The Social Impacts of La Tomatina

Posted: April 26, 2017

La Tomatina is a festival, which has its origin in Spain and involves fighting using tomatoes. The practice started as early as 1944. It has since spread to many countries, where it attracts many participants from different parts of the word. Nonetheless, the practice is rampant in Spain more than any other country in the globe. Since its time of origin, the Spanish people celebrate this cultural event in Bunol.  Bunol is a small town located in Valencia in the East of Spain near the Mediterranean.   According to Byrant (2016), there is no explicit literature to explain the social and cultural significance of this event. However, from the beginning, the Spaniards have used La Tomatina for entertainment purposes.

According to Hannam and Williams (2011), the first event of La Tomatina happened in 1944 after the locals were disgruntled with the way the government was running affairs. As a result, they started to demonstrate, rechanneling their anger to the local authorities instead. They attacked the town council with tomatoes in what turned out to be an entertaining event. The celebrations were fascinating that the local decided to repeat it in the following year and other subsequent years.

From then onwards, the festival evolved tremendously to become what it is today. Originally, the event was not customary under the law. However, when it became a popular event in the country, the government introduced various legislation to promote safety and orderliness. For instance, the government set four rules directing how activities should happen in the course of the event to make it safe. First, the organizer must squash the tomatoes, which participants will use during the festival. Unlike whole and unripe tomatoes, squashed ones will bring minimal injuries when hurled on people. Secondly, members must throw tomatoes at all times and not any other object. This directive will prevent occasions where ruthless people throw dangerous objects like stones and bottles among many other things, which may be fatal. Thirdly, when it is time for trucks to enter the street, participants must create space for them. Orderliness in this particular stage of the occasion will minimize injuries and deaths, which occur when trucks run over the participants. Finally, the event should end once there is the firing of a shot indicating closure happens. The directive will ensure uniformity in the behavior of public and therefore their safety. Similarly, it will facilitate a quick transition from a celebratory mood to that of usual socio-economic routine (Tomei, 2012).

Despite the vague reasons underlying its emergence, La Tomatina has unique features, which make it a hot cake to the rest of the world. First is about its timing. La Tomatina happens on a Wednesday every year. Furthermore, the Wednesday must be during the month of August.  The schedule is precise that it does not change whatsoever. In the eve of this day, the town and the local government start to prepare for this colorful event. Additionally, local restraints, hotels, and other businesses begin preparations to receive tourists (Hannam & Williams, 2011). 

The second unique feature about the event is the way people celebrate it. Celebrations begin a week before the actual event. It starts with a cooking contest among the participants followed by feasts that involve eating and drinking. After the feast, people parade in the streets to witness massive fireworks whose purpose is to usher the celebrations. In the actual day of the event, organizers hang a slice of ham at the top of a slippery pole erected in Palo Jabon Square. The event begins at 10 am when a person from the crowd climbs the pole and retrieves the ham and last for the next one hour. Once the ham is off the pole, a loud alarm goes off ushering trucks full of overripe and squashed tomatoes into the streets (Galván, 2014). 

The fun begins when participants start casting these tomatoes at each other. In most cases, the fight turns out into war among sexes during which male and female members target each. The participants get time to enjoy, socialize and learn more about each other.  After an hour, a signal goes off indicating an end to the celebrations. By this time, the street is full of tomato sauce and the participants submerged in it. Firefighting trucks from the local authority then enter the street. They start to wash the acidic sauce off the participants’ bodies and the streets using jets of water, leaving them cleaner than before (Lior & Steele, 2010).

According to Lopez (2015) and Galvan (2014), La Tomatina has an enormous impact on the socio-economic organization of the living in Bunol. First, it helps in marketing Bunol and Spain as a hub of vibrant culture. As a result, people from over the world visit the country witness this culture. In the process, they get to discover and venture into new business opportunities within Spain generating income to the residents.

