Diocesan Shrine of the Sto. Niño de Kalibo

Facade of Diocesan Shrine of the Sto. Nino de Kalibo

Amidst the merry-making and the festive atmosphere, the message embodied in the shouts of the faithful, Viva kay Sr. Sto. Niño! affirms the Filipino's deep devotion to the Holy Child.

Long before the Ati-Atihan Festival was identified with the Sto. Niño, the Filipinos share a common belief in the redemptive role of the Sto. Niño in the life of a Christian.

The Diocesan Shrine of Kalibo dedicated to the Sto. Ninño becomes the center of the faith of the Aklanos and devotees every third Sunday of January each year. Various practices such as the palakpak and the pahalik draw a multitude of faithful and believers to the shrine to venerate the image of the Holy Child, who, over the years, has become the image of God's fatherly love to His children. The Holy Child's innocent image brought comfort to countless souls in search of repose and solitude. And most of all, we, Filipinos have found refuge in the caring arms of a child who holds the world in His hands.

The Sto. Ninño in his simplicity reminds us subtly that in order for us to go to heaven, we must be like little children who are innocent from sin, oblivious to the wicked ways of this temporal world, and full of hope and trust in God, the Father of us all.

Ati-Atihan Festival & Sto. Niño

The feast of Sto. Ninño is synonymous with the Kalibo Ati-Atihan Festival. Here, people go out in the streets, their faces blackened with soot, bodies painted with various colorful designs, and wearing costumes ranging from tribal to modern, conventional and unconventional, from a mosaic of colors to unique patterns. This scenario would make a first timer to the festivities stand in awe and look with puzzled faces and mixed reactions.

Ati-Atihan Festival

Simply put, the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo is a celebration of life. A moment to set aside all inhibitions and dance to the hypnotizing and enticing music of the drums.

However, behind all the merry-making activities, is the Aklanon's devotion to the Sto. Niño, which is the core of the festivities. Without the Sto. Niño, there is no Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo to speak of. This belief traces its origin to the colorful history of the Aklanons as a community whose faith in God has remained firm and strong for centuries.

The Sto. Niño Ati-Atihan Festival is said to have originated in the late 1500's when a group of Malayan datus and their constituents landed on the shores of Aklan and negotiated to buy a portion of the lowland areas from the native aetas at the cost of a golden salakot for Marikudo, their leader, and various ornaments and accessories for his wife, Maniwangtiwang. To celebrate the event, the natives and the Malays held a feast with much drinking, eating, dancing, music and the rhythmic thumping of the feet to the beat of the drums. The Malays put on soot on their bodies to signify their oneness with the black-skinned natives.

When the Spaniards came to Kalibo, they witnessed the celebration and joined the festivities carrying with them the image of the Sto. Niño shouting, Viva kay Sr. Sto. Niño! Viva!

Image of the Sto. Nino de Kalibo

From the historical point of view as far is tradition is concerned, the Kalibo Ati-Atihan Festival in honor of the Sto. Niño is a pagan festival raised to the level of Christianity where human established customs and traditions were transformed in a collective display of faith.

Every Aklanon has a story to tell about the Sto. Niño. Parents tell how the Sto. Niño transformed their lives and interceded on their behalf in time of crises. Couples recall the little miracles of conflicts resolved and marriages saved by prayer to the Sto. Niño.

Even the earthquake that hit Aklan in 1991 months before Mt. Pinatubo erupted spared the lives and property of the Aklanons. The damaged structure of the old Kalibo Cathedral did not deter the faithful from offering their prayers of thanksgiving for their deliverance from harm.

History of the Parish of Kalibo

Kalibo was originally called Akean by the natives. Akean comes from the river of the same name, which traverses this place.

Interior of the Diocesan Shrine of the Sto. Nino de Kalibo

According to Fr. Gaspar de San Agustin, in his writing entitled Conquistas de las islas Filipinas, Akean (Kalibo) was so big that it alone had one thousand inhabitants. By word of mouth, it is believed that the one thousand natives who were converted to the Christian faith became subjects of Spain and were baptized in Mass on the third Sunday of January, the feast of the Holy Child. To celebrate the great event, the native atis and the Spaniards went around the place, beating drums, singing and dancing, shouting and greeting each other, Viva cay Señnor Santo Niño, Viva! which means Long live the Lord Holy Child, long live! Because of this, Spaniards started calling Akean, Calibo or isa calibo, which means one thousand, and this name prevailed over the other.

Historical records show that Kalibo first heard and received God's Word in 1569. In that year, while Legaspi was in Pan-ay, Capiz, the Aklanos (now Kalibonhons) and the Ibahainons solicited the help of the Spaniards to repel the marauding pirates coming from Mindoro and Lukban (now Batangas). The young Juan Salcedo and some Spanish soldiers were sent and along with them came Fr. Juan de Alba who started the Christianization of Kalibo. Kalibo then became the center of faith and base of operation for the missionaries in their evangelization of this portion of the island of Panay.

On April 21, 1581, Kalibo was canonically erected as a parish under the patronage of St. John the Baptist. It comprised the whole of the new political province of Aklan and included the present municipalities of Ivisan and Sapian. In that same year, Kalibo became a Principal House of the Augustinian Order. The site of the church and the convent was in the presently called Laguing Banwa. The year that Kalibo became a Parish, it also became a town encomienda of Antonio Flores.

In the year 1614, Kalibo convent was elevated into a Priorate of the same Religious Order of St. Augustine.

As the population and converts grew in number, the Spaniards tried to divide the parish into two: Akean and Kalibo. Akean for the original and Kalibo for the extension; but this did not prosper and very soon reverted back into one: Kalibo.

The creation of more parishes in the towns became imperative. Ibajay was canonically erected in 1596, and Batan in 1605. As parishes and towns were created, the name Akean went to the province, while the name Kalibo stayed with the parish.

The original image of the Sto. Niño de Kalibo is now enshrined in the new chapel at the left of the Kalibo Cathedral. Devotees of the Sto. Niño pray there everyday the whole year round. One the feast day of the Sto. Niño which is celebrated on the third Sunday of January of every year, the image is mounted on a traditional caro which is elegantly decorated with flowers, various ornamental plants and colorful cloths.

Then and now, the Sto. Niño will always be a member of every Aklanon home. And the faithful will continue to derive their strength and place their hopes upon the ever-accepting arms of the Holy Child whose love for humanity knows no boundary.

Excerpt from Shrines, Incarnating Christ Today. St. Paul Philippines, 2004. Photos from flickr.com, stoninoensemble.multiply.com and aklanforum.blogspot.com.

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