Ati people Information

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Ati woman.jpg
An Ati woman in Kalibo on Panay, Philippines
Total population
est. 2,000+ (1980: 1,500 speakers of Ati) [1]
Regions with significant populations
Western Visayas
Ati, Aklanon/Malaynon, Hiligaynon,
Kinaray-a, Filipino, English,
Animism, Christianity ( Roman Catholic)
Related ethnic groups
Other Negritos, Visayans, and Filipinos

The Ati are a Negrito ethnic group in the Visayas, the central portion of the Philippine archipelago. Their small numbers are principally concentrated in the islands of Boracay, Panay and Negros. They are genetically related [2] to other Negrito ethnic groups in the Philippines such as the Aeta of Luzon, the Batak of Palawan, and the Mamanwa of Mindanao.


In the Philippines the Aetas or Aeta ancestors were the aboriginals or the first inhabitants of this Archipelago. They most probably arrived from Borneo 20-30,000 years ago, through what is thought to be an isthmus (remnants of which today comprise the island of Palawan) that in the prehistoric epoch connected the Philippine archipelago to Borneo via a land bridge. [3] According to some oral traditions, they also predate the Bisaya, who now inhabit most of the Visayas.

Legends, such as those involving the Ten Bornean Datus and the Binirayan Festival, tell tales about how, at the beginning of the 12th century when Indonesia and Philippines were under the rule of Indianized native kingdoms, the ancestors of the Bisaya escaped from Borneo from the persecution of Rajah Makatunaw. Led by Datu Puti and Datu Sumakwel and sailing with boats called balangays, they landed near a river called Suaragan, on the southwest coast of Panay, (the place then known as Aninipay), and bartered the land from an Ati headman named Polpolan and his son Marikudo for the price of a necklace and one golden salakot. The hills were left to the Atis while the plains and rivers to the Malays. This meeting is commemorated through the Ati-atihan festival. This legend, though, is challenged by some historians. [4]

During the Spanish colonization, the tribe made contact with the conquistador Legazpi and were made useful in his colonization of Panay.

Current issues

Although Atis were aboriginal inhabitants [5] [6] of Boracay island, as the island gained fame for its white sand beaches and tourism developed apace in the latter years of the 1970s they lost their ancestral lands [7] and many became homeless and faced discrimination. [8] Consequently, many migrated to the mainland and especially around nearby Caticlan. However, in November 2018, land titles of 3.2 hectares (out of the more than 600 hectares of the whole island) were handed over to Atis. [9]



An Ati family in Kalibo, Aklan

The Aeta of the north speak Sambalic languages, which are part of the Central Luzon family. The Ati speak a Visayan language known as Inati. As of 1980, the speakers of Inati number about 1,500. Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a are also commonly used. [1]


The Ati practice a form of animism that involves good and evil spirits. These spirits are nature spirits that often guard rivers, the sea, the sky, as well as the mountains. Sometimes, they may cause disease or comfort. The Ati from Negros refer to them as taglugar or tagapuyo, which literally means "inhabiting a place." Christianity has also been adopted due to less isolation and more contact with "outsiders".


Ati woman in Panay


Not too long ago, like other Negritos in the country, their clothing was simple, with women wearing wraparound skirts, sometimes made out of bark cloth, and men wearing loincloths. However today T-shirts, pants, and rubber sandals are common as daily clothes.

Jewelry is simple in nature. Some jewelry objects involve plants such as flowers, while others use animal bones; particularly the teeth of pigs.


Ati are known in Panay as practitioners of herbal medicine. Locals often seek their help in removing leeches from a person's body.


The Aetas traditionally were nomadic people, with the Aetas (Ati) of Panay being known as the most mobile. Now they live in more permanent settlements like Barotac Vejo, island of Guimaras, Igkaputol (Dao), Tina (Hamtic) and Badiang (San Jose de Buenavista). The famous island of Boracay is still regarded as their ancestral land as the area known as Takbuyan, between the municipalities of Tobias Fournier (Dao) and San Joaquin, on the southwestern coast of Panay. Very few of them are now nomadic (mostly women with small children). Ati men traditionally join 'sacadas' workers on time of harvest of sugar plants in places such as Negros or Batangas.


The Ati are the central attraction in the Ati-atihan festival, a festival named in their honor. It is said that the festival is held to commemorate the first appearance of the Roman Catholic Church and the Spaniards in the province of Aklan. According to oral tradition, the Ati helped the Spaniards conquer the native Visayans and, as a reward, the tribe was given a statue of the Santo Niño.

In the Dinagyang festival of Iloilo City, also on Panay, performers are also painted to look supposedly like Ati and are organized into "tribes", called "tribus", to perform dances with drums, as the Atis are supposed to have done when the Malay arrived and bought Panay from the Ati. Dinagyang is held to celebrate this purchase as well as the arrival in Iloilo of the Santo Niño statue. When the statue first arrived in 1967, a tribe from the Ati-atihan festival was invited to Iloilo to mark the occasion.


