Ati celebration in Malay, Aklan, Philippines..

Seasonal celebrations, a full social calendar, another special year

The headline is sarcastic – and surreal.

2021 was indeed a ‘special’ year.  We spent the whole time “stranded” on a jungle island in the Philippines, waiting for the COVID-cursed world to normalize. It doesn’t get much more surreal than that!

Thankfully, as our regular readers know, we’ve been able to make our ‘extended travel pause’ special by joining this community, making tons of new friends, and helping everyone we can.

A number of events over the recent holiday season capped off the unforgettable 2021 – and served to remind us how incredibly fortunate we are to be passing our time in this place.

The first notable December gathering that I attended (pictured above) was a local conference if the NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples).The NCIP is defined as: The agency of the national government of the Philippines that is responsible for protecting the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.

Of course, our interest in the NCIP is related to our continuing friendship with the Ati tribal people who live near our seaside rental apartment.

The Ati were very excited by the NCIP visit and planned a day-long program including traditional dancing and a luncheon of native foods. I was honored to be invited.

As for the conference; naturally, it was all in the Tagalog language – so I couldn’t understand much. The majority of the time was spent on individual addresses and power-point presentations by the NCIP commissioners and staff. Local politicians were present as well.

I’m told the speeches were responses and updates to ongoing issues of concern to the Ati: land rights, resource management, education, jobs, social welfare, etc.

The event seemed pleasant enough – though I was struck by the juxtaposition of the well-dressed and coiffed bureaucrats continuously checking their smart phones in contrast to the dozens of Ati in attendance wearing tattered garments and beat-up flip flops.

At one point, the daughter of the Ati chieftain did publicly acknowledge me as a valued friend and supporter of the local tribe, which was nice. But honestly, I would much rather have encountered the NCIP personnel amidst some actual improvement or assistance project as opposed to a bureaucratic lunch / political presentation.

The next seasonal celebration occurred the week before Christmas; a christening/baptism.

Once again, we were invited by the Ati to attend — and even participate as godparents (we politely declined).

In fact, Ellen severely strained her back, and was convalescing while I enjoyed the hours-long service.

As in the west, the baptism ceremony took place after Sunday church worship. It was the first time I witnessed Ati religious services – though I am well aware that many are regular church goers.

The modest, Christmas-decorated, Baptist church was filled with enthusiastic Ati faithful in their nicest clothes. The pastor jammed a few hymns on an electric guitar. There were inspirational readings and prayers. A big ‘pot-luck’ style lunch was served about half-way through the event. Take-home rice given to each family too.

At the end, two beautiful Ati toddlers were ‘baptized’ – but oddly, without any water involved. A Christmas gift-exchange was also part of the festivities.

A few days later, Ellen and I both attended the official Ati Christmas party — a pig roast – held in the central plaza of one of the Ati settlements. 

Once again, we were special invited guests. We did contribute funds and door prizes. My name was even included on the signage… lol.
It was great to see and mingle casually at a social event with the many Ati friends and families we have come to know through our sponsorships of community projects.

Of course, the Ati are always thankful for our help and the support of our overseas donors who have enabled the improvements for the tribe.

Lastly, the holiday celebrations also extended beyond the Ati. There was a pre-Christmas party of the ex-patriots group that gathers every Wednesday at a local watering hole for drinks and western food. 

The group is an interesting collection of Americans, Europeans, Australians, Brits, South Africans… even Filipino dual citizens. All of us, similarly navigating the coronavirus crisis on the island of Panay.

Finally, we’ve also enjoyed Christmas and New Year and birthdays (and sadly, a funeral) with our other Filipino friends in recent weeks. We really are happy to know so many kind and caring folks. 

And in case you haven’t seen it yet — here again is our holiday e-card for 2021; taken with the Calvario family who we’ve helped with their new house project.

One more time – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer. Life is NOW!

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