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I was in Ibajay, Aklan yesterday to witness their version of the ati-atihan which is supposedly more traditional and less commercialized than the ati-atihan festival in the capital town of Kalibo. Although the peak celebration is on the fourth Sunday of January (a week after Kalibo’s), the Saturday celebration has a more religious aspect, focused on the veneration to the Señor Santo Niño.

I arrived at around 11 a.m.  for the main event of the day – the transfer of the image of the Sto. Niño from the rectory to the church beside it. A big crowd had already formed outside the rectory.

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The ati-atihan is supposed to have originated from the sharing of produce among the original Ati inhabitants of Panay and the Malay settlers. The Spanish friars gave the ritual (the ati-ati) its religious trappings centered on the image of the Sto. Niño. In Ibajay that spirit of sharing is manifested in the display of food and agricultural produce by the participants of the sadsad (street dancing).

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The hype became fever pitched a few minutes before 12 noon, when the image came out and made its way to the church, which took less than five minutes.

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The church itself was jampacked with devotees, each one trying to inch their way to the Santo Niño. I was immediately reminded of the devotees of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo and the Lady of Penafrancia in Naga, although this was on a much smaller scale.

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Scenes of the Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo immediately came to mind seeing these burly men protecting the Santo Nino while catching towels and handkerchiefs to be swiped on the glass and thrown back to the crowd.

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Thankfully, our manong magpupunas had some help from the ladies.

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These devout believers in pekpek shorts were so kind as to assist fellow devotees in swiping their towels, Sto. Niños, and their kids – yes those poor toddlers –  on the glass surrounding the image for that extra blessing.

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Isn’t it more fun in the Philippines? Anyway, all this going on in the altar as the people in the church were dancing to the defeaning beat of the drums.

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While the man with the turtles looked on.#

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