Bacolod’s Masskara festival began in 1980 as a response to the Negros island sugar crash. Nowadays the island is diversified, but the prosperity of Negros was at that point largely dependant on sugar cane, and when the market crashed the population was left without a contingency plan. As a response, instead of wallowing in their ill fortune, the Filipinos put on a festival and wore smiling masks to show that everything would be all right in the end.
It’s a good story and has the added benefit of being true. Today the Masskara celebration still revolves around the mask motif and has become pretty well known throughout the country. The highlights of the days are the dance competitions and, of the nights, the street festivities and live music along Lacson Street.
I appreciate Masskara, mainly because it manages to distinguish itself from the glut of Philippine celebrations by theme if not necessarily content. Unlike Iloilo’s Dinagyang festival, which (judging solely by the one time I’ve attended it) seems to lack focus and is rather hypocritical thematically, celebrating as it does the native culture that is in reality relegated to rural mountain areas and city slums, Masskara seems to have a center around which the festivities revolve: the “bahala na,” come-what-will attitude is really a part of the national character.
I was only in Bacolod for one night this Masskara, but it brought back memories of our pre-service training last year, when we were fresh and excited and hadn’t yet been beaten into hardened, cynical lumps of melancholy. I didn’t take a lot of photos – it was overcast and the light was bad, so I mostly amused myself with taking pictures at slow shutter speeds and seeing what came out the other end.