October 25, 2003
Long ago, Tampa pioneer Gavino Gutierrez tried to cultivate guava commercially here, but was unsuccessful because of the climate and rising land prices. However, a local newspaper columnist was successful in planting the idea that if New York is the "Big Apple," then it follows that Tampa must be the "Big Guava." And that's how it all began. For thirteen years, the mythical Mama Guava has led her loyal band of followers in the Mama Guava Stumble parade. Although Mama has sworn to take the "bore" out of Ybor, her job -- quite frankly -- is an easy one, at least for this one day.
The Myth of Mama Guavaween
Here is Saturday's schedule of Guavaween events for families in the daytime, and adults in the evening. Events take place throughout the streets of Ybor City:
DAYTIME: One of the biggest changes in Guavaween over the years has been the addition of the Guavaween Family FunFest. Aong with amusement rides, hay rides and the like. Some of the events below are subject to change.
- 11:00 a.m. - 4 p.m. Guavaween Family FunFest featuring More TV32 "Silly Scavenger Hunt", Mix 100.7 Creature Feature Corner, Radio Disney 1380 Family Fun Concert, Rumba & Viva present "Spooky Story Time", Creatures of Delight Haunted House & "Create a Creature" Workshop, Home Depot Kids Workshop, Mix 100.7 "Safe Trick or Treat", and Children's Costume Parade & Contest.
- EVENING: 4 p.m. - ? Guavaween Night of costumed Revelry featuring "Guava Love It!" Cooking Contest, National Entertainment on multiple stages, Local Entertainment on The Weekly Planet Local state presented by Star 95.7, Mama Guava Stumble Parade presented by Michelob. "Features" Costume Contest.
In 1801, in a steamy grotto where the roots of palmetto trees intermingled with those of the guava (a location better known as Ybor City), Mama Guava was born of a mysterious union between Jose Gaspar and a scrub palmetto. The earth trembled and grunted; dark subterranean waters growled their approval and this girl child swathed in guava paste burst forth into the world.
The Myth of Papa Guavaween
Abandoned by her scurrilous father, the baby lay in the grotto until she was discovered by a young rabbinical student on an exchange program at the convent known in those days as Our Lady of Perpetual Fruit. There, Mama Guava spent her childhood. As she ripened with adolescence, the novitiates found themselves disturbed by the seething intensity of this young girl who was moved at odd times to singing ecstatic choruses of "Guava-Maria" and "Guava-Nagila." Finally, Mama Guava grew tired of boiling her jelly in the closet. With a defiant cry of "I can't get no satisfaction," she fled the convent to make her way in the world and write the Book of Love.
Moving through the murky layers of international subculture over the next several centuries, this lusty creature of the night left legendary exploits that were only recounted in whispers. It is said that an evening with Mama Guava reduced strong men into blithering idiots moaning in their mindless desire for another taste of her fruit. It was Mama Guava who caused Pavlov's dogs to salivate. It was Mama Guava who provided the inspiration for Mardi Gras and Carnivale. It was Mama Guava who taught Janis Joplin to sing. Now, Mama Guava, accompanied by two polar bears she collected in her recent attempt to melt the permafrost in the Antarctic, returns to the place of her birth. She has proclaimed that she will abandon her veil of secrecy to take the "bore" out of Ybor and prove once and for all that the Big Guava is succulent, juicy, and ripe for greatness. Her followers will convene to celebrate her re-emergence on the holiday named for her: Guavaween.
It is said he has always been there. The ancient ones who settled the land around the bay claim to have seen a spirit they refer to only as Guavaloxcl . . . a strange and large creature who would appear out of nearby swaps each year at the harvesting of the guavas.
History of Guavaween
Unfortunately, Guavaloxcl liked to mingle with the native, but he carried with him the aroma of old yogurt and chili peppers. To keep him away from the villages, each year at the harvest moon the natives would go to the edge of the swamp and leave a gift offering of guava turnovers and a virgin queen (if one was available).
Centuries later, when the cigar workers came to the land and built their village of Ybor, they soon began to hear rumors of a strange presence who would wander the streets at night. At first they thought it was only the lack of a good sewage system, but they noticed that it only happened at a certain time of year.
During that period, strange things would happen in the village—guava pastries would disappear from bakeries, cigars would be missing from the factories and the local women would gossip about a mysterious stranger they met at the cantina who could dance and charm them like no other.
It was on a crisp and clear night in 1887, the night of the full moon that he finally appeared. Striding down the center of Seventh Avenue, the great man dressed in gold and green announced that he was Papa Guava, that it was Guavaween, and that his needs had to be met.
Frightened, the citizens began tossing guava pastries and Cuban sandwiches in his direction, but he was not satisfied. Unfortunately, that particular year, there was a shortage of virgin queens and Papa Guava went into rage, threatening to call out the creatures of the night.
Suddenly, from a second story window, a voice called out, "Hey big boy! I got your guavas up here!" It was the legendary Mama Guava, calling down from the pool hall where she had been hustling the cigar workers for their checks and free cigars. And so the famous union was born and Ybor City was saved.
Papa Guava disappeared soon after. It was rumored he had joined forces with the pirate Jose Gaspar to teach him the art of urban pillaging in the Caribbean. Mama Guava, in a depression, is said to have joined a revolutionary front in Argentina and later was seen in India where she was thought to have fallen for the Maharaja of Bolicheevan.
