The Philippines is a country wealthy in culture and festivals, having been influenced by both East and West. A diversity of colorful costumes, eccentric dances, and unique art forms are scattered all over the country’s islands, and the island of beautiful Boracay is not an exemption.
Aklan is one of the oldest provinces in the Philippines. One of the earliest Spanish conquistadores landed in Batan, the capital of Aklan, and claimed the island for Spain. With so much history beginning from the archipelago’s first aboriginal settlers, it is a surprise that Boracay was only “discovered” by backpackers in the 1980’s. Rumors have it that a foreign film crew accidentally stumbled upon the island and spread its fame.
Today Boracay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. About 600,000 foreign tourists visit it annually. In 1990, a famous beach handbook voted it as one the best beaches in the world and it was declared the world’s best tropical beach by a British publication six years after. Now visited by thousands of tourists chiefly for its white beaches and golden sunsets, Boracay is not known for its local culture and festivals. But it is actually pregnant with Philippine traditions, no less than any other locale in the country.
If travelers would take their eyes off the beaches for a moment, they could enjoy a deeper kind of magic in Boracay culture. They might opt to see it in time-honored events such as the Boracay Food Festival and the International Paraw Cup Challenge, or they might simply bask in the everyday notes of local history and tradition. There are still members of the Ati people living in parts of the island, for example, and they normally visit White Beach to serenade tourists in exchange for a donation. During the Christmas Season, first class hotels across Boracay welcome and invite young Atis to sing carols to their guests.
The Ati are the first settlers and residents of Boracay, and of the Philippines in general. They belong to the Negrito ethnic group and have markedly darker skin than the average Filipino. They are a very musical people, as may be seen in the festival which takes its name from them. The Ati-Atihan is in fact their traditional dance and is a fine indication of how rich Boracay culture can be. This dance is known all over the country for its stomping dance steps and loud chants accompanied by whistles. The Ati-Atihan Festival takes place in January all over Aklan but most prominently in Kalibo.
Philippine culture shines as brightly as the sun on Boracay’s sands, and may even be said to be responsible for giving light to the tourists’ experiences. It is widely held that Filipinos are hospitable and friendly, and many a foreign traveler has enjoyed his trip all the more for the company of the cheerful locals. The sights too are interwoven with the structure of Philippine society, as is the case for the famous grotto of the Virgin Mary. One of the most important landmarks on the island, it is common for even locals to visit it because of the importance of faith to Filipinos, about 85% of whom are Roman Catholics. Whether one chooses to look at such structures or focuses instead on the people, the truth is simply that Boracay culture and festivals deserve better recognition, giving as they do a peek into the history that has surely contributed to Boracay’s current enchantment.