MassKara Festival: A Celebration of Resilience

MassKara Festival streetdancers.

The MassKara Festival has become an icon for Bacolod City, Philippines as the City of Smiles. It is considered as the happiest and most colorful festival in the Philippines. But beyond the colorful mask and lively dance, is a sad story which was a turning point in the history of Bacolod City.

Filipinos are inherently resilient as a people, largely due to the country’s geographic location. Nature placed the Philippines right smack into the path of typhoons and along the Pacific ring of fire so Filipinos really do not have a choice but to adapt. Resilience became part of the national psyche of the Filipinos. There’s no place in the world where you can see people smiling even if they lost their homes during a typhoon.

Human-Induced Disasters

Aside from natural disasters, Filipinos also have its own share of human induced disasters. The 1980s was particularly one of the most challenging times for Negros Occidental. The province was reeling from the effects of the sugar crisis. With a mono-crop economy and having been largely dependent on the sugar industry for so long, the crisis had devastating effects to thousands whose livelihood depended on it. There was widespread insurgency and thousands of malnourished children in the province. The image of an emaciated “Batang Negros” caught global attention and became the face of the sugar crisis in Negros Occidental.

Photo by Pulitzer Prize Winner Kim Komenich from

For an archipelago of 7,641 islands, sea travel is one of the widely used means of transportation and the Philippines has its own share of some of the worst sea mishaps recorded.

One of the most devastating maritime accidents in the Philippines was the Don Juan tragedy. On April 22, 1980, the inter-island vessel M/S Don Juan carrying around a thousand Negrenses from Manila to Bcolod collided with the M/T Tacloban City and sank. An estimated 700 lives were lost in the Don Juan tragedy which was probably one of the darkest times in the history of Bacolod City.

Negrense Resilience

It was in those trying times in 1980 that a group of city officials led by Mayor Jose Montalvo Jr., artists and civic leaders conceived MassKara Festival to liven up the Charter Day Celebration of Bacolod City. Mayor Montalvo lost his wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law in the Don Juan tragedy. He was leading the Bacolodnons in facing their loss with great courage and dignity.

The term MassKara was coined by the late president of the Arts Association of Bacolod (AAB), Ely Santiago, from the English word “Mass” meaning “many or multitude of people” and the Spanish word “Kara” meaning “face”. It was how MassKara came to mean “face of the masses or a multitude of smiling faces”.

While most Philippine festivals are celebrations of good harvest, MassKara Festival celebrates the Filipino spirit that is more powerful than any disaster. MassKara festival is a reminder to Bacolodnons and Negrenses of how they triumphed over adversity. More than anything else, MassKara Festival is a symbol of the resilience of the people of Negros Occidental.

If you want to know more about MassKara Festival, here’s a first-timer’s guide to MassKara Festival.