Palangga! A word which brings so much affection especially among the Negrenses. And all that love – and smiles – is bountiful in Bacolod, the capital of the sugar producing province of Negros Occidental.
Smiles are sweeter especially during the annual Masskara Festival which is set this October (plan early as flights are usually packed). Each year, over a dozen barangays as well as schools from the elementary and secondary division compete in the much-awaited street-dancing competition.
To those who are not aware how this festival started, Masskara was born in the early 80’s when the prices of sugar in the export market dropped due to the introduction of corn syrup. The market suffered considerably and the impact on the lives of the Negrenses was devastating.
To uplift the spirit of the Negrenses, local artists headed by cartoonist Ely Santiago thought of creating a festival of smiles where people wear masks and participate in a fun parade. This activity gave birth to what is now known all over the world as the Masskara Festival.
Fast forward o more than 3 decades later and Masskara has grown by leaps and bounds. More activities are introduced, tourist arrivals have grown tremendously and the costume designs became more dazzling as ever!
Before, masks were much simpler and made with papier-mâché. Today, the masks are much heavier even weighing as much as 5 kilos! It is now made with fiberglass to make it more durable even when rains start to fall. Each mask is different from contingent to contingent and this is where the creativity of the locals shine best! Masks are now studded with rhinestones, laces and other fancy stuff; there was even a time when a mask was covered in gold leaf! It was a sight to behold making each mask a souvenir item worth keeping for a long time.
Costumes then were much simpler. Costumes for male and female dancers are different, too. But today, the intricate costumes are homogenized that you are not aware if the one wearing the mask is a male or female dancer. Indeed, Masskara remains as one of the Philippines best festivals in terms of costume design.
All these elements – masks, costumes, the dance, the merriment – make Masskara a must-see event among festival watchers, especially among photographers.
So the next time you plan to visit Bacolod, make sure it is Masskara Festival season. I am sure that it will bring out the sweetest smile from your face!