Secondly, the event is symbolic to the Spanish people. Owing to its organization, La Tomatina is among the unique cultural practices in the world. It gives the native people pleasure and satisfaction to identify with it. In each single year, they witness the inflow of tourists from various countries coming to observe their culture. Despite the economic significance involved, there is a sense of pride and admiration for their country and culture. Additionally, the event serves as the primary cultural image for the Spaniards (Sanchez, 2011)  

However, La Tomatina celebrations have some negative impacts on the environment just as it brings benefits. For instance, the smell emanating from the overripe tomato sauce causes air pollution. People living and running businesses in the town become uncomfortable operating in a foul smelling area during the entire period of the activity. Moreover, the participants, sirens, and trucks involved during the festival cause a lot of noise that affects the nearby people (Williams, 2010).

The festival also carries some health risks for those who participate. The 2009 health statistics showed that seven people who had taken part in previous year’s celebration had sustained deep cuts and needed suturing. One of them suffered a heart attack, two of them had hypothermia and three got panic attacks (Taylor, 2011).

Many secondary sources have information about La Tomatina. This study reviewed 15 sources: six textbooks, five articles, and four websites, which, together helped create a clearer and complete picture on La Tomatina. The textbooks used were majorly history books talking about the Spanish people and their culture. Just like journal articles, they helped provide insight into the origin of the practice and its evolution over the years. The publication of these materials happened from 2010 upwards, hence harbor the most current information about this historic event. They were also elaborate in explaining the economic and social impact it carries to Bunol and Spain.

On the other hand, websites were important in providing a vivid imagination about the festival. Unlike books, the websites had pictures showing how people prepare for and enjoy during La Tomatina. Most importantly, the contents of this websites were from the aftermath of the celebrations. As a result, they provided real information about the festival. However, they were shallow in providing information about the origin of the practice and its significance to the local community.

 In a critical analysis of La Tomatina, it is evident that the festival is unique in its way. First, there is no explicit literature explaining its origin and the socio-cultural or even religious significance. Instead, it started as a joyful demonstration and evolved into a recurrent entertainment event. Furthermore, from the existing knowledge, it 's hard to understand whether every part of Spain has been practicing this festival since its time of origin. For that reason, it 's hard to tell if this is a Bunol culture or Spanish culture (Lawrence, 2012).

La Tomatina is a crucial cultural event to the Spanish people and more so those of Bunol because it generates them income. It has also propelled developments within the town of Bunol in the form of hotels, restaurants, and roads among other things.  Besides, it has made the country famous to the rest of the continent as the founder of a unique culture, which has now spread to Colombia and North America. As such, it has provided a significant tool for promoting unity because it encourages socialization with people from different parts of the world (Bryant, 2016).

However, the event puts into waste a significant amount of vegetable that can otherwise be of more importance elsewhere. According to Cala, over 3, 000 tons of tomatoes go into waste every time there is a La Tomatina festival. These amounts are too huge that they can help feed thousands of starving people. Instead, prioritization of the event has seen millions of tons of tomatoes flow down the trenches without benefiting humanity. It is for this reason that a country like India banned the practice soon after it had started (Edwards, 2016)

From this study, the theme of commodification is evident. According to Appadurai, commodification is the process of trading things that in usual circumstances do not have economic value. They may include ideas, people or services. From the time in antiquity, culture and cultural practices have remained intimate to communities but rarely used for economic benefit. In Bunol however, La Tomatina is more than a cultural activity. All people that take part in this annual event pay a mandatory amount of money in participation fee. Cara (2013), Lawrence (2012) and Wynick (2013) argue that over 20,000 people attend this activity annually. Furthermore, each of this people must pay at least 10 Euros before he or she gets permission to take part in this event. Given the number of individuals that come from all over the globe to witness this event, there is no doubt Bunol collects enormous revenues from this celebrations. For instance, in 2012, the event generated the city 300,000 Euros from participation fees alone.

However, a significant percentage of people who come to witness and participate in this event are tourists. They need excellent hotels to eat and have fun, lodgings to sleep, food, bars and restaurants for drinks among many things. This prospect has propelled the mushrooming of many restraints and hotels in Bunol. Similarly, the impact of La Tomatina has promoted business in the town more so in the month of August when enterprises make a lot of money in profits (Chislett, 2010).  

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