Masskara Festival: Sad stories behind the smiling masks

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | October 25,2023 - 08:00 AM

Masskara Festival

Masskara Festival

Masks are widely used to create alternative realities and help wearers to suspend their everyday identities and assume new ones.

The history of Masskara Festival of Bacolod City is often linked with an unfortunate incident that occurred more than four decades ago, the sinking of M/V Don Juan.

The vessel left Manila for Bacolod at 1:00 p.m. on April 22, 1980 where most passengers were vacationers, students coming home after graduation or a break in big schools in Manila like the University of the Philippines, many belonging to families of wealthy and illustrious Negrenses.

At about 10:30 p.m., the M/V Don Juan collided off the Tablas Strait in Mindoro with the M/T Tacloban City, an oil tanker owned by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC). The M/V Don Juan sank where reported casualties were 18 dead and 115 missing.

In Negros Navigation Co., Inc., vs. Miranda and De la Vctoria (GR. No. 110398 November 7, 1997), the Supreme Court found Negros Navigation negligent in tolerating the playing of mahjong by the ship captain and other crew members while on board the ship. The captain and the crew failed to take steps to prevent the collision or at least delay the sinking of the ship and supervise the abandoning of the ship.

The Court likewise ruled that Negros Navigation failed to keep the M/V Don Juan seaworthy so much so that the ship sank within 10 to 15 minutes of its impact with the M/T Tacloban City.

The Court also found that M/V Don Juan was overloaded. The total number of persons allowed on the ship was 864, of whom 810 are passengers, but there were actually 1,004 on board the vessel when it sank, 140 persons more than the maximum number that could be safely carried by it.

Aside from the M/V Don Juan tragedy, the MassKara festival also traced its roots back in the 1980s when the province’s economy was on a downhill slide as its main livelihood, sugar, was priced at an all-time low because of alternatives introduced in the market.

Unlike ordinary fiestas in most parts of the country held in honor of their respective patron saints, the crisis gave birth to the MassKara festival.

The event was first held during the City’s Charter Day celebration on October 19, 1980 to lift the spirits of the locals and bring back the smiles on their faces and as a declaration  that “no matter how tough and bad the times were, Bacolod City was going to pull through, survive, and in the end, triumph.”

The word “Masskara” is coined from mass (a multitude of people), and the Spanish word cara (face), thus forming MassKara (a multitude of faces).

The word is also a pun on maskara, Filipino for “mask” (itself from Spanish máscara).

In the early years, the smiling masks were made of papier maché but were easily damaged by downpours during the performances. The mask is now made of fiberglass that can withstand heavy rains.

Just like other Philippine festivals, Masskarra is a visual extravaganza, a feast for the eyes. The artistry displayed during these celebrations is awe-inspiring, creating a visual spectacle.

The main feature of the Masskara Festival is the street dancing festivity in which groups of dancers wearing happy masks, and colorful costumes dance and gyrate along the city streets to Latin music beat.

Masskara festival seemed to be more challenging because performers wear both headdress and mask while dancing in the streets.

The huge headdresses are the centerpiece attractions in most festivals like the Ati-Atihan of Kalibo in Aklan, Sinulog of Cebu, Dinagyang of Iloilo, and  Dinagsa of Cadiz City.

The large headdress is normally made from assorted materials like sequence, glitter or silver dust, cheap fancy crystals, feathers with different colors, assorted beads, lace, cords, cloth and pvc foam that are assembled using glue stick and  fuzzy wire.

The performers require precise movement for them not to hit the next people dancing beside them.

For Masskara, the level of difficulty is higher as synchronized dancing alone is made harder due to the weight of  the mask and the headdress, both weighing on average  one to five kilos each. Vision and breathing is also a challenge. Some participants  collapse during the street dancing.

Another festival that uses masks is Moriones in Marinduque.

Morions roamed the streets from Holy Monday to Easter Sunday dressed in colorful Roman soldiers’ costumes and fierce looking masks and helmets made of wood, papier-mâché, carved wood and other indigenous materials and brightly-colored tunics. They engage in mock swordfights, play pranks on children, or do antics while safely hiding their identity behind their mask.

Morions engage in the street theater as their vow of penance, thanksgiving or performing an act of self-cleansing. They have to endure the hot costumes, hunger and thirst during their long walk around town.

A performer in a mask is obscuring or concealing his identity in order to embody another one and to reveal new possibilities.

In a mask, we are faceless and classless, ageless and anonymous.

(Peyups is the moniker of University of the Philippines.Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)


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