Aliaga, north of Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - They appear only once a year and residents here call them ¿taong putik," which literally means ¿mud people."
They are mostly residents of Barangay Bibiclat in this farming town in Nueva Ecija, about 138 kilometers north of Metro Manila, who are devotees of St. John the Baptist. They appear in public at dawn every June 24, the feast day of the saint.
St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Bibiclat and as it is customary in many areas in the country, his feast day is the community¿s designated fiesta celebration.
Elsewhere in the country, the feast day of St. John the Baptist is observed by splashing water on revelers or passersby. It is meant to remember the significant role played by St. John in baptizing Jesus Christ.
Oddly, in Bibiclat, the ritual of ¿Pagsa-San Juan," which later became the ¿Taong Putik Festival," is done instead of the usual splashing of water.
On the eve of June 24, participants gather vines and banana leaves and use them to cover their bodies. The attire is soaked in a mixture of mud and water starting early evening until it is retrieved for the dawn ritual the next day.
Before wearing the attire, participants roll themselves in a rice field to cover their bodies with mud. They make sure enough mud is applied on their faces so no one will recognize them.
This ritual takes place in different places in the village between 3 and 4 a.m. of June 24.
By transforming themselves into mud people, participants say they are able to emulate St. John the Baptist, who appears in most biblical tales as dressed like a beggar.
Before daybreak, the taong putik roam the village and ask for alms. The house owners gladly oblige by giving them money or candles in the belief that this would be compensated with blessings.
After this ritual, participants gather at the church yard for Mass. After the Mass, devotees leave the church to clean their bodies, the last part of the ritual. They then join relatives and friends for the fiesta celebration.
Researchers from the Central Luzon State University in the Science City of Mu?oz uncovered stories on how the ritual came about.
One story tells about an image of St. John the Baptist that helped residents drive away snakes that roamed Bibiclat in the early days. The name ¿Bibiclat¿ came from the word ¿biclat," Ilocano for snake.
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