Ati-Atihan literally means "being like Atis."
Out of the many colorful festivals that happen during the feast of the Santo Nino, only the Ati-Atihan festival held in Kalibo, Aklan has historical origins.
The event has been bestowed the label "mother of all Philippine festivals."
According to oral history passed through generations, datus fleeing a tyrant sultan from Borneo arrived in Panay Island during the 13th century. The immigrants were granted settlement in the lowlands by the Ati people, who are said to be the first people who stayed on the island. A friendship pact was made between the natives and the new settlers.
At one point, the Atis experienced poor harvest and were forced to go to the lowlands to ask for food from the newcomers. The immigrants obliged and festivities soon followed. The newcomers started to smear their faces with soot in honor of their new friends, thus the idea of "Ati-Atihan" was born.
The Catholic aspect of the festivities -- the veneration of the Santo Niño -- only emerged during the Spanish colonization.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, the "Filipino Mardi-Gras" continues without any Atis dancing in sight. A few are among the crowd, begging for food or selling herbs, amulets and other health remedies found in the mountains. Gone too is the true meaning of the festival, which is about friendship and hospitality.
Today's Ati-Atihan is rich in revelry and devotion, but short of "being like Atis."