The colourful Philippines festival of Ati-Atihan

While some of us experience the darkest month of the year, in the tropical Philippines island town of Kalibo January signals the time to don colourful tribal dress and engage in dawn-to-dusk street parties as celebrations for the week-long Ati-Atihan festival take place. The seeds of this vivid Mardi Gras originate from the 13th century when fairer skinned immigrants from Borneo decided to paint their faces in soot then perform songs and dances in a show of thanks to the indigenous Ati people for offering them land and food – the name of the festival translates as ‘to be like Ati’s’. By the time Spain had colonised the Philippines, the pagan origins of the festival were blurred with the idea of honouring Jesus (Santo Niño) and today’s Ati-Atihan seems to celebrate secularism and religion via the universal language of colour, feathers, pom poms and beads.



Dressed in indigenous costumes with elaborate headdresses all in a variety of colours, groups of men, women and children organised into tribes carry bamboo torches, weapons and Santo Niño images on a route through the city and, much like in Rio’s carnival, dance troupes performing to drums take part in competitions. A masquerade ball announces the winners and concludes the whole event.





The country’s tourist board has named its website “it’s more fun in the Philippines” and throughout the world, Filipinos are known for their hospitality – the colourful Ati-Atihan is just one more excuse to find out for yourself if their enticing claims are true.

All images from Pinterest

Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

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