The Masskara Festival through the years gives the people of Negros, as well as local and foreign visitors, a chance to drink and be merry for 20 days. Originally designed to show the hardships of the people of Negros, the Masskara Festival has become a tool of escapism and a way to generate revenues for big business. It has indeed come a long way, and it is clear that the path turn away from the progressive goal.
Bacolod City is known for the popular Masskara Festival which takes place here Oct. 1-20. Local and foreign visitors get a chance to enjoy 20 days of merry making, beer drinking, dining and street dancing. On the weekend nearest to 19 October, the biggest party in Bacalod is scheduled to take place. Bacalod is the capital city of the country's sugar-producing province of Bocalenos.
The term Masskara is created from two words: mass, meaning crowd, and the Spanish word cara, for face; thus the double meaning for "mask" and "many faces". It was coined by Ely Santiago, a painter, cartoonist, and cultural artist, who devoted show in his art works the many faces of Negrenses overwhelmed with various crises.
A smiling mask, which is the symbol of the fiesta was conceived by the organizers to show the happy spirit of the Negrenses despite experiencing bad times in the sugar industry.
The Masskara festival was first envisioned in 1980 to add color and jollity to the Bcolod City's celebration of its Charter Day anniversary, on 19 October. The symbol of the festival - a smiling mask - was adopted by the organizers to dramatize the Negrenses happy spirit, in spite of periodic economic downturns in the sugar industry.
Throughout the week, people from all over the Visayas, gather to the town plaza. They join Bacoleños in the non-stop round of festivities. Even if you don't feel like dancing and singing, the pig catching and pole climbing competitions are musts. Some are also trying their luck and testing their skills in mask-making contests, disco king and queen competitions, coconut-milk drinking to name a few.
Masks are the order of the day at the Masskara parade, as brightly-costumed men and women dance and strut in the streets. Their beaming faces are be-dimpled, smiling and laughing in molded clay or papier-mâché. Every group is represented: civic associations, commercial establishments, schools, even private and government organizations. They march out in excited crowd wearing their painted masks and elaborate costumes, all vying for prizes in judging that will be held in the afternoon. The festival also benefits Bacolod tourism not only because tourists flock the city during this time to join the merrymaking but also to buy the orchids and ornate handicrafts on sale.
The festival instills among the people the culture of escapism and obscurantism, where they have to accept and forget their sufferings caused by the exploitation and oppression of the landlords.
In this city, people are encouraged by the organizers, mostly big business and hacenderos (big landlords), to forget the economic hardships and depression which happen especially during tiempo muerto (dead season, or off sugar harvest-milling season). Bacolod is the capital city of Negros Occidental, known as the Sugar Bowl of the Philippines and is part of Western Visayas in central Philippines.
Originally and ironically, the masks reflected the people’s grief over the loss of their numerous loved ones when, in 1979, Negros Navigation’s luxury liner MS Don Juan crashed with a tanker. Five years before, there was a big drop in sugar production. The people of Negros suffered from the excess of sugar in the world market caused by the Caribbean sugar crisis and the introduction of sugar substitute like the High Fructose Corn Syrup in the United States. All these led to the holding of the first Masskara Festival in 1980. Santiago’s original proposal to hold annual parade using masks to capture the crisis in Negros, was changed by the local elite into street dancing and merry-making festival. This rich imagery of masks was used by the hacenderos and local politicians to hide the suffering of the Negrenses. From then on, Masskara Festival became one of the popular attractions in Negros, drawing thousands of people within and outside the country.
During this festival every October, the city’s public plaza is brought alive into a huge beer garden. There is also Masskara Street-dancing contests highlighting the whole festival. Masskara Festival was intended as an encouragement to all to fight back and to keep smiling despite the sugar problems, and highlighted that hope still existed. Since then, the smiling masks have become the city's symbol, thus earning its tag as the "City of Smile." This annual festival, which has become one of Philippines best known tourist attraction, has been earning raves both from local and foreign tourists. Masskara Festival has also been judged the most beautiful and colorful festival among the various contingents from other countries.
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