It would not be until another cool, crisp night in 1985 that a peculiar, slightly familiar aroma, would again sweep down the streets of a dying Ybor City. It was Papa Guava, reunited with the Queen of all Guavas, back to restore Ybor City to its rightful place with the great cities of the world.
And although all thought that the last virgin queens were long gone, the mythical children of the mythical Mama and Papa GuavaÂ—those fabulous GuavettesÂ—were born to ensure that never again would there be a shortage of moral character in Ybor City!
The St. Pete Times says:
Definitely not for the faint of heart. This local Mardi Gras lights up the streets of Ybor City on October 31 with a bright tapestry of costumes and oddities. A Family Fun Fest is planned from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., music on the stages will be from 4 p.m. to midnight and the Mama Guava Stumble (parade) is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. For more information, call CC Events at (813) 621-7121.
The annual Guavaween Festival was started in Ybor City in 1985 as a fund raiser for the now defunct Playmakers Theater and the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce. The name, chosen by event organizers, was an adaptation of the term "The Big Guava," a nickname for Tampa coined in the 1970's by Tampa Tribune columnist, Steve Otto, who was then a columnist at The Tampa Times. The setting is said to have been patterned after "Mardi Gras", which is why we decided to style our site to this setting.
Guavaween Celebration Tampa, Florida. A Halloween celebration based on Tampa's nickname, "The Big Guava." Each year the zany celebration features the mythical Mama Guava, who has sworn to take the "bore" out of Ybor City, and a parade of her devoted followers. Events include the "Mama Guava Stumble" (a satirical parade), street parties, music, live entertainment, dancing and food. Annually, the last Saturday in October. 813-621-7121
1986: Year two. Mama Guava rides in on a litter, borne by bare-chested men. At the end, they drop her, splitting her costume.
Guavaween Web Sites
1987: A squabble over proceeds puts Guavaween in the hands of a for-profit group, Guavaween Inc. Balls are held at the Cuban Club, Ybor Square and in the Hillsborough Community College parking lot. Party-goers are allowed to consume alcohol in the roped-off streets as they move from one celebration to the other.
Says Maria Mendez of Guavaween Inc.: "We'd like to get Guavaween to be like Mardi Gras some day, but for now it's just Bohemian: footloose, fancy-free and open-minded."
1988: Costume creativity reigns. There's a car powered by the "gas" caused by Ybor's own black beans, singing jars of guava jelly, a man in a tie-dye T-shirt yells "Die, yuppie scum!" from a beach buggy.
1989: Guavaween grows. Tampa police estimate a crowd of 100,000. But not everyone is out for fun. One man, dressed as a mugger, commits an armed robbery, taking $40 and a rented Freddy Krueger costume. Police arrest an 18-year-old later.
1990: Crowd is 120,000, not counting a squad of state beverage control agents dressed in civilian clothes. They arrest twice as many people as the Tampa Police Department. The youngest offender is 12.
"I think that tells you there is a problem, and you can see why we should be out there," says a beverage control sergeant.
1991: City officials ask Guavaween organizers to beef up security. They spend close to $30,000 fencing a 21-block area and providing additional security. But the fence isn't completed on time.
The crowd is estimated at 250,000. One man is shot in the back for no apparent reason as he walks to his car. He survives. In all, there are more than 100 arrests and nearly 40 rescue calls.
City officials question if Guavaween is worth the risk to public safety.
1992: Mama Guava, whose identity has always been kept secret, gives an interview, revealing a few details of her real life. She has kids and teaches school. "I'm a little bit of everybody," she says.
1993: Heavy rain pelts Guavaween but the parade still goes on. The crowd splits into two camps: voyeurs and exhibitionists. The voyeurs take refuge under the overhangs of stores along Seventh Avenue, while the exhibitionists parade down the center of the street and laugh at the rain.
1994: Trying to cure Guavaween's image problems, the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce decides to turn Guavaween over to a professional promoter, CC Event Productions. Budweiser becomes the main sponsor and, for the first time, people are charged $5 admission to Ybor. National musical acts All 4 One and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts perform.
To offset the racy nighttime festivities, Guavaween Family Fun Fest is added. Kids can trick or treat at Ybor Square, make ghost hand puppets or even get tattoos -- albeit temporary ones. "Halloween is really for kids," says one parent in attendance.
1995: After years of drunken mayhem and bad press, Guavaween features the lowest number of arrests for years. "It was just like it was the first few years," says Mama Guava.
1996: The year of the Butthole Surfers controversy. Ybor merchants and Tampa City Council worry the band, along with Type O Negative, who have been known to expose themselves on stage, might cause crowd control problems. The council debates canceling Guavaween. Parade promoters say they are only trying to attract more younger people. The event is held, under tight security. The Butthole Surfers and Type O Negative perform late, drawing a large crowd, without a problem.
1997: Musical acts are toned down. Guavaween '97 features classic rocker Edgar Winter and the country-western band Buffalo Club.
1998: Papa Guava pulls out. Long a grand marshal along with Mama Guava, Papa Guava, aka Steve Otto, a columnist for the Tampa Tribune, calls the event "too raunchy." CC Events scrambles for a replacement, booking Edward Leslie, a wrestler and friend of Hulk Hogan, who wears leather chaps instead of traditional purple guava costume.
1999: Last Guavaween of the century. Grand marshals this year: Mama Guava and drag queens from Pleasuredome. CC Events organizers say they want to return the event to its creative side.