun. Never did I feel tired joining the snail paced procession. My motivation is the "Paeapak" ritual when we reach the Kalibo Cathedral. "Paeapak" means massaging by the feet. Tired ati-atihan devotees are in a way massaged by the sto. nino's image at the cathedral's altar. I don't know but i profess that the Paeapak never fails to soothe my tired bones. 

Well...I miss the good old days of the Ati-atihan. I really hope that my kids will grow up with the same Ati-atihan experience and have love for the Sto. Nino.

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