Taong Putik Festival, also called Pagsa-San Juan, is a cultural–religious festival in the village of Bibiclat in Aliaga, a town in Nueva Ecija, Philippines held every 24th of June. It is conducted during the feast day of St. John the Baptist.
History of Taong Putik Festival
Taong Putik Festival comes from the Tagalog words taong putik, which means mud people.
Taong Putik Festival began in—or in some accounts the devotion to St. John the Baptist from which the festival comes from deepened due to—a miracle that took place in 1944 when the Philippine archipelago was occupied by Japanese forces. Filipino guerrilla killed several Japanese soldiers at the height of the Second World War. The Japanese army rounded up all men in the village to be executed in retaliation for the killing.
The townsfolk fervently prayed to save their male kin from certain death. As the men were led to the plaza before a firing squad around noon time when the sun was at its peak and hottest, out of a sudden a downpour occurred. The Japanese, who as a people worshiped the sun-goddess and believed that the imperial family descended from her, interpreted it as an omen that their plan was not aligned with the will of the heavens.
Their execution did not push through.
People rejoiced and rolled about in mud. The miraculous turn of events intensified the devotion to St. John the Baptist. Water in the form of the rain that spared the lives of the male villagers is a symbol associated with the patron who baptized Jesus in the riverbank of Jordan according to the Bible.
Other variations of the story exist. People in wartime era celebrated their success in evading capture from the invading Japanese army by rolling in mud. Another tale stated that people who were accused of being rebels took refuge in the chapel and covered their faces with mud to avoid being recognized by the Japanese who surrounded the place where they took refuge. Rain fell and the Japanese scampered for cover.
Moreover, research from Central Luzon State University (CLSU) stated that the custom may have started when residents prayed to the patron to drive away snakes that inhabited the area and their request was granted. The name of the village, Bibiclat, means a place of snakes.
Pamamanata sa Pagsa-San Juan
Pamamanata sa Pagsa-San Juan translates to a ‘vow to live like St. John.’
Devotees wear a body-length covering made of dry banana leaves, twigs, and vines. They smear their bodies with mud from rice paddies in the early morning hours every June 24 which is the feast day of the saint. After which they walk barefooted towards the church. Along the way, they drop by the houses in the village and beg for cash or candle, and any household that gives alms will be blessed for the year to come. Then they hear mass at the town church, light candles, offer prayers, and join the procession. They would later clean up in the nearby river or in the community water pump ever since the river dried up.
The custom is called Pagsa-San Juan, which translates ‘to live like St. John’. It is practiced to reflect the appearance and to observe the life of Saint John who is known to have lived an ascetic, humble life. He dwelt in the desert, wore clothes made of camel’s hair, and subsisted on insects and wild honey.
While images of people covered in mud have become a cultural attraction and spurred tourist interest, the religious custom is regarded as an outward expression of devotion, faith, and humility. Devotees also stated that by their participation and fulfillment of the vow they can receive favors, blessings, miracles, and healing from illnesses.
Additionally, the CLSU paper said that the custom is layered with meaning: the covering made of vines is for healing, the act of begging for labor, candles for enlightenment, and cleaning up for divine cleansing.
In 1990, then bishop of Cabanatuan Sofio G. Balce Jr. promulgated that a a mass is held dedicated for such devotion.
Diocesan Shrine of Saint John the Baptist
Saint John the Baptist Church in Bibiclat was declared a diocesan shrine on August 29, 2013. It is also known as Taong Putik Dambana ni San Juan Bautista. Bronze sculpture depicting three mud people was likewise unveiled.
In 2020, the festival was modified to comply with minimum protocols set by the health department amidst the coronavirus threat. Sans crowds and revelries, the faithful stood by their houses awaiting for a blessing by a priest going around the community in a motorcade.
Legislative efforts were likewise initiated to officially declare the church as a tourist destination such as public hearing in the Senate and House Bill No. 1382 of representative Mikaela Angela B. Suansing.
Other festivals in the Philippines in veneration of the patron are Regada Festival of Cavite (where people get drenched) and Lechon Festival of Balayan, Batangas (where roasted pigs wear clothes in a parade).
How to reach Biblicat, Aliaga, Nueva Ecija
Bus trips are available from Manila to Cabanatuan City. Tickets would cost about 200 pesos and take about three to four hours. From Cabanatuan City, you can take a jeepney to Barangay Bibiclat which is an hour ride away. Activities start at dawn when people start their walk to the church to attend the 6:00 morning mass.
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