Where is the Ati?

This isn’t the usual article you’ll read about the city’s foremost tourism festival. You’ll read no patronizing praises here. And please do not expect me to give a running positive commentary on the colorful costumes, the world-famous mardi gras, the ati-ati tribe competition, and the religious and cultural relevance of Dinagyang.

While the entire of Iloilo City is on its toes making sure everything works according to plan, closing major roads here and there to make way for five judging areas scattered in the city proper, deploying policemen to ensure safety of tourists and locals alike from any attempts on terrorism, and major corporations competing with each other to get the most visible spots in the city to take advantage of this rare opportunity to triple their sales, it seems that there is something missing.


Where is the Ati?

This should not be misconstrued as a legitimate question, rather it should be understood as a rhetorical one. Yes, we see them sleeping on the overpass beside Atrium, begging on Delgado Street, or Ati mothers breastfeeding their malnourished kinky-haired babies on the pavement facing Socorro amid apathetic passing pedestrians and crazy traffic jam. This question, “Where is the Ati?”, does not call for obvious answers because if it does then it only becomes a question aimed at mockery.

Where does an Ati find himself in the bigger universe we call Dinagyang? Can he see his drab life reflected in the variegated colors of the costumes that are purportedly authentic? Can he see himself reflected in faux ati-ati tribe competition that gives an Ati a hard time recognizing his own dances? Will he even find himself in the list of target market of these multinational corporations?

It appears that the answers are all in the negative.

The Ati doesn’t exist. He is invisible not because he cannot be seen but because we refuse to acknowledge his existence. Dinagyang is not even a mere tokenism of the Ati legacy in the history of the founding of Panay. (A history that has been proved to be nothing but a legend.) In fact, it seems that the Ati is excluded from the entire celebration of Dinagyang; he is not a part of it.

The politics of Dinagyang is thought to be so complex by the powers-that-be in the Iloilo city hall for the Ati to comprehend. He is barred from participating in the dialogue because if he does then we will be confronted with the reality that Dinagyang is a sham. His culture has been made into a farce, desecrated to an extent. The Ati has been made docile and mute by poverty and hardship.

Dinagyang confuses him because it is found in the extreme opposite of where he is located. While the grease-painted bodies of the dancers are admired, even worshiped, the real Ati is avoided, ignored.

In the end, Dinagyang shall remain an empty celebration, a phony festival, a pseudo-feast if it continuously misses the point as to why it is there in the first place.


26 thoughts on “Where is the Ati?”

  1. Nobody will choose a difficult life.

    Most often than not, it chooses us.

    And once were chosen, it doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything about that.

    Because we can actuaLLy choose our response to it.

    As in the case of Atis in Iloilo, they may not choose to be poor but they decided to be in that situation.

    And we can not blame other people for whatever decision they made.

    Okay, say, part of the blame must be in the government but nonetheless the huge percentage is still on these Atis.

  2. in the 70s it’s used to be called the ministry of welfare and social affairs, now it’s DSWD. the staggering number of the homeless make the task of removing them from the streets impossible or un-practicable.

  3. there is, i believe, a ministry of welfare and social affairs (DSWD it used to be called before). doesn’t getting our least fortunate countrymen out of the streets and into the classroom/workplace/some-form-of-housing one of their functions?

  4. This article is an eye-opener. The question “Where is the Ati?” strongly recognizes the irony of the festivity. The Ati clan have been there since i was in college. They formerly occupy the Rotary Amphitheater and after the construction, they were displaced.

    The Iloilo City government have focused much on the aesthetic value of the Dinagyang and have forgotten the real ones. I thought we have laws for protecting these people?

    Anyhow, this poses a challenge. Hope this article reaches the mass media that we may be enlightened.

  5. @Christine Joy Iniego

    it’s like saying that one chooses to be poor. the state exists to ensure that everyone gets to enjoy their basic human rights. the atis, by the way, are citizens of this state.

    how can we keep the ati from leaving the mountains, which you said they rightfully belong, if they do not have the necessary facilities for survival? dinagyang, which prides itself as an ati celebration, yes i agree with you is for the ilonggos, so we might as well save money and the environment by letting the ‘tribe’ members dance naked without the black grease that is a cheap imitation of the ati skin.

  6. @Shiela Rose Z. Barrientos

    very good juxtaposition. now i am seeing dinagyang in the light of a different ati celebration. this is very helpful in making us understand that a festival will still sell and be economically rewarding to a city without having to exclude a certain segment of society.

