How Ironic
Photo by: Flickr Creative Commons

The month of October in the Philippines belongs to Bacolod, the capital city of Negros Occidental. Masked dancers and giant puppets dominate the streets with tribal music accompanying them. Again, it is in the Philippines not to be mistaken as the famous Carnival of Venice with masked people prancing on the streets.

Welcome to Masskara Festival -Bacolod City’s pride and the rest of Negros Occidental – something that all Negrense feel connected. Masks with that trademark big smile that also stands of the city’s moniker – “City of Smiles”.

Less than 46 days and Bacolod will be flocked with holidaygoers for their annual festival. From October 1st, various activities leading to the main event which is the streetdancing will fill the calendars among those who are avid fans of this party.

Masskara comes from the word “mass” or “many” and “kara” or faces; hence, literally means, “many faces”. In Spanish, it means, “mask”.

Behind the mask

But just like other masquerade, a gloomy story is behind this famous festivity. Negros is known as Sugarlandia, a top exporter of sugar that gave rise to a new elite group of sugar growers. For decades, these land-owners and the rest of the province experienced economic boom but in the 80s, the industry declined. Prices of sugar dropped in the world market and together with other political factors, sugar became a bitter pill to swallow.

And a tragic sea disaster where hundreds of passengers died when a ship from Manila sunk including those from prominent families. A tragic time for Negros as they were about to celebrate their province’s anniversary.

Just like any Filipinos who is known for being optimistic, local officials was able to come up with an idea of a masked parade. Yes, they will continue with the festivities but they will not forget the sadness they currently share. And so, the festival pushed through with a smiling mask on each dancer.

Almost 3 decades after, Masskara has been the top and most famous festivals in the country. Something unique with a European touch yet with a street dancing which is ingeniously Pinoy.

Come to Bacolod, have a blast. Never shy away, wear your smiling mask and dance like no one is watching…