ALIAGA, NUEVA ECIJA, PHILIPPINES — Although not as festive as other festivals in the country, the oddity of “pagsa-San Juan” makes Taong Putik Festival interesting enough. The solemn tradition is held every 24th dawn of June in Brgy. Bibiclat in Aliaga, Nueva Ecija in honor of their patron saint, St. John the Baptist.
WHAT IS A TAONG PUTIK?
Taong Putik, literally means “mud person”. As early as 4:00 am every June 24, the villagers of Brgy. Bibiclat in Aliaga (Nueva Ecija, Philippines) would flock the rice paddies to coat themselves with thin mud, green vines and dry banana leaves before walking to the church, and begging for candles (or money to buy them) along the way. Through this process, they’d become a taong putik. It might look creepy, but it is actually an interesting religious practice.
HOW DID THE TRADITION START?
According to the town’s historical records, there were Japanese soldiers killed by Filipino guerillas near Brgy. Bibiclat during the World War II in the 1940s. These deaths angered the Japanese conquerors and prompted them to plan a mass murder of male villagers in front of the women and the children. The sun was at the 12:00 direction when the Japanese have lined up the death row captives for the firing squad. The weeping children and women have prayed and seeked help from the village’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist, and were heard – rain fell down from the sky, in sympathy of the tears they’ve shed. The Japanese soldiers, mostly Shintoists, worships a multitude of deities and this includes a sun goddess called Amaterasu. Seeing the rain as a symbol of disapproval from the heavens, they’ve discontinued the execution.
Believing that the rain was brought by the symbolic waters of St. John the Baptist, the Catholic villagers decided to honor the saint by mimicking his appearance. The Catholic script depict St. John the Baptist as a man in a beggar’s disguise, usually clothed in animal skin. Using native materials, the village folks have customized this disguise to what it is in the present. This tradition has become known to the villagers as “pagsa-San Juan”, and a participant/devotee is known as “nagsa-San Juan”. Outsiders know the devotees as a “taong putik,” and the solemn celebration as the “Taong Putik Festival”.
TRAVEL GUIDE / TIPS
- HOW TO GET THERE. From Manila, ride a bus bound for Cabanatuan City (2.5 – 3.5 hours travel time, fare is not more than P200). Bibiclat is one hour away from Cabanatuan.
- The feast is celebrated every June 24.
- Come as early as 4:00am to witness how the villagers apply the mud.
- They prepare their banana leaves the night before, to tie them in bundles. If you wish to become a taong putik, come the day before to provide ample time for preparations.
- The Catholic mass starts at 06:00 in the morning at the St. John the Baptist Church.
- WHERE TO STAY. Since the event is at dawn, you may need a place to stay. Otherwise, you’ll need to get a great timing. We stayed at the Palay Hotel by BESM Traveler’s Inn at Brgy. Adorable, San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija. There is a swimming pool inside!