  7. @Kate Aubrey

    the city government being preoccupied with things of more import (i.e., business consideration, security, marketing) does not excuse it from addressing the long term problem of the displacement of the ati.

  8. @ann rency custodio

    just like all other tourism festivals, dinagyang is aimed at getting revenues from tourists and businesses, and there is nothing wrong with that. only that these past years, money has become the be-all and end-all of the event. this cheapens the value of the festival.

  9. @Rachell Leyva

    giving alms will never be an answer. it tolerates mendicancy and indolence.

    the Ati, if given the opportunities like those given to a regular ‘lowlander’, can better his lot and the lot of other Atis.

    we can raise this awareness to a higher platform, elevating the plight of the Ati as one of the challenges faced by the city.

    dinagyang should transcend its circus character.

  10. While the grease-painted bodies of the dancers are admired, even worshiped, the real Ati is avoided, ignored.

    ——-> If that’s the reaL case, then s0 be it.

    But let me clear this one, are y0u trying t0 bLame other peopLe because of the current situation of the Atis in Iloilo City?

    That d0esn’t s0und s0 fair.

    For one, it was their ch0ice. Nobody asked them t0 g0 d0wn fr0m m0untains.

    If you see them sLeeping on the overpass with their infants, again, it’s their choice.
    No one told them to stay there and besides they can freely go back from where they come from.
    But the thing is, they don’t want to.
    I’ve just reaLized that they too dreamed of being city pipz.

    They’re miserable because they chose to be one.
    And it’s more unfair to call other people apathetic simply because they don’t empathize with these Atis.

    PersonaLLy, I reaLLy don’t understand why are they forcing themseLves to stay in Urban pLaces. Admit it, they don’t beLong there.

    I’m not being rude or what, i just think that they don’t take responsibility for themselves. And then, eventuaLLy, although they won’t put it into words but by simply making themselves visible to the public, they are like screaming that the city government is irresponsible. Yah, i don’t reaLLy agree when you said that they’re being ignored

    It is unfair to call the celebration of Dinagyang an empty celebration c0z it’s not.

    As y0u’ve pointed out, tourists watch it and many corporations and/or companies actually joined this celebration. A lot of preparations are being done prior to the celebration and many Ilonggos are participating in this extravagant celebration.

    Now, how come you caLL it an empty celebration?
    The Iloilo City and almost aLL its constituents benefit from Dinagyang.
    And simply because it does not reaLLy refLect the ‘reaL worLd’ of Atis, you can eradicate aLL the important contribution of this said ceLebration.

    Dinagyang is not just for Atis, it’s for Ilonggos.

  11. This shows how commercialized festivals are in the country. Dinagyang which supposed to be a part of the history of Panay seemed to neglect the real stars of it. Behind the colorful costumes and Ati-like appearances, are different personal motives which do not necessarily reflects the purpose of the activity.

    If the real sense of Dinagyang is to show how the Atis became part of history, the government could have done things that could actually alleviate their social standing instead of just holding a mere celebration every year.

    They are Filipinos too, not just merchandise that attract tourists to visit Iloilo. If they have been acknowledge in just a span of a week, why not make it for the whole lifetime? Instead of making them beg all over the city, the powerful people could actually do something to help them.

    No matter how successful Dinagyang is, the fact that the social status of the Atis does not change, it is still useless. It is a celebration created for profit rather than uplifting the lives of their fellowmen.

  12. “The Ati doesn’t exist. He is invisible not because he cannot be seen but because we refuse to acknowledge his existence.”

    The Aetas are indeed ignored. one of the main reasons for the whole celebration of Dinagyang are the Aetas but they are forgotten. Instead, Dinagyang has become a major corporate event.

    But the aetas are not the only one who has been forgotten. Even the religiosity of the said festival is somehow ignored by the majority of people who participates in Dinagyang. Yes, masses for the Dinagyang are held in honor of the patron saint Sto. Nino but most people prefer to party on the streets and watch bands and stars perform in malls.

    Dinagyang has already been a feast of profit, money-making and business. the true essence of why it is being celebrated has been ignored through the years.

    You may say that I’m a bit kill joy of all the fun being offered by the festival. I even join those fun-filled activities but truly we just missed the essence of it. I hope the next time, we first remember why this festival is being celebrated before we flock to the streets and “dagyang”.

    Nevertheless, having fun is okay since in the first place, it is called Dinagyang for that. But I suggest before anything else, let us wholeheartedly take part in the masses. And if we see authentic aetas around please show some respect for the reason why we are celebrating is also because of them.

  13. I’ve been thinking of the same thing when we are celebrating our very own Ati-atihan festival in Aklan. May it be Dinagyang, Sinulog or Ati-atihan—we celebrate it for one common reason. We celebrate these kind of festivals believing that it is a tribute for the Aetas who have been co-existing with us for decades.

    True enough as you said, “The Ati doesn’t exist. He is invisible not because he cannot be seen but because we refuse to acknowledge his existence.” In Iloilo, the dance parades are exclusive for the competing groups who should wear colorful costumes while performing their choreographed dances. But in Aklan, we have a different way of celebrating it. The dance parade is open to everyone and you don’t have to wear those colorful costumes just be a part of the group. Of course there’s a core group performing on the front lines but at least everyone is feel free to join whenever they want to.

    Last time I attended Ati-atihan ( that was 2 years ago), I saw the Atis participating in the dance parade too. It made me feel good knowing that at least they are given the chance too. And somehow they were able to belong.

    The true essence of celebrating the festival is when you let this Atis be a part of the celebration. Because if you don’t, it’s as if you’ve launched a birthday party wherein the bday celebrant isn’t invited.

  14. It is certainly ironic how we celebrate the Ati (figuratively) in the Dinagyang festival, yet we ignore their real-life counterparts.

    Funny how people are actually willing to suffer Iloilo City’s violent heat and the stench of sweat from foreigners and locals alike just to see the Atis of Dinagyang for themselves, but they cannot even stand it when some random Ati goes up to them in an overpass to ask for some spare change. Hypocritical, don’t you think?

    But how can we change a system like this that’s already so established? People have been used to seeing the figurative Atis dance their hearts out on Iloilo’s streets for years, and they love them. They want to take pictures with them, dance with them, take HD videos of them, so on and so forth. They do not want to see the real Ati, whom they regard as a part of Iloilo society they’d rather not acknowledge.

    How do we bring back the real Ati into the festival? (‘Bring back’ is not even the right term for that, since they never were part of the festival in the first place anyway, only much more ideal copies of them.) And how can we do that without having to deal with the ire and ridicule of the common Ilonggo, who certainly does not want some homeless kinky-haired beggar in his festival?

  15. Kate Aubrey G. Hojilla
    BA Communication and Media Studies
    CMS 132: Writing Views

    A response to Mr. John Ryan Recabar’s “Where is the Ati?”

    The article tells of how the essence of the country’s grand slam Best Festival, Dinagyang, lost its meaning. It claimed to have its own beginning supported by the island’s history but judging how it has been practiced, the meaning has been misconstrued.
    Indeed, the politics behind the festival is not only about its popularity to gather audiences from all parts of the globe – it also involves the religious, commercial, and cultural issues that should be addressed.
    The highlight of Dinagyang has always been the “Ati”. The color of the Ati’s skin, the costume of their tribe way, way back, and the way they offer fellowship to the Sto.Nino have become established symbols and images when the festival comes to mind. This is exactly why I find it weird that someone’s trying to question where the Ati is – although not literally.
    The Ati is there, it has always been there. The reason why they are ignored is because of the other considerations that are in mind when an event as big as Dinagyang is being held. This considerations vary according to purpose.
    For one, businesses and commercial establishments would always consider profit first – regardless of whether or not they are giving due credit to the religiosity and culture behind the festivity. Traditional politicians would always see it as a venue to make themselves more popular and visible – regardless of whether or not their way and strategies respect the history that shapes the festivity.
    But there will always be people who can see that behind the festival’s glamour and striking lights, the Ati has been and should always be the highlight of Dinagyang. And these are the people who understand the real essence of the festival. I’m not saying I’m one of them, all I’m saying is they are just around. And given the opportunity, they should be heard just like the loud drums.

  16. This is in response to your article, “Where is the Ati?”

    In the article, it is pointed out that the Dinagyang Festival creates a major fuss in Iloilo City, yet the festival in itself is a sham, because it creates a false representation of the Ati tribes on the island. In the Dinagyang, they are represented with colorful costumes, yet in real life, they are ignored on the streets, and people don’t even care about what’s happening to them.

    The dinagyang is a festival devoid of it’s true meaning.

    It is true that the entire city makes such a big, pointless fuss over it. Closing down the major roads for judging is really impractical, considering that Iloilo City is foremost the business center of the province. Yes, many establishments can increase their sales during this time, but knowing how the parades go, nobody would stop in business establishments anyway because the party is out on the streets. And do they really expect the people to walk around the polluted, dirty, smelly city for an entire weekend because of this festival?

