Masskara Festival – High Dosage Of Fun In Bacolod City Philippines!

The Masskara festival is a celebration held annually in the month of October in the City of Bacolod. But have you ever thought where did this month long festivity and street dancing originate? The term “Masskara” is actually a combination of 2 Spanish words “mass” which means “crowd of people” and “kara” which means face. When you put the words together it means “faces of the people”. The whole word “Masskara” also means mask and this is the reason why colorful and meticulously adorned masks are worn during the festival events. This ingenious idea was made by Ely Santiago who was a well known painter, cartoonist, and cultural artist during his time.

 

History Of Masskara Festival

The aim of the festival was to show to the world the optimism of the Negrenses and the people of Bacolod despite the downfall of the sugar industry and economic turmoil during this time. The smiles on the masks were said to be a scapegoat to the various tragedies faced head on by the Bacolodnons such as the downfall of the sugar industry which lead to a major economic depression in the province. Bacolod was known as the heart of the sugar cane industry in the Philippines and the Negrenses enjoyed the Golden Age of this promising business venture. However, the luxurious lifestyle of the people was short lived when the Americans created a high fructose substitute for sugar such as corn syrup. The demand and export for sugar fell and the dream life of the people of Bacolod also fell. Another tragic event also took place and aggravated the already melancholic atmosphere. The luxury liner MS Don Juan in 1979 sank together with some of the most prominent Negrenses aboard the ship. The disheartening incident lead to over 700 deaths.

The festivity is more than just a scapegoat created by the people. I would rather think that the smiling masks more of represents the resilience and endurance of the people and that no matter what adversity may come, the Bacolodnons are ready to face it with courage and optimism.

Today, the Masskara festival has come a long way and has attracted tourist nationwide and worldwide and it brings the vibe that is completely different from all other festivals around the world. It has become a tradition and legacy that the Bacolodnons are proud of. It is an even that every people in Bacolod City is looking forward to each year. It has brought forth smiles and it still continues to uplift the spirits of the populace.

 

What Makes Masskara Festival Fun?

It’s in the smiles, of course, and Bacolod folks do it so well. Held every third weekend of October or on the closest weekend to October 19, it dramatizes the steadfast character of the Negrenses and symbolizes what the people of the City of Smiles do best: putting on a happy face when confronted with challenges.

 

The Joy And Smiles

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.

When you go to the Masskara Festival, the fun pageantry will give you several days of visual overload. People garbed in elegant and ingenious costumes dance on the streets, their masks reflective of the jovial Negrense spirit. Costumes are made with fabrics of different colors and patterns, embellished with exotic feathers, shiny sequins, multicolored beads and paired with towering headgear.

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.

 

Parade

Masks are the order of the day at the Masskara Festival parade, as brightly-costumed men and women dance and strut in the streets. Smiling masks, do represent the symbol of the fiesta….an idea that was conceived by the organizers to show the happy spirit of the Negrenses despite experiencing bad times in the sugar industry. 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.

 

A Multitude Of Faces

It’s a sea of vibrant colors, eclectic patterns, and huge smiles. If there is a highlight, then there are secondary events which are nevertheless a must-see.

  • It was about 5 years ago when the Electric Masskara began. Over the past few years, it stayed as an annual event with its increasing popularity. It is a version of the typical Masskara streetdance, only with lights as its major component. Three days of street party amongst great music, colourful costumes, and pure bliss.
  • Then there’s Majica Masskara, an annual showcase of art in the city along with new artistic talents by way of breathtaking floats. Another is the Masskara Festival Art Shows where a collection of visual masterpieces with Masskara-related themes from local artists are displayed.
  • Extraordinary puppets created by Fine Arts students in local colleges and universities parade at the Giant Masskara Festival Puppets. Standing tall at 12 to 14 feet, these puppets are sure to captivate everyone’s attention.

And then of course, there’s the Masskara Festival Queen – the girl with the most beautiful smile, epitomizing the spirit of the festival itself.

 

The Dance

With the beating drums and the festival songs reverberating in the air, you’d have to fight the urge to dance.  At least until the best part: the street dance competition, where performers from different towns dance through a battle of showmanship and creativity. Several groups from two different categories—School and Barangay—compete with their colourful masks and costumes via dancing in sync with the upbeat tunes and drumbeats. Locals and tourists join in with the crowd to watch and dance along in the much awaited event of the city.

 

International Journey

Since its inception, the Masskara festival has repeatedly represented Philippines in some of the major Asian festivals, particularly the Chinggay Festival in Singapore in 1998, the Lunar Festival of Hong Kong in 2001, the International Tourism Festival of Shanghai in 2004 and the Midosuji Festival Parade of Osaka, Japan. The Masskara Festival delegation emerged as champion in the foreign category and first runner–up in the local category. It was the first award to be given to a foreign participant in the ten-year history of the Japanese festival.

 

Local Glory

Masskara Festival is one of the Philippine festivals that has also been on numerous exhibition performances in the Visayas and Luzon. In 2005, the Masskara dance was the most applauded performance during the 23rd Asian Games held in Bacolod City. Such performances have caused the international guests and dignitaries to talk about the festival earning a spot in international press.

 

Food

Creativity and hospitality come in tow with Filipinos, qualities that also reflect on the way they prepare food. Aside from the Masskara Festival, a lot of tourists come for the food. But food and festival combined, anyone’s visit is going to be a blast.

