Negros Occidental, a province in the Philippines, is the former home of huge sugar plantations and rich Spanish families who came to make their fortune in the sugar industry. Although the sugar industry continues, other industries also are taking root. But the culture and traditions of the province continue to be heavily influenced both by the Spanish sugar baron culture and by island natives. The festivals of the area, commemorating patron saints and important events and dates, make Negros Occidental a fun destination for those interested in colorful celebrations and distinctive culinary experiences.
Festivals are a large part of life and tourism in Negros Occidental, and every city has at least one. In the capital city of Bacolod, the festival of MassKara brings a Mardi Gras feeling in October. This is a feast of entertaining in the home, partying in the streets and is a prime opportunity to shop for the area's famed arts and crafts. MassKara translates to "a mass of smiling faces" and is a feast of thanksgiving for the blessings of life. The Mudpack Festival takes place each June 24 in Murcia. This is a celebration of the earth that focuses on the importance of the environment. A parade of street dancing in which the participants wear almost nothing but mud provides a mix of environmental awareness and fun for tourists and participants alike. The revolution against Spanish colonialism is celebrated in the city of Bago at the traditional Cinco de Noviembre (Fifth of November) festival. On that date in 1898, the Negrenses, the native people of Negros Occidental, united to overthrow the last of the Spanish forces. The Filipino troops used fake rifles and cannons to bluff the Spaniards into surrender.
Customs and Beliefs
The culture of Negros Occidental has been heavily influenced by both the Spanish and the later American occupations of the region. The indigenous religion long gave way to Roman Catholicism as the dominant religion. The people of Negros Occidental value hospitality, family, humor and hard work. When a family cooks a special meal, they share a bit of it with their neighbors. Because of the sugar industry and the region's later diversification in the 1970s, Negros Occidental has long been a province of industry and comparative wealth. Cockfighting is a big sport in Negros Occidental and is one of the industries that have helped the area diversify. If a gambler is in mourning, he is not allowed to engage in this sport because it is believed that it can only end in loss.
On Christmas Eve, it is customary to eat bread that is spread with one of many different toppings and drink soft drinks. New Year's Eve is a bigger tradition, and the meals are larger and more festive. Firecrackers are lit on New Year's Eve to keep bad luck away from the home and its residents. They also clear the way for good luck in the coming year. The New Year also is a time of housecleaning and making sure all bedding, curtains and other soft goods are washed. It is customary to stay home on New Year's Day and avoid any shopping. To shop on New Year's Day is believed to herald a year of shopping. Other practices that want to be avoided during the coming year are also avoided on New Year's Day. In addition, the first 12 days of the new year are believed to represent the months of the coming year. The weather on each of the first 12 days presages the weather for the corresponding month.
Sugar is central both to the history of Negros Occidental and to the cuisine. Pastries and confections abound, and favorites include guapple pie, made from an oversized variety of guava, and pinasugbo, a type of banana fritter. Other highlights of the cuisine include inasal, which is barbecued marinated chicken. In fact, barbecue is a traditional food throughout the province. Look for foods heavy in Spanish influence, lots of sugar and family recipes handed down with extreme secrecy.