When thrown into the middle of a bizarre festival in a distant nation, nothing of the likes we’ve really experienced in our own country, what questions might pop into mind? For example; where did my friends go? Should I try out this folk dance and get laughed at? Why is everybody throwing sangria in the air, now we’re all sticky? Where’s the bathroom? Did you say tomato fight? Ok, all those are valid but one that is always on my mind is how and why did this festival begin? What obscure origin story are these people celebrating with these crazy rituals that often come off as near-madness? Two weeks ago I went to the Fiesta de La Rama in the village of Agaete on the island of Gran Canaria. This is how the night went - we (my five Spanish companions and I) drove to the outskirts of the village, parked in this massive dirt lot with maybe 3-4 hundred other cars at around 10:30 pm. Commence drinking! We drank a lot to Spanish tongue-twisting drinking games that I’m obviously at a disadvantage for. Then at 1 am my best friend and I took an excursion to his buddies house where a crowd to large for the small room we were packed in did this party dance, waving mint leaves around and every other minute doing an up-down motion I can only relate to the ‘a little bit softer now’ bit in “Twist and Shout.” Then we regrouped with our friends, headed to the town square where thousands were reveling to live music under a web of colored streamers crisscrossing the night sky. Until about 4:30 we meandered about talking with people, dancing, singing, and drinking. Suddenly we, the crowd of happy tipsy people, are encircling a ring of police who in turn are encircling a few men holding brass instruments. I’m confused. I ask my friend what’s going on and he says wait. Then the band began to play that same song from earlier in the night with the mint leaves. And we began bouncing up and down to the music, singing along to the lyric-less tune and not entirely trying to push the police but making very little space between them and us. And this procession moved through the narrow streets over the next hour till our sweating, exhausted, mass of revelers, police, and band reached the edge of town. We make our way back to the car and sleep a few hours. La Rama had begun.
I’d noticed the night before, and more so the next morning, people carrying around these sometimes six-foot trees, bouncing them up and down in their cradled arms. So I asked my friend what the heck are they doing? It’s got to be difficult to hold a drink and a giant island-tree-thing also. Then he explains to me the festival’s origins! It goes back to times of drought on the island and when the mountain farmers were desperate for rain they would carry their withering plant life (I guess this tree was symbolic of those plants) to the town churches and pray for water. Somehow over a couple hundred years this plea turned into a celebration of music, dance, and booze. Oh, and that moshpit-esque stomp through town the night before.
So why is it important to know the origin stories of things? I guess it’s not going to save your life one day but to understand something you should know the history behind it, no? I've always thought so anyway. So asking your friends, or colleagues, or even just a stranger to explain something is not something to be shy about. The answers will enlighten you, and it’s nice in turn to explain these things to others like our friends and family back home. Maybe everyone in the U.S. is aware of the running of the bulls in Spain, but how many know why this seemingly crazy practice started? Did some people dressed in white a few hundred years ago just think one day, “hey, why not run away from our livestock in narrow streets just to see how it goes?” No, it did not happen like that. The answer is much more interesting. So if/when you make it to a festival this year, take a minute to understand why it’s there, why these people are there, and then you’ll understand why you get to be there.