  1. ^ a b "Ati – A language of Philippines". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
  2. ^ "image from". Archived from the original on 27 February 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
  3. ^ Scott, William Henry (1984), Prehispanic Source Materials for the study of Philippine History, New Day Publishers, pp. xix, 3, ISBN  971-10-0226-4, retrieved 2008-08-05.
  4. ^ "Kalantiao – the hoax". Paul Morrow. Archived from the original on 15 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
  5. ^ Sornito, Ime (8 April 2019). "18 more hectares of Boracay Island's land up for distribution to Atis, farmers". Panay News. Brgy. Mali-ao, Pavia, Iloilo, Philippines. Retrieved 12 April 2019. The Atis were the original inhabitants of Boracay. But as the island developed into one of Asia’s prime beach destinations they were compelled to live in a 2.1-hectare gated community.
  6. ^ Adel, Rosette (4 July 2018). "WATCH: Who are the Atis of Boracay?" (Newspaper article with 93 second narrated video). The Philippines Star. Retrieved 12 April 2019. The original inhabitants of Boracay are actually the Ati people, some of whom live in the aptly named Ati Village in Barangay Manoc-Manoc.
  7. ^ CONTRERAS, Antonio (27 February 2017). "Blood and money in the sand: The tragic story of the Atis of Boracay". The Manila Times. Retrieved 12 April 2019. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), as supported by anthropological studies, has established that the entire Boracay Island is the ancestral domain of the Atis in that they were its earliest settlers. In fact, the island’s name is in their language.
    But like the fate of many indigenous peoples, the Atis were displaced and forced to retreat into the forested areas of the island when tourism investors began to descend on Boracay in the 1970s. But before that, local peoples from the Panay mainland began occupying parts of the island and later were able to secure land titles over what used to be legally considered as common property, and historically should have been considered as Ati ancestral lands.
    A competing narrative is used by these local migrants to negate the ancestral domain claims of the Atis. They argue that the latter are also from the Panay mainland and only go to the island to forage during certain seasons. However, this is a weak argument since it only affirms the characteristic nature of Atis as nomadic tribes, and it even strengthens their claims not only on Boracay but even on those other areas mentioned. After all, the festival that has become a symbolic representation of the culture of Panay is named after the Atis, and historical accounts validate the claim that they were the very first people encountered by the Spanish colonizers there.
    But the Atis were not even fighting for the entire island anymore, more so the entire Panay mainland, but only for a piece of land, some 2.1 hectares, which was awarded to them by the Philippine government in 2011 and for which a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) was issued. However, this was contested by local migrants who claimed that they hold land titles over the area covered by the CADT issued by the government.
  8. ^ Go, Chaya Ocampo (24 June 2013). "Boracay Island, Home of the Atis and their Struggle for Land". Aboriginal Portal - UBC. University of British Columbia. Retrieved 12 April 2019. Little do many travelers know that their island-resort is the ancestral land of the Ati community, people who have called the island home since time immemorial. Underneath the sprawl of hotel-resorts are the Atis’ burial and sacred grounds found all across the island. Even the word ‘Boracay’—now a household word for Filipinos—is a name the Atis’ ancestors gave the island in the Inati language.
    Every year the island puts on a grand show to celebrate the Ati-Atihan Festival, a Philippine ‘Mardi Gras’ of sorts, inspired by the Ati culture in full brilliant costumes and dances –but what has become of the real living Ati community today? With the obsessive rush of resort developers, and in a mad grab for every square inch of land and shoreline, the once- nomadic Ati tribes have been pushed into smaller and smaller patches of land.
    They now live as squatters in their own home. While bikini-clad tourists bake under the sun, the Atis who have traditionally danced and sung by the waters are now being policed by local businesses from swimming. Because of their darker skin and curly hair, the Atis are called “eye sores” who “dirty” the photographic image of a beach paradise. And as the island grows richer and richer, as palacial hotels continue to rise and golf courses expand, ancient burial grounds are dug up, and the Atis are pushed farther back into new ghettos.
    On February 22, 2013, Ati youth leader and our dear friend, 26-year old Dexter Condez was murdered. Investigations are underway, but suspicions are high that his brutal death is related to the Atis’ struggle for land. The community of only 42 families has been struggling for over 10 years to secure their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). But when the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) finally granted them the title to 2.1 hectares in 2011 –the smallest certified ancestral domain in the world!—other land claimants continue to contest the Atis’ peaceful residence. Why is it so difficult for over 200 Atis to live well, and without discrimination, in such a small portion of land? The Atis continue to grieve for the murder of their brother, and for their ancestral land.
  9. ^ Boracay Atis get land ownership titles, CNN

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