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Friday, October 7, 2011


Masskara Festival, Another Look.

In the small city, found  in the small island shaped like a man's boot, where I live,  a  festival has grown where every month of October,  people wear smiling painted masks of diverse designs and colors, in bright colored costumes, and take to the streets dancing  in superbly choreographed movements and steps. I like this part of the show so to speak, but I hate the traffic jams, the unruly crowd, the deafening, eardrum blasting, sounds blaring out of the enormous boom boxes spread out in the corners of the streets and the park, and the pile of litter and human trash left by the trail of  merriment.

What is obnoxious is the orgiastic public display of drunkenness and wild abandon, as the festival drew in a bevy of drug abusers, and swaggering toughies.  When I was pretty much a younger man I love to be in the middle of this melee and enjoyed the primal experience. I noticed things have changed for me after  reaching middle age. My aging taste could hardly savor anymore the excitement.

How this Maskara (Mask Festival) festival came into being is quite interesting.   

In the early 80's the island called Negros, named after its native aborigines   called Aetas or pygmies (small bronze colored people) by the Spanish colonizers, met very hard times. The island's main produce which is sugar wasn't doing quite well in the  market, cost of production was high that the “hacienderos” (sugar barons) terribly in debt, suffered losses  which greatly affected the economy. The severe financial crisis caused  hunger in the farm and scarcity in the city. Money was tight, and hard to earn. Most lands were abandoned.

It was during this hard time that the government, at the suggestion of some wise and enterprising community leaders along with the local artists, created a Festival of smiles, if only to blow away the cloud of despair, or brighten up the gloomy atmosphere, by giving  the people a festive spirit to  forget their troubles.

The festival was further conceived to show the fortitude of the inhabitants  that they could still smile even in the midst of difficulties and surmount the crisis.  

A noted artist and son of the island Ely Santiago, cooked up the word Masskara, for the mass of people wearing masks (from the word cara meaning face) of smiling faces. At least the faces of sadness could be hidden beneath the smiling masks. 

So it came to pass that this Masskara Festival was born. The original celebration was a hit in 1980, that people flocked to the city to join in this revelry and witness the exquisitely adorned masked dancers who made the streets bloom with different colors. Forgetting  their sorrow people drank heavily in the streets and danced to the beat of latin music. All the beers and the liquors were sold out. There was good business, and the people at least for awhile forgot their troubles.  Eventually the tourists came, business flourished, the politicians loved it, so the Masskara Festival stayed with us.

There is one thing, though, I haven't figured out yet. Is there any redeeming social value in this?

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