The Maskara Festival




In the midst of tragic events, a people generally react by doing one or the other of two things – they succumb to it and wither away slowly on the vine or they quickly pick themselves up and move forward. This was the case for the inhab itants of Bacolod City in the province of Negros Occidental in the Philippines.


From the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-1970s, sugar was the primary and most important agricultural export of the Philippines. The island of Negros relied on it for its own survival being the source of its wealth and economic well-being. But all that changed quickly as the price of sugar reached an all-time low due to the introduction of sugar substitutes such as high fructose corn syrup in the United States.


The start of the 1980s was also a time of another tragedy; on April 22 of that year, the inter-island vessel Don Juan carrying many Negrenses, including those belonging to prominent families fromBacolod City, collided with the tanker Tac loban City and sank. An estimated 700 lives were lost.


Downhearted, dispirited and drifting downward into a spiral of grief and despair, the city’s artists, local government and civic groups congealed and together decided to create a festival of smiles, it being that Bacolod City was also known as the City of Smiles. They reasoned that a festival was an excellent opportunity to arrest the depressing situation. They resolved to emancipate its residents from their increasingly apoplectic outlook on life. Launching this new festival was therefore, a declaration by the people of the city that no matter how tough and bad the times were, it was going to pull through, survive, and in the end, flourish. It would be their rising from the ashes and resurgence towards an even brighter renaissance.




The organisers of the new festival needed a catchy name to put those smiles on its face – a portmanteau, if you like, which is a word that typically combines both sound and meaning in an altogether new word.


The word they chose apt now as it was then was “MassKara” – a morpheme coined by the late Filipino artist Ely Santiago from the word ‘mass’ meaning “many or a multitude of the people”, and the Spanish word ‘cara’ meaning ‘face’. The MassKara festival would thus mean a celebration by a multitude of smiling faces. Not much later, the festival’s name evolved toward its present form “Maskara”, a word pun on ‘maskara’ – the Filipino term for ‘mask’. The Maskara Festival today therefore reflects these two meanings.


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NOTE: Bacolod City’s Maskara Festival is now in its third decade and already has be come one of the major magnets of the Philippines that draw in the global tourism community. Through the years, the festival has evolved and undergone a lot of changes starting from its attempt at start of the early 1980s to portray vignettes of Philippine history, to the time when it became a symbol of survival and now presently a showcase for Bacolod City’s vibrant renaissance. The long years of affluence and abundance brought about by the sugar industry, with Bacolod as its center of trade and commerce, has made the people of Bacolod City lovers of the good life. They know how to laugh heartily. But beneath all this, they are resilient and take things in stride in times of crisis. During a period of severe economic depression in the past, they still smiled as sincerely just as it were in times of plenty. Decades after the economic back lash of the 1980s, Bacolod no longer depends on the sugar crop but they still celebrate life along the mainstream of contemporary events, industry and technology. May this lesson inspire our brothers and sisters in Christcurch New Zealand regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. We all can do it! – The Editorial Board.


The most prominent features of the Mas kara Festival besides the hyperactive ce lebrants themselves are the outrageous ly colourful masks and equally outland ishly festive costumes that go with each of them. Keeping with tradition, all the masks are always adorned with smiling faces.


The Maskara Festival, which is held every third weekend of October, now also feature street dance competitions where people from all walks of life troop down to colourfully-festooned streets to see all the masked dancers gyrating their bodies to a rapid tempo and rhythm of Latin-inspired beats in displays of syn chronization, skills, stamina, mastery, spontaneous laughter, gaiety and wild abandon!


Other festival activities also include a Maskara festival beauty queen pageant, carnivals, drum and bugle corps competitions, rows of food stalls, sports events, a windsurfing regatta, musical concerts, trade fairs, garden shows, drinking and eating contests, special local exhibits and other features and smaller events organised ad-hoc every year. In the midst of all these riotous but managed festi val activities, the pièce de résistance or finishing stroke if you will is a mardi-gras parade lasting for hours on end.




As a chartered city in the central part of the Philippine archipelago, the city of Bacolod was established as a town in 1755-56 AD. It is now a highly-urbanized centre housing some 532-thousand inhabitants. Among other cultural sites, it boasts of numerous beautifully-appointed antique houses and old churches most which date back during the Spanish Colonial period.


Sugar milling and fishing are still this city’s chief industries but it doubles-up too as a vibrant trade and tourism centre given its modern domestic trunk line airport, wharves and ports which open up to the Guimaras Strait, a busy air and shipping sea lane. But now, Bacolod City has put itself squarely on the map of the world as its annual Maskara Festival takes top honours in the growing list of festivals of the Philippines.


Every year, during the Maskara Festival, thousands upon thousands of local and international tourists come sweeping in by air and sea to the city of Bacolod to experience the explosion of colours, sounds and the charms of Bacoleños – all whom delight their guests with their genuine warmth and hospitality in harmony with their lilting melodious Ilonggo-accented English.


Then, there are also the delights of their local cuisine which is vigorous yet as subtle as the legendary gentility and their taste for the good life.


It is by any measure, a victorious celebration of life!


| Part-1 | Part-2 | Part-3 | Part 4 |




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Filed under Arts and Culture, Filipinos in Christchurch, Filipinos in New Zealand, Historical Events, Special Events

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