You’ve most probably already heard of La Tomatina – the popular yet absurd festival held each year in the Spanish city of Buñol in which participants hurl tomatoes at each other. This tangy slugfest is much more than your average food fight. It’s an official ‘Festivity of International Tourist Interest’ as declared by their Department of Tourism. So what exactly happened that such a unique trend, to the say the least, came into existence and went on to achieve global popularity?
As expected from an event that is centered on something as trivial as a tomato, the alleged origin of La Tomatina is not a hundred percent truth and the smaller details could very well be additional embellishments that got attached to the story as it made its way through the grapevine.
It appears that on 29th August, 1945 (the last Wednesday of the month), the foundations for the to be tomato-wars were laid during another festival altogether – El desfile de Gigantes y Cabezudos (The Giants and Big-Head Figures parade) in Buñol. Count on the Latinos for inventing the wackiest ways of celebrating festivals. As the parade proceeded through the Plaza del Pueblo – the town square in Buñol, a group of overzealous youngsters were absorbed a bit too much by the gaiety and decided to join into the parade. And that was the crucial decision that changed the face of tourism in Buñol.
The hyperactive youth combined with the blitheness of the musicians and the supercharged local crowd turned out to be a deadly concoction which resulted in one of the participants to fall off the pageant’s float. The frenzied participant blew his top went on a violent rampage of throwing things around. The crowd, understandably angry at this ruin of the festive atmosphere, responded with equivalent animation. The street vendors’ carts full of tomatoes were the ideal artilleries for everyone and within no time, what was once a parade of giants became an open-to-all tomato slugfest.
The authorities stepped in and the chaos was brought to a halt. But the memories of that fateful day kept lingering around Buñol until the last Wednesday of the following August. The citizens couldn’t resist anymore and they intentionally replayed the events of the previous year and commenced once again, the grand tomato tussle. They even purchased their own tomatoes this time. The good old cops stepped in again. But the year after that, the fracas returned yet again. Every year, in spite of resistance, the residents of Buñol faithfully brought back the fights and the number of participants could only grow.
Threats were given and bans were imposed but by 1957, the authorities succumbed to popular demand and legalized the festival, making La Tomatina an official annual event. In 1975, the festival received a shot in the arm when Los Clavarios de San Luis Bertrán (The Army of the patron saint of Buñol) organized the festival and even supplied the elite weapons (the tomatoes).
Other theories surely exist, such as, the fruits (yes, tomatoes are fruits) were initially hurled at the local politicians or at a foul-sounding musician. Maybe they were an insulting replacement for confetti for the parade, or it was simply a bunch of pals having a food fight. Be what it may, the tomato-pelting has become an integral aspect of the Valencian city of Buñol and every year, its streets will continue to evoke in one’s mind the picture of what a ketchup factory would look like after a bomb blast.
– Rtr. Aman Vasavada
Rotaract Club of N.M College