Masskara Festival: a guide to the Philippines' festival of smiles

A child in colourful costume and mask dancing in a crowd, Philippines Happy Halloween by Joshua Santino. Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY 2.0)

Location: Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Philippines

Dates: weekend nearest 19 October

Level of participation: 3 – smile with the masked masses

MassKara’s name is a fusion of the English word for ‘many people’ and cara, the Spanish word for face. It’s a perfect of this Filipino fiesta, in which Bacolod’s 450,000-plus residents take to the streets wearing masks with radiant smiles.

Unlike the country’s other major celebrations, such as Ati-Atihan, MassKara does not pay homage to Santo Niño. The tropical masked ball began in the early 80s in response to two specific crises. Negros Occidental, nicknamed ‘the sugar bowl’, was suffering from depressed sugar-cane prices, and Negrenses lost their lives in a crash involving a large ship, the Don Juan. Officially, the event marks the anniversary of the completion of the city’s charter, but its most important function is to remind Bacolod of its nickname: ‘the city of smiles’.

The beaming masks on show resemble everything under the Filipino sun: sea creatures, starfish, peacocks, exotic flowers, vegetable men. Everywhere, plumes and fins explode out of swaying temples. Groups from schools to civic associations assemble in moulded clay or papier-mâché masks and glittering jump-suits.

One event that doesn’t involve outlandish costumes, but does feature lots of smiles, is the MassKara Queen beauty pageant.

Local attractions: the Negros Museum focuses on the island of Negros’ rich history, from Spanish missions to cane plantations and revolution.

More info: www.themasskarafestival.com

See other festivals in October here.