  • Nothing beats Bacolod’s famous authentic Chicken Inasal. There may be Chicken Inasal-serving kitchens sprouting everywhere but Bacolod’s is just exceptional with its secret special herbs and spices.
  • Fresh Lumpia, Lumpiang Ubod, Lumpiang Bacolod—it does not matter how you call it—it all comes down to Bacolod’s version of spring roll, only fresh, not fried. But what makes Lumpiang Bacolod different from the others is that its sauce is drizzled inside the wrapper.
  • Piaya is a sweet biscuit—the thin version of moon cake—that commonly has ube (purple yam) or caramel filling.
  • Another famous from the city since Chicken Inasal, Napoleones rooted from the French who brought the custard filled pastry to Bacolod. It is now considered one of Philippine’s best.
  • Crunchy deep-fried thinly-sliced banana coated with brown sugar, Pinasugbo is also a proudly Bacoleño-made delicacy.

 

Take A Picture, It Lasts Longer

Perhaps this is the point where you are reminded to bring a camera with you. With the activities listed above, every single moment is worth a camera shot—yes, that might include food. And while it is good enough to bring a good memory of your visit, nothing could be better than looking back at a “captured” colourful memory of the Masskara Festival.

 

Opportunity To Explore Bacolod

The smiling mask continues to be the symbol of the fiesta dramatizing the steadfast nature of the Negrenses as they respond to challenges. A trip to the MassKara festival is not just an opportunity to indulge in the jovial Negrense spirit, beautiful smiles, and the vibrant music and colours of the festival, but also an opportunity to explore all of the great amenities that Bacolod has to offer.
While Bacolod is not typically considered a tourist destination outside of the MassKara Festival, the city actually has plenty of attractions and activities to fill a weekend city break. From refreshing highland resorts to local delicacies and plenty of shopping, Bacolod has all of the ingredients to make a memorable weekend for you. One of the most popular attractions in Bacolod is the “The Ruins,” the remains of a 903 square metre mansion that was constructed in the early 1900’s by one of the local sugar barons. It was the largest residential structure ever built at that time in Negros. The mansion was burned in the early part of World War II but the structural frame remains intact to this day delighting visitors with its Italianate architecture and neo-Romanesque columns that have an uncanny resemblance to the façade of New York’s Carnegie Hall.

For a city of its size, Bacolod has an impressive number of shopping outletsincluding a Robinsons Mall, SM City, and Ayala Mall. There are also a number of stunning local handicrafts available for sale at Negros Showroom and of course, there is Bacolod’s ever popular “Piaya” pasalubong. No trip to Bacolod would be complete either without enjoying some traditional Bacolod Chicken Inasal or visiting one of the many modern restaurants featuring cuisines from all over the world along Bacolod’s Restaurant Row on Lacson Street. Cafe Bob’s is a popular hang out for locals featuring delicious gelato along with traditional Italian brick oven baked pizzas and pastas. Bacolod features an extensive array ofaccommodations from the budget friendly Go Hotels to the L’Fisher luxury hotel. If you ever plan to go to MassKara, you must always ensure to book your hotel in advance as the city sells out fast.When planning your trip to Bacolod to enjoy the MassKara Festival, be sure to consider the following tips to help you get the most of your stay in the City of Smiles:

  • Be sure to check the official schedule of activities in advance from the official Bacolod MassKara Festival website to ensure that you don’t miss any of the action.
  • Packing lighter clothing is advised to combat the scorching heat. Rain is always a possibility so you may wish to bring along an umbrella.
  • Ensure that you book your Bacolod flights and your Bacolod hotels well in advance to ensure availability and to guarantee the best possible price.
  • Arrive at least one hour prior to the Street Dance competition in order to ensure that you guarantee a spot in front for great photographs. Bacolod City Hall is a good viewing spot along with Rizal Elementary School and Lopue’s San Sebastien.
  • Don’t miss Bacolod’s other attractions including The Ruins orCampuestohan Highland Resort.
  • Those interested in retail therapy can make a trip to one of Bacolod’s many shopping malls.
  • Bacolod is filled with local delicacies and culinary indulgences. The Ube Piayas and Cheese Tarts from Bong Bongs are not to be missed. Be sure to dine at Manokan Country for the best chicken inasal in the city. But if you crave something from the continent, head to Cafe Bob’s for the city’s best traditional Italian pasta and pizza. The cafe also features an Italian deli filled with imported goods along with delicious pastries, beverages, and gelato. The price is also very reasonable.
  • For a unique experience, be a voluntourist for the day by paying a visit to one of the local Children’s Homes operated by the Kalipay Negrense Foundation. The foundation does its best to rescue the hundreds of street children that are living on the streets of Bacolod with the goal of providing education, health care, food, and a loving home.

 

Traveler’s Notes:
Bacolod is served by a number of airlines from the Bacolod-Silay International Airport. Regularly scheduled flights are operated from Bacolod to Manila, Cebu, and Davao.
  • PAL Express operates flights from/to Manila
  • Cebu Pacific operates flights from/to Cebu, Davao, Manila
  • Tigerair Philippines operates flights from/to Manila
There are also a number of ferry and bus transportation options available. Bacolod offers a range of hotel experiences from high-end luxury to comfortable budget accommodations. Some of our favourites include:
  • L’Fisher Hotel
  • Palmas del Mar Conference Resort Hotel
  • The Sylvia Manor
  • O Hotel
  • Avenue Suites
  • Planta Centro Bacolod Hotel
  • Go Hotels Bacolod

 

Overall, by now you should have a visual of the Masskara Festival and the city of Bacolod in general…..the streets do get transformed into a huge dance floor annually, and everyone’s a competitor! So don’t worry if your feet give in to the rhythm. No mask? No costume? No problem. Just put on a big smile and you’re good to go to the Masskara Festival! Enjoy your trip to the Philippines!

Visit information about festivals section to explore a full list of festivals happening around the world yearly!