Welcome the new year in a fabulous way with the Aguman Sanduk festival
For more than 80 years, the town of Minalin in Pampanga, Philippines, has held a festive cross-dressing parade to welcome the New Year: the Aguman Sanduk, or the Fellowship of the Ladle. Let's explore this fabulous festival!
Minalin, officially the Municipality of Minalin, is a 4th class municipality in the province of Pampanga, Philippines. According to the 2015 census, it has a population of 47,713 people. The Aguman Sanduk Festival, now on its 89th year, is a tradition by Minalin's locals during every turn of the new year.
How It Started
According to residents, the tradition began in the early 1930s, when Minalin lost its harvest due to drought. To cheer up a town mired in impoverishment and despair, a group of professional men called Aguman Alang Tutul (The Fellowship of No Opposition)—some known jesters among them—put on women's clothing and makeup, set up tables in the plaza, and started cooking congee and other food to share with the rest of the town. The stunt succeeded in lifting people's spirits, and since then the Aguman Sanduk has been a much-anticipated yearly event. The festival was set every first day of the year as thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest in the past year, and as offering a gift in the hope of another fruitful year ahead.
"Aguman Sanduk" literally means “the fellowship of the ladle,” with the ladle being a symbol of bountiful food, finally conquering the drought, and ushering in a new year full of blessings and harvests for the town.
Changing into dasters and skirts, caking on heavy makeup, the boys and men of the town take up ladles and parade around town before converging on the town plaza in front of the 400-year-old Church of Sta. Monica to choose the Reyna Ning Aguman Sanduk, or the queen of the ladle. The local men continue to put smiles on women’s faces by dressing up in beautiful gowns and putting on makeup as a beauty queen would do. Most men go as far as putting on tiaras, as well as dancing fabulously on intricately designed parade floats.
Minalin has 15 barangays, and the festival allows a maximum of 30 participants per barangay. Each barrio is given funds to design and decorate their floats, which are also part of the competition. The parade starts from Minalin's welcome arch in Santo Domingo and makes its way through the rest of the town. The event's highlight is the crowning of the festival queen. Even with no written rules, the crown is traditionally given to the ugliest cross-dresser in the event. The queen who elicits the most laughs from the crowd deserves to be called the queen of the Aguman Sanduk Festival, and will be crowned with a lakal, a bamboo ring used in the kitchen on which a pot is placed.
What It Is Like Today
Some changes have been made to the festival over the years. In the past, only straight men were allowed to join the Aguman Sanduk, with their wives and mothers lending them clothes and putting makeup on them. But at the start of year 2000, gays were allowed to participate since they contribute much to the organizing and planning of the event. In the past, there was still the zarzuela and basultu (lyric-dramatic plays) that come right after the participants parade through the whole town.
Another thing that has apparently changed is the idea that only handsome men who could transform into a beautiful ladies were chosen as Reyna Ning Aguman Sanduk. But one thing that has not changed about the festival is its ability to bring joy to the people of Minalin. Last year, more than a hundred men on board the 12 floats participated in the colorful event in the hope of taking home the Reyna Ning Aguman Sanduk title. But more than the title, Minaleño gentlemen are still true to the essence of the festival which is to give joy and cheer up the Minaleño crowd and audience from different places.