If there’s one thing the Bacolodnons are proud of that would be their hospitality. Indeed, Bacolod is a friendly city. It is called the City of Smiles for a reason, right? And what better way to epitomize the joyous Negrense spirit than through a festival? Then came the MassKara Festival.
During the 1980s, Bacolod City was considered as the sugar capital of the Philippines. However, sugar prices hit an all-time low because of the new sugar substitutes in the market. Bacolod was the hardest hit. Another tragedy struck the city when MV Don Juan, a luxury liner, sank after colliding with M/T Tacloban City, an oil tanker. Around 700 people died in the unfortunate incident, some of who belonged to the well-off families in Bacolod.
With the pervasive gloominess around, the local government, civic groups, and artists convened. They decided to hold a festival of smiles to show how resilient the Bacolodnons are. The festival was regarded as a declaration that no matter how bad a situation may become, the people will overcome it triumphantly.
Ely Santiago, an artist and the former President of the Art Association of Bacolod, coined the term masskara. It’s a portmanteau of the words ‘mass’, which is defined as the majority or a large number of, and the Spanish word ‘cara’ or face in English. MassKara then means a large number of faces. The festival’s most prominent feature is the mask (or maskara in Filipino) with big smiles.
Nowadays, MassKara Festival is celebrated from October 1 to 19. The biggest events are held on the weekend closest to October 19th. Throughout the celebration, it’s visual overload – from the headdress to the garbs to the footwear! Thousands of revelers flock the city, and if you want to be part of it, here’s what you should and shouldn’t do.
Lacson Street will be closed during the festival to give way for parades. One more thing, there will be hundreds of food stalls along the street. You will have no choice but to walk. Thus, make sure that you wear the most comfortable clothes and footwear. Don’t bring bulky bags. If you have to, a sling bag where you can place all your valuables will do. Lacson Street is just a few blocks away from Amaia Steps Capitol Central. If your house is in there or you’re staying in one of your relatives who live there, you might as well leave your things.
Several moments must not be missed. Participants of the street dance competition dance their way to the venue. The local government designates a MassKara arena inside the Paglaum Sports Complex. Outside the complex, the performers are allowed to take pictures with the revelers like you. Capture the energy of the colorful costume-wearing dancers and the cheering crowd. The colorful floats, LED-light costumes, decorated boats, and colored powder throws are capture-worthy, too.
Some walk areas feature costume displays that will surely get your camera rolling. Some establishments also organize mask-making and costume-making contests for the locals. The non-locals can vote which mask or costume should win. Just be prepared to get confused though because no two masks, for instance, are created alike, picking the rightful winner would be difficult.
Even standing in the street under the scorching heat can make you hungry. Don’t worry, you’re in Bacolod, remember? Bacolod is the origin of chicken inasal. You might be surprised that the taste of the inasal here is slightly different from that of the inasal available in Manila. That’s because the locals use special herbs and spices. There’s also lumpiang bacolod or fresh spring roll with oil-drizzled wrapper. Other must-eats are the Napoleones, a custard-filled pastry, and pinasugbo or the thinly-sliced banana deep-fried in oil with brown sugar and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
The MassKara Festival surely lives up to its name. It puts a smile not just to the performers, but also to every person there. The best part is, after seeing the colorful costumes and masks, walking here and there to witness the activities, tasting great food, they all take with them an experience that leaves a smile on their faces. That’s a keepsake no amount of money can buy.