Faith and Spirituality

From ‘mud people’ to water fests: Filipinos mark feast of John the Baptist

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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From ‘mud people’ to water fests: Filipinos mark feast of John the Baptist

TAONG PUTIK FESTIVAL. Catholic devotees cover themselves with mud and dried banana leaves to celebrate the Feast of Saint John the Baptist in Barangay Bibiclat, Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, on June 24, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

‘Sadly, it seems that the Basaan has leveled down to mere revelry and partying,’ says Anton Maria Francesco Carabeo in the faith chat room of the Rappler Communities app

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos celebrated the feast of John the Baptist on Monday, June 24, by observing traditions that mirror the life of one of the Catholic Church’s most famous saints.

Barangay Bibiclat in the town of Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, marked the annual Taong Putik (Mud People) Festival on Monday, listed in the Catholic calendar as John the Baptist’s birthday.

Taong Putik Festival
BLESSINGS. A Catholic bishop blesses devotees with holy water during the annual Taong Putik Festival in Barangay Bibiclat, Aliaga, Nueva Ecija. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Hundreds of residents of Bibiclat, a village of around 8,300 people, bathed themselves in mud and hung dried banana leaves on their bodies. By doing this, they sought to imitate the appearance of John the Baptist, who is described in the Gospel of Mark as having been “clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” as he “fed on locusts and wild honey.”

Taong Putik Festival
REPENTANCE. The mud ritual on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist symbolizes conversion and new life. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Covering themselves in mud symbolizes repentance from sin, the local parish said. It highlights “the grace of the human being’s return to God, which John the Baptist proclaimed in the desert,” said the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Saint John the Baptist in a Facebook post on Sunday, June 23.

Taong Putik Festival
TRADITION. About 600 Catholics perform this annual ritual, excluding those who went to church only to hear Mass. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, is exalted in the Catholic Church as the Messiah’s forerunner. Many parishes are named after him in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country with rituals inherited from 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. 

Taong Putik Festival
YOUNG AND OLD. The Taong Putik tradition is passed on from generation to generation. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

On Monday, the feast of John the Baptist was also celebrated in the cities of San Juan and Parañaque, but using a different symbol: water.

Flower, Flower Arrangement, Flower Bouquet
CITY’S FAITH. The Feast of Saint John the Baptist is celebrated in Barangay Don Galo, Parañaque City, on June 24, 2024, with the Basaan tradition of dousing people with water. Photo by Michael Dalogdog via Rappler Communities

In these cities, but most especially in San Juan which is named after the saint, devotees douse each other with water – not sparing even passersby – in memory of John the Baptist who baptized his followers and even Jesus in the Jordan River.

Celebrating, Person, Adult
FOR EVERYONE. Even passersby are not spared from the Basaan Festival in Barangay Don Galo. Photo by Michael Dalogdog via Rappler Communities

In the Rappler Communities app, faith chat room users Michael Dalogdog and Anton Maria Francesco Carabeo shared photos from the annual Basaan (Dousing of Water) Festival in Barangay Don Galo in Parañaque, which was once a coastal town and now a bustling city of more than 686,000 people.

REMEMBERING BAPTISM. For Catholics, water symbolizes the sacrament of baptism. Photo by Anton Maria Francesco Carabeo via Rappler Communities

Carabeo, a 24-year-old licensed professional teacher, said in Rappler’s faith chat room that it was “quite nostalgic” for him to attend the Basaan Festival. Carabeo said his father, who “hails from the barrio in which this takes place,” would often share “that the celebrations started when Parañaque had its beautiful coastlines.” There was even a fluvial procession back then.

Person, Bathing, Rain
FIESTA. Water-dousing traditions associated with the Feast of Saint John the Baptist have acquired different meanings through the years. Photo by Anton Maria Francesco Carabeo via Rappler Communities

“Sadly, it seems that the Basaan has leveled down to mere revelry and partying,” Carabeo said, attributing it to “lack of catechism, a root cause of most problems in the Church nowadays.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.