    Like many festivals in the country, the Dinagyang lost its meaning. Frankly, people use it as another reason to throw parties and drunken merriments. They have fun celebrating, but really, if they come in contact with a real Ati, would they even stop and smile at them, offer them something, perhaps?

    No. They would give the Ati disgusted looks and will most likely shoo them away. Dirty, smelly, disgusting wastes of oxygen as they are. (Yes, as much as you want to deny it, people are like that.)

    No matter how people would say that the Dinagyang Festival is a celebration of tradition and culture, it is, to be frank, one of the many insincere festivals that people use to gloat the money they have by throwing parties and participating in the street dances. Talk about insults. The very reasons for this celebration are the ones who cannot feel their worth during the festivities.

  17. You had pointed out the major loophole of the Dinagyang Festival. Over the years, it become more and more commercialized leaving the real essence of the celebration behind. It’s supposed to be a religious and cultural festival. Religious in a way that Ilonggos give back all the honor and praises to our Senior Sto, Nino. And cultural in a way that it commemorates the lives of our dark-skinned ancestors.

    But you’re right. The whole festival is like a slap on the face of the Ati we see on the Iloilo streets and over-pass. People pass by them on normal days, not even giving them any attention on their fight to survive the day.

    And here we are, enjoying the festival without actually realizing the real point of it. Making ourselves believe that indeed the Ati are the stars of the show. Participants paint their body black to have resemblance with our dark-skinned ancestor, but after taking off the black-color paint on their skin, would they still remember the reason why they did it? When the day of the Festival highlight ends, the winners are named, and the tourists already went back on their hometowns, would the Dinagyang message still hold its power.

    The answer is no. And your right there again. Because Dinagyang festival doesn’t hold any message at all. If its for entertainment and money, then, it strongly holds its purpose. But more than that, its empty. It doesn’t have any cultural soul. It’s a disappointment.

  18. Iloilo’s Dinagyang festival takes as much pride in being the Best Tourism Event in the country as it takes as much beating for being oblivious to the reality of the people to whom it is offered for. We pass by the Ati everyday as we traverse Iloilo’s busy roads and even at the time of festivity dedicated to the Ati, we still do not remember these faces we come across in our daily activities.

    I wouldn’t go into the politics of the festivities because I feel the bigger issue here is the Ati and what has become of him because of how his society looks at him. Yes, we see Atis begging on the streets and sleeping on the sidewalks. Are they any different from the others who are not Atis but have also made the streets their home? What have they done to make their lives better? Have they tried at all?

    Much is to be said for those who’ve read this article and didn’t say, “Oh. Yeah.” I’d have to say I’m one of those who always refuse to offer alms. It’s not however that I am apathetic to their plight. I just feel that giving them alms is not helping them but tolerating the way they look at their lives with hopelessness. It is my form of rebellion against choosing to surrender to the misery and injustice of my society. As a person, I believe nothing is impossible if you try and try to make your life better. We have all been able to stand on our own two feet as toddlers. We’d probably be better at it now that we’re older. The world is self-serving. We have to learn to do things for ourselves because what we get from the world comes from what we can do to get it.

    Thanks to this article, a lot have probably been enlightened including me. I am thinking then that we could probably now do something about it because pointing fingers is not much of an option anymore as it will get us nowhere. Now that we have found the Ati, what can we do?

  19. but the burden of Dinagyang is even greater than that of the festival in a small municipality because dinagyang is of national significance. if it fails in the most fundamental regard, then the whole existence of the festival is at question.

    the festival is empty; it has no cultural meaning; it’s a historical bogus.

  20. you’re quite right about the whole thing. hadn’t realized that the plight of the atis hasn’t changed much over the years. (why am i talking in me and they terms, as if i’m not one of them or that they’re not one of my own :().
    about the dinagyang, at least its not as tourist-oriented and demeaning as the ‘festivals’ that take place in the town where i grew up (won’t name it). apparently, in the last decade or so, they thought up this parade where participants, teen-age girls included, walk around with almost nothing on but body painting, and pass it on as some kind of ‘historical’ practice. give me a break, how low can one stoop to get a share of the festival-hunting tourist dollars? coming up with such ‘historical’ parade/festivals seems to be the fad in a lot of towns these days, tho’ they never existed in the ’70’s or the ’80’s. at least the dinagyang and the ati-atihan, of course, go way back further and the latter is authentic as a festival tho’ as you say, the historical basis is not.

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