No, you’re not in the Carnival of Venice or in Rio de Janeiro for the biggest carnival in the world. These colorfully- masked people are celebrating the MassKara festival in the city of Bacolod in Negros Occidental.
During the 1970’s demand for sugar cane, Negros Occidental’s main agricultural product was in an all-time low because of the introduction of sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup, therefore lowering the price of sugar. At the same time in 1979, the Negros Navigation’s luxury liner MS Don Juan crashed with the tanker Tacloban City, killing 700 people, many of them Negrenses. The local government and the city artists then came up with the festival to uplift the locals’ morale during this period of crisis.
Originally named as the Festival of Smiles, the MassKara festival is celebrated every year for 20 days in the month of October, alongside Bacolod’s Charter anniversary. This year it is celebrated from the 1st of October to the 20th. It was in 1980 that the first MassKara festival was held and 33 years later, it has become one of the most famous festivals in the country, drawing in thousands of tourists every year, locals and foreigners alike.
The word MassKara is a portmanteau of the English word mass, which means a group of people, and the Spanish word cara that means face. It is also a pun for the Tagalog word maskara, or mask, since the smiling masks that the street dancers wear has become the most prominent feature of the festival.
The smiling masks symbolize the Negrenses’ happy and positive outlook in life despite the crisis they were going through. Throughout the years, the mask has evolved from designs influenced by the native Filipinos to more colorful designs that are similar to the masks worn in the Rio Carnival and Carnival of Venice.
The street dancing competition which is the highlight of the festival, where the colorful masked costumes are seen, draws a large crowd to the streets of Bacolod. Competitors in the barangay and school divisions try to outdance and outperform each other to win the coveted 1st place. Major activities also include food festivals, sports events, a beauty pageant, carnivals, drum and bugle corps competitions, and musical concerts.
To this day, the MassKara festival has become a symbol of unity and hope of the people and sends a message to visitors to keep smiling despite hardships in life.