Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Ecija’s “Taong Putik” Festival draws 7,000 mud people, Catholics
ALIAGA, Nueva Ecija – In 1999, Mary Domingo, then 63, felt a numbing sensation on the right side of her face.
With the pain refusing to go away, she sought the help of many doctors but they all failed to determine the cause of the pain. She next went to herbolarios (quack doctors) but they also could not unmask her mysterious ailment.
Desperate, Domingo turned to this town’s patron saint John the Baptist and went to grace this town’s annual “Taong Putik” Festival. Now 78, she has never missed a single festival since.
Domingo was one of some 7,000 mud people and St. John devotees who turned up for yesterday’s annual event in Barangay Bibiclat here, witnessed by Manila-based newsmen from various media outfits and wire agencies.
Chief Inspector Roberto Sena, Aliaga police station commander, said this year’s event, themed “Ang Pamamanata,” drew devotees from all walks of life, with the youngest a four-year-old girl Janaya dela Cruz, a first-timer who came over because of her mom.
Another participant Rodel Capalad said he has been gracing the event the past eight years as his way of thanksgiving for the fulfillment of a wish : to pursue his studies. “For as long as I can, I will attend the festival every year,” he vowed.
Sena said by their own estimates, the crowd was easily at least 5,000, including 2,000 mud people.
Every 24th of June, Bibiclat, a rustic town some 30 kilometers from Cabanatuan City, welcomes hundreds of tourists and devotees of St. John. They were welcomed by a uniquely-dressed group of devotees whose faces and bodies were smeared with mud and covered with dried banana leaves, a form of religious ritual of humility, penance and vow.
Father Carlos Padilla, parish priest of the St. John the Baptist Church – a declared diocesan shrine - officiated the morning Mass here which was attended by third district Rep. Czarina Umali and Mayor Elizabeth Vargas.
Padilla said the tradition originated in 1944 when a group of Japanese soldiers were ambushed by guerrilla rebels. In retaliation, the Japanese officers ordered all the men of the community arrested and brought to the chapel grounds.
The Filipinos were about to be shot at noon when their relatives went to the church and prayed hard for their safety.
Suddenly, it rained hard and the Japanese officers, interpreting this as a sign of disapproval from heaven, ordered the execution stopped and set the men free.
The people then danced in jubilation and played in the mud. They attributed the miracle to St. John the Baptist.
Village elders said people who attend the unique celebration also fulfill a "panata" (vow) for a family member's good health. One of them was Eugenio Alamon, 62, who suffered three strokes and couldn’t walk.
As in the past, the ritual starts before the crack of dawn at 4 am when participants wake up and go to the nearest rice paddies to smear mud on their bodies and wear the grass or dried leaves.
Then they walked around the community and begged for candles or money to buy candles, which they lit for before praying. Afterwards, they proceed to the chapel for a Mass.
The saint's statue is then paraded around the community, with the devotees carrying lit candles and roses.
By turning themselves into mud people, participants emulate St. John the Baptist, who appears in most biblical tales dressed like a beggar.
From the village’s rice field, groups of taong putik roam the village and ask for alms. House owners give them money or candles, believing that this gesture would be paid back with blessings.
After the ritual, participants gather at the church yard to hear Mass. They light candles and offer prayers before they wash themselves and join their families for the fiesta celebration later in the day.
Vice Mayor Alfredo Domingo and his wife Leny also go to Church in the morning shortly after the Mass was heard.
The vice mayor said the event not only enhanced the town’s image as a pilgrimage site but also its tourism potentials.
Devotees are also known as "San Juan or nag-sa-San Juan" by the townsfolk because they imitate John the Baptist who hid his role as the chosen one to baptize Jesus Christ by wearing animal skin to deceive those who were after his head.
Edwin Dizon, 47, said yesterday’s event was a bit subdued because there was no rain, unlike the previous years.”It was merrier when it rains,” he said.
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