No, the tuna is not only a fish. In Spanish the word “tuna” refers to a group of students, all dressed up in traditional costume who sing their serenades to lovely, modern day maidens just as others have done in centuries past.
While tunas are not exclusive to Andalucia, they are definitely a big part of the university culture in southern Spain, especially in cities like Seville. They generally form through different “facultades” (university departments, like Medicine, Law, etc) with each one distinguished by a different colour banner that members wear over their costume.
The tunas go way back in history with some of the earliest records from the 1200’s when students went about singing and playing music out of the pure need to survive and pay their school fees. Over time, the traditional groups evolved into something almost akin to the university “fraternities” in the USA, with initiation rites, veteran members looking out for newer members and a sort of insiders’ club feeling to the whole thing.
Nowadays tuna still dress up in all the traditional gear – the tight waistcoat, traditional pants, the banner and often the cape. They also still play stringed instruments and might have a tambourine or an accordion along as well. And they still sing their serenades as they did in the past. Perhaps the biggest change is that young women are no longer constrained by strict social norms, and therefore no longer await these charming men under careful supervision. Instead they are much more likely to gather for a wild, all-girls party several hours before the tuna arrive – by which time they’ve worked themselves into a veritable frenzy via singing, dancing and playing a variety of party games that involve heavy drinking.
Modern evolution aside, the heart of the tuna spirit is still alive in that many a tuna has his eye on a girl who will be at the party. And if she’s lucky, at the end of the group’s performance, he’ll throw her his cape and she’ll catch it…