Gunga the Gorilla was originally called the “Andover Ape,” according to Andover archivist Tim Sprattler. The brainchild of 1985’s Class President Malcolm Galvin ’85 and Blue Key Heads, Gunga was created to be a funny addition to orientation. However, he was so loved by the student body that he has remained ever since, Sprattler says in the archive records.
Galvin introduced his idea at the then-called All-School Convocation, claiming that he found a note containing Gunga’s story inside a coconut while in the Cochran Bird Sanctuary. According to Galvin, Gunga’s mission was to unite the Andover community.
“[His purpose is] connecting individuals, fostering community, promoting happiness, pursuing happiness, and otherwise bigging up the Big Blue spirit,” said Galvin at the All-SchoolConvocation.
“Gunga is not the official mascot of Andover. We don’t have an official mascot. It just kind of took on a life of its own and every year the blue key heads pick a kid or a couple kids to be Gunga in the suit and they show up at orientation, A/E, pep rallies, a lot of games just to get the crowd going a little bit,” said Christopher Capano, student activities director.
Instead, “Big Blue” is the official mascot of Andover, similar to the “Harvard Crimson” or Dartmouth’s “Big Green.” To Capano, Gunga represents the Non Sibi spirit of Andover.
“I’ll say it’s one of my favorite traditions on campus because the person who does it gets absolutely no credit. It’s totally Non Sibi.
You’re doing this to make everyone else smile and have fun and you can’t put it on your college apps, you can’t get an award for it. You just do it because it’s fun and it’s helping other people have a good time,” said Capano.
“I think he represents our Big Blue spirit and the strength and determination we have as Andover students,” said Zach Peng ’21. After graduating, Galvin passed the Gunga costume down to the next Class President and the next generation of Blue Key Heads. Unwana Abasi ’13, Teaching Fellow in Biology and a former Blue Key Head, said that her group chose a Gunga who stayed discreet.
“We particularly wanted somebody who was very athletic so they could do lots of tricks and stuff like that. We also wanted somebody who people wouldn’t suspect… so we wanted somebody who was low-key enough that if they suddenly disappeared, no one would notice,” said Abasi.
According to Abasi, the process for selecting a Gunga was extremely secretive. Those selected to audition were emailed a time and place to meet the Blue Key Heads. Then, the auditionees were asked to do pushups, show off some dance moves, and perform tricks.
“We were like, ‘Do not tell anyone you auditioned for this. Don’t tell people you even applied. If we find out that anyone else knows, we literally can’t pick you, and we really want to pick you, so don’t say anything,’ ” said Abasi.
Capano says the the current Gunga is doing a great job so far.
Capano said, “They’ve been at a bunch of games, they were even at the weekend before family weekend when it was pouring rain. There was a bunch of home games and they were still out in the rain the whole day, which was awesome.They were at orientation which was really hot and sweaty.
The suit can be kind of gross sometimes, but they were able to do it.
They’re all psyched up about doing the pep rally next Friday.
Gunga not only attends sports games, but also participates in orientation for new students.
“I saw Gunga as I was driving into the school by the chapel, and at that moment I just felt really invigorated and excited for what was to come,” said Peng.
Thania Martinez ’21 added, “I remember during orientation we were split into four Blue Key groups.
I was in West Quad North, and we were practicing our cheers that the Blue Key Heads were teaching us. I remember we had a contest between the clusters, and Gunga would react to how well we would do our cheers.”
Although Gunga is meant to remain a secret, students still love to speculate who might be inside the costume.
Leo Brother ’18 said, “I think the real intrigue about Gunga isn’t necessarily having a mascot on the sidelines, but not knowing who it is… There are people who know, there are people who don’t know, there are people who claim to know, and every once in awhile, you’ll find someone who actually knows, and the word gets out, and it’s fun.”
Abasi said, “My year had a lot of fun trying to guess who it was.
Who’s about this height, who haven’t we seen in a few days… Gunga has to be able to keep a secret, so Gunga never spilled. I will say that [of ] the people who everyone in my class speculated, both Gungas were on that list… People are pretty good about pinning down who they think it might be. But, it stays a secret.Can’t spill it.”