Although the Dinagyang Festival focuses on the Santo Niño, Ati-Atihan traces its roots to the barter or purchase of Panay Island by the 10 Bornean datus from Ati King Marikudo during the first half of the 13th Century in Sinugbuhan, San Joaquin in southern Iloilo.
Injustice, tyranny, and cruelty drove the ten datus of Borneo to flee from their country–escaping the oppressive rule of the despotic Sultan Makatunao. They silently and secretly boarded their binidays (boats) and sailed along the coasts of Paragua (Palawan). In the course of their northward journey, they sighted the island of Panay and steered their boats towards it until they reached the mouth of Sirwagan River north of the hamlet of Sinugbuhan which was the abode of King Marikudo. There they saw an Ati fishing in the creek from whom they learned about Marikudo, his kingdom and his people.
The Borneans gained audience with Marikudo, who first acted with caution and restraint having had undesirable experiences with Moro pirates. Datu Puti, however, expressed his desire to befriend the natives and their intention to settle in the land permanently, possibly at the site of Marikudo’s settlement.
The offer interested Marikudo who gathered his men to discuss the terms of the offer and ordered them to prepare a feast. When everything was ready, a banquet was held in which the Borneans and the natives danced their “sinulog” and displayed their “dinapay” to the accompaniment of their “lantoy” and “tipano” made of light bamboo. They beat their drums and played on their “mangmang”, “gurong-gurong” and “subling”. In return, the Negritos danced their “urokoy” and their “undok-undok”.
When the feast was over, Marikudo’s elders and the ten datus sat down to discuss the terms of the purchase. The famous barter was then held at Embidayan at the seashore near the mouth of the Sinugbuhan River, in the neighborhood of what is now the Tiolas-Dao inter-provincial road.
The new settlers moved in three days after the barter, with the exception of Datu Paiburong and his wife and followers, who settled separately in a place now called Lang in Dueñas, Iloilo.
From Sinugbuhan, the datus spread out to different places of Madia-as, the -name they substituted for Aninipay (Panay). To Datu Sumakwel was assigned Hamtik (Antique); Datu Bangkaya, Aklan; and Datu Paiburong , Irong-Irong (Iloilo). Datu Puti returned to Borneo and fought Datu Makatunao.
Marikudo’s territory costs one golden “saduk”, a sort of helmet or broad-rimmed hat which gives protection to the face from sun and rain; and one golden necklace which Marikudo’s wife Maniwantiwan preferred over the gold basin Datu Puti first offered. There are contentions, however, that the price was not a golden “saduk” but rather a ”saduk” full of gold. Followers of this point of view say that it was rather impractical for the Borneans to be wearing a golden hat which was heavy.