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Wearing fruit on their heads, spokeswomen promote Guavaween

The true identity of Mama Guava is kept secret. Mama Guava’s mission is to take the “bore” out of Ybor during Guavaween.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2003)

The true identity of Mama Guava is kept secret. Mama Guava’s mission is to take the “bore” out of Ybor during Guavaween.

By Susan Thurston

Times Staff Writer

By now, seasoned Guavaween-goers know the story behind Tampa's Halloween bash and its star, Mama Guava.

A long time ago, the mythical Mama was born of pirate Jose Gaspar and a scrub palmetto, as strange as that sounds. Swathed in guava paste at birth, Mama Guava grew up in the convent of Our Lady of Perpetual Fruit and eventually fled to find fortunes and a mate.

Each year, Mama Guava returns to her birthplace on Guavaween, the holiday created in her honor. Her mission is simple: take the "bore'' out of Ybor, which turns out to be more fun than work.

As peculiar as the story goes, it doesn't end there. Centuries later, Mama Guava multiplied. The stud? A guy named Papa Guava who smelled like old yogurt and chili peppers and strutted down Ybor's Seventh Avenue demanding guava pastries, cigars and virgin queens.

Finding no virgins, he went into a rage, attracting the attention of Mama Guava who yelled, "Hey, Big Boy, I've got your guavas.''

And the seed was planted.

The union yielded three daughters known as the Guavettes: Guavalina, Guavella and Guavetta. They roam the region spreading the word about Guavaween and hyping the Mama Guava Stumble Parade, which starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at Seventh Ave. and 20th Street in Ybor.

Leading the sisterly pack will be Kristi Bell, a second-year Guavette. She coordinates appearances and serves as chief Guavette. (They don't distinguish Guavalina, Guavella and Guavetta; Guavette works for everyone.)

Their number varies from year to year for no particular reason other than not a lot about Guavaween makes sense. This year's cast has four; last year's had six.

The Guavettes debuted in 1995 as more demure versions of their mother but still striking and sought by men. They appear throughout October at various bars, parties and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lightning games.

"It's a very long month for us, but it's rewarding,'' said Bell, who also works for a promotions and advertising firm. "You're part of something big in Tampa.''

The Guavettes get paid by the hour and aren't as elusive as Mama Guava, whose identity is kept secret. With the exception of Bell, different Guavettes rotate from event to event, depending on their availability. Four will ride in the parade and hand out beads.

Look for the women in pink dresses with large fruit arrangements on their heads. Some might mistake them for Carmen Miranda, but Guavaween gurus recognize them as Mama Guava's own flesh and fruit.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com.

Wearing fruit on their heads, spokeswomen promote Guavaween 10/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 4:31am]

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