About This Festival
The younger festival brother of Ati-Atihan, Dinagyang also honors the Santo Niño (Spanish for the “Holy Child”) and celebrates the Thanksgiving like welcoming of early settlers to the island. It’s a feel-good fusion of religion and culture culminating in a dazzling, dizzying celebration of color, choreography and movement that welcomes all. While Ati-Atihan gets most of the attention, this one makes up for it with it’s accessible size and small town charms. Unlike locals-only vibed festivals such as Italy’s Il Palio, these natives really want you here, and you can feel it.
Dinagyang is a recent celebration of the Ati-Atihan traditions. It began in 1967 when Reverend Ambrosio Galindez introduced the Iloilo islanders to the power of the image of Santo Niño. The image of the Holy Child was given a proper parade from the airport to town and the rest is history. The festival was first called the Iloilo Ati-Atihan but was later changed to Dinagyang to further distinguish it, but the core values remain.
What started out small as a welcome for the image of the Santo Niño steadily grew and adopted traditions from the much larger and more established Ati-Atihan in Kalibo. It really grew when the tourism board stepped in and supported the event as a way to build tourism in the region. The festival took a turn for the fun in 1976 when spectators became participants as they were welcomed to dance side by side in the streets with the tribal dancers.
Dance, Dance Revolution
More than anything this festival is about dance, a cathartic and wild release from the routines of daily island life. The costumes are fantastic and otherworldly. This event is colorful beyond your expectations, if you have been to Rio Carnival - you will still be impressed.
In its modern incarnation, the main attraction of the festival consists of "tribes", or "tribus", representing the original Ati tribe dance of celebration. Tribe members must darken their skin to mimic the color of the Ati. Strictly indigenous materials can be used for the costumes which are nothing short of spectacular. Feathers, bones and facepaint can make for some intimidating costumes, but these natives are friendly. Dances are tightly choreographed to a wild drumbeat, with no bigger blowout than the Grand Parade.
The Saturday preceding the Ati Parade is a dance celebration, the Kasadyahan Festival, that gives thanks in the form of dance as a tribute to the Creator. It’s colorful and a fitting warm up to Sunday’s epic dance-off and a great start to the weekend.
The Ati Ati Grand Parade
The main attraction of Dinagyang is the Ati Ati Grand Parade, a competition between the various tribes to out-dance, out-costume, and out-drum one another in the name of Santo Niño. Actually, they’re playing it up for the audience, as each new tribe raises the ante of audience enthusiasm that much higher with spirited choreography, elaborate floats, and high velocity beats. Don’t miss it, this is what you came for.
As the tension grows and competition ends the order dissolves into a giant street party to which you are the special guest. Now is your moment, don’t hold back! Join in this joyous dance.
It’s not just a Parade
The whole island swirls with anticipation for the big dance off, while the lead up events don’t contain the raw energy of the Ati Parade, it’s a great time to be in the Philippines. In Iloilo there are face painting contests, street parties, photo and painting contests. Don’t miss the procession of the Santo Niño on the Thursday prior to the Ati parade. There are many events in the weeks leading up to the big event tied to the local communities, which might be a chance to go more local and witness the cultural impact of this festival.