We use cookies to improve the user experience of our website. Cookie Get More Information

Home » Culture » Spain » Society » Customs » La Tuna

La Tuna

La Tuna

La Tuna in Spain. Find out more information about the Tuna Groups and the Tuna tradition, probably one of the most famous Spanish University traditions.

History of Tuna Groups

In 1212, during the reign of Alfonso VIII, the first Studium Generale was founded in Palencia -an institution that would give rise to what we now know as universities. These "general studies" and their successors were attended by young people, including sopistas, the forerunners of the present-day tunos.

The sopistas were poor students, who made the most of their musical talent, cheerfulness and japing to stroll through the towns, visiting streets, squares and convents and entertaining people in return for a bowl of soup and a few coins to help them pay for their studies. At night they played beneath balconies, serenading the women they had their eyes on. They were called sopistas not only because of the real soup their efforts were rewarded with, but also because it was often said of them that they lived de la sopa boba -a colloquial expression that is more or less equivalent to "sponging". They always had their wooden spoon and fork at the ready to dive in whenever the occasion arose, and this wooden cutlery has become a typical symbol of tuna groups.

The Tuno Costume

The tuno costume is probably one of the most characteristic and authentic parts of the whole tradition. The striking black costume has hardly changed at all over the centuries, and is very similar to the clothes worn by the original students at Spain's first universities.

The pájaro (bird), grillo (cricket) or cuervo (crow) -all names used for the costume nowadays, consists of a jubón (doublet), beca (colored ribbon worn over the chest and shoulder), shirt, stockings, bombachos (baggy breeches), and shoes or boots.

The beca was used to indicate that the wearer was the holder of a fellowship (still called a beca in Spanish), which provided a grant to cover at least part of his study expenses. The colors of the beca and the coat of arms embroidered on it identify the university and school or faculty that the tuno belongs to. The beca is given to the tuno by his companions when they consider that he has enough experience, and is fit to represent his tuna group and, by extension, his university.

Another characteristic garment is the long cape, which is clasped around the neck and flows open in front. Besides being traditional, this cape also serves to keep out the cold whenever the tuna is on serenading-suitor duty. The cape also provides a suitable surface for sowing the coats of arms of all the towns and countries that the tuno has visited on his travels, as web as multicolored ribbons with affectionate dedications from won-over women-or even Mom. Like the tuna song goes, "cada cinta que adorna su capa guarda un trocito de corazón" (every ribbon that adorns his cape holds a piece of somebody's heart).

The Inination Period

One of the strongest tuna traditions is the apprenticeship period, which enables any would-be tuno to acquire the experience and maturity necessary to survive such a picturesque lifestyle.

This custom goes back to the earliest days of tuna groups, with young students being tutored by veteran members in all the secrets of student life. This initiation, during which the would-be tuno is usually called a novato ("novice" or "newbie") or aprendiz ("apprentice"), usually lasts one year, depending to how fast he learns. Once completed, he will have acquired sufficient musical and social skill to become a full-fledged tuno in his own right.

The initiation rites include: