In the year of 1212, in Spain, the first “Studim Generale” arises in Palencia by order of the King D. Afonso VIII, which would be the first version of today’s universities. Some time after, King D. Dinis orders the General Studies of Lisbon (1285) to be built, which, due to the problems between the population and the students, was soon transferred to Coimbra- giving birth to the first Portuguese university (designated as such). Students from all over the country and its vicinity would reach out to the General Studies that were created. Thus, the appearance of the “Sopistas” in Spain, the ancestors of the present “Tunos”.
The “Sopistas” were poor students who, with their songs, charm and playfulness would pass through noble homes, convents, streets, and public squares, most of the time in exchange for a plate of soup (thus, their name “sopistas”) or of a coin that would help them pay for their studies. When the night fell and the bells rand, signaling the time to return home, they would sing serenades to the damsels which they wanted to woo, being many times chased after by the university’s police (seen that returning home was mandatory for students). That is the reason the “Sopistas” started using long black capes; so that, in the dark of night, they would be able to hide away from the police.
During the Middle Ages, the behaviour of the university students, who lived as troubadours (bards) and mountebanks (tricksters), was a common aspect all over Europe. To this type of student was given the name of “Goliard”. In 1300, an article appears in the “Liber Constitutionem” of the University of Lerida in Spain, that forbid the nocturnal rounds of students, as it disturbed the city at its time of rest. The sanction for those who broke the law was to have their instruments taken away.
It was only in the XVI century that the “Tunas” as we now know them were formed. The “Sopistas” were given the right to have residences (for those that couldn’t afford housing). In those residences, different Academic Degrees could not be mixed and the older students were in charge. That way, the residences soon accumulated a “Sopista” community, and therefore, never were a great example of a good study environment. The “Caloiros” that wanted to be part of the “Sopista” community had to offer their “escuderia, or their services to the older “Sopista” community in exchange for being taught their art. Thus, until the end of the period in which they were pupils, they would loyally serve the elder in the house in hope of one day becoming just like them. This would allow the “Sopistas” to live a life very similar to that of the rich students. These habits, still seen in today’s Tunas, we the earliest origins of “Praxe” (pledging).
It is believed the name “Tuna” came about because of the many traditions of the Sopistas based on the behaviour of a particular “caliph”, bohemian, and “woman-chaser” of Tunes in Tunisia. He would spend days and nights singing in the streets and in great celebrations with friends and, by night, he would enchant the damsels of Tunes. This caliph of Tunisia had influenced the Sopistas. Given that the name Sopista was no longer true to life (the students now played for amusement and not for survival) and had come to have a negative connotation, these groups started being known as “Tunas”. The remote origins in the Arabic world of this secular tradition explains the fundamental part that mandolins play in the sonority of Tunas, as it was based on the lute of the caliph. The instruments are still mostly string instruments.
The Tunas in Portugal only came about in the middle of the XIX century. It is said that, one day, a group of students from Coimbra went to Spain and, astonished by the success the Tunas were having there, imported the idea to their country. It is, however, difficult to establish the oldest Tuna in Portugal. It is known that the Tuna Academica de Coimbra was founded in the year 1888; the Tuna Universitaria do Porto is believed to also have had its origin around 1890, under another title and before the official creation of the University of Porto; the Estudantina de Coimbra was also though to have had a secular existence in this time. The Tuna Academica do Liceu National de Evora is considered by many to be the first Portuguese Tuna. The Tuna de Ciencias da Universidade do Porto is another Tuna dating back to the beginning of the XX century. Nowadays, Tunas are a general aspect of academic life in Portugal, Spain and Latin America, with only a few Tunas being found beyond these areas.