In most eukaryotes, the meiotic chromosomal bouquet (comprising clustered chromosome ends) provides an ordered chromosome arrangement that facilitates pairing and recombination between homologous chromosomes. In the protist Tetrahymena thermophila, the meiotic prophase nucleus stretches enormously, and chromosomes assume a bouquet-like arrangement in which telomeres and centromeres are attached to opposite poles of the nucleus. We have identified and characterized three meiosis-specific genes [meiotic nuclear elongation 1-3 (MELG1-3)] that control nuclear elongation, and centromere and telomere clustering. The Melg proteins interact with cytoskeletal and telomere-associated proteins, and probably repurpose them for reorganizing the meiotic prophase nucleus. A lack of sequence similarity between the Tetrahymena proteins responsible for telomere clustering and bouquet proteins of other organisms suggests that the Tetrahymena bouquet is analogous, rather than homologous, to the conserved eukaryotic bouquet. We also report that centromere clustering is more important than telomere clustering for homologous pairing. Therefore, we speculate that centromere clustering may have been the primordial mechanism for chromosome pairing in early eukaryotes. © 2020. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.