Magical Gourds…

Calabash (Gourd) History & Cultural Background…

The Myth Of The Sacred Calabash = Mankind’s Most Useful Plant…. Magical Calabash Anthology Of Sacred Wisdom From The Ancestral Mothers And Magic.

The Calabash (Gourd), was one of the first plants cultivated by humans – not for food, but for use as a container.  It came from Africa and has accompanied us around the world for thousands of years.

In Africa, the Calabash (Gourd), plant, has long been used as a food and medicine, and its hard shell as a bottle, a dipper and even an ancient musical instrument. Calabash have traditionally been used to carry medicine, wine and “magic”.  Calabash were also tied to the backs of children and boat people to serve as life preservers. Calabash is also possibly mankind’s oldest musical instrument resonator. It is the only known plant whose use by humans spanned prehistoric cultures across the entire globe, but one thing that has puzzled scientists was how – given its African origins – it came to be so widely used in the Americas.

The Calabash (Gourd) seeds drifted across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Americas, then took root and grew wild in the New World. The wild African Calabash belongs at the base of the bottle Calabash family tree.  The tree then splits into two main branches: African domesticated Calabash, and Eurasian ones. Both ancient and modern American Calabash samples belong to the African branch of the tree. 

Furthermore, genetic mutations showed that the American Calabash- shared a common Ancestor with African Calabash. The seeds of wild African Calabash may have washed out to sea to successfully germinate after making landfall in the welcoming climates of places like Florida,  and Brazil.

The Calabash (Gourd) is a functional creation of nature with a wide variety of uses and traditions in cultures around the world. A fruit of varied shape and size, it commonly grows on a vine not unlike the squash, but there are also varieties that grow on bushes and trees.

  ***The most highly esteemed and favorite Calabashes (Gourds) had chants composed for them as though they were human beings, and when they were placed on the table one would hear their owner with proud countenances, chanting of the celebrated deeds of those for whom they were named.

More and more, as Western utensils and pottery became available, traditional Calabashes were not thrown away but rather, were kept and treated as valuable heritage.

Ancient Shaped Calabashes (Gourds) – after the Calabashes had been shaped and hollowed they were finished with  tung oil to enhance the grain and polish the Calabash leaving it with a soft finish. Iron tools replaced the traditional stone and coral tools for fashioning Calabashes when they became popular to collect, they were often refinished with shellac to give the surface a glossy finish, the Calabash being treated as any piece of fine woodwork. Ancient methods of polishing Calabashes fell into disuse.

Repairing Calabashes (Gourds)during the crafting process or during the life of the Calabash was also a skilled art and repairs were often looked upon as marks of beauty. Repairs consisted of filling holes and cracks with wooden plugs and using plugs to stop cracks from enlarging. The most commonly identified repair is the butterfly repair.

***Steps which can be taken to ensure a longer life for your Calabash (Gourd). Because Calabashes are made of wood, an organic material, they are susceptible to damage from insects, humidity, light and dust. The following is a summary of how these forces work to accelerate deterioration of Calabashes and steps which can be taken to limit them. Insects Wood-boring insects such as termites are a major source of damage to Calabashes. They should be examined periodically for the presence of holes and fine pellet or sawdust droppings. If a Calabash has any cracks, as many do, these are sites of exposed wood which are particularly vulnerable to insect infestation. 

***Calabashes (Gourds)should never receive direct sunlight – Illuminated by bright spot lights. Dust can damage Calabashes by attracting insects and mold. The goals of safe storage are to avoid insects, mold, dust, light damage and damage due to mishandling. Calabashes should be stored in a clean, dry, dark storage space.

Calabash (Gourd) are related to melons, squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers, all members of the cucumber family.  The Calabash family also includes many economically important fruits and vegetables, including pumpkins, squash, and melons. Calabash are used by people throughout Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean and the Americas for musical instruments, including shakers, maracas, drums, horns, marimbas and various string gourds resembling a banjo.

Other uses include pipes, masks, canteens, water jugs, dippers, birdhouses, bath sponges and decorative Gourds with intricate etched designs. So important were Gourds to Haitian people in the early 1800’s that gourds were made the national currency.

Musical Calabash from Africa and India, such as drums, lutes and sitars, have beautiful, polished finishes decorated with beads and carved designs. Some of the earliest guitars and violins in the United States were made from Calabash by African slaves.  Shaker Calabash are probably one of the earliest of all musical instruments.

In Africa, hollow Calabash are covered with a loose netting strung with hundreds of beads. The tear-shaped “bead” is actually a hollow involucre that contained the female flowers of this pantropical grass. As the beads slap against the gourd, a loud shaker sound is produced–as good as any modern instrument for this purpose. Using the neck of the Calabash as a handle, the sound is amplified by the hollow interior.

But of all the uses for Calabash, some of the most interesting are the “Penis Sheath Calabash” worn by men of New Guinea. Penis Calabashes are also known from Africa and northern South America. There is considerable speculation among anthropologists about the purpose of such Calabashes, but most agree that they are more than a protective device and serve an important social function.

In so-called “third world” countries the Calabash was historically used as a container for water, and still is an essential utensil in many parts of the world. In rural areas of the U.S., they are often used as birdhouses.

In Africa it is found primarily, but not exclusively, in the countries of Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, DanXome, Sierra Leone and Côte-D’Ivoire. Different language groups in each country often have their own names, styles, techniques, and traditions associated with the Shekere. It is a personal instrument and never loaned or shared, even with family members. However, a son who is a professional musician may inherit his father’s Agbe-Shekere. Ilu-Shekere among the Yoruba of Nigeria are often connected with religion, given great respect, and play a very important role in certain traditional musical forms.

Ilu Anya *Shekere – Mangala* Chief Yagbe Awolowo Onilu

In Nigeria, the very Large beaded Calabash is called  “Agbe” Medium size Calabash “Sekere“ and Small size Calabash “Akese” Traditionally these Drums are used in Religious Worship strictly attached to Ritual Ceremonial events.

A Calabash Which Has No Base Is The One Which Sits On Its Side…

1 thought on “Magical Gourds…”

  1. The gourd reminds me of of a womb ready to produce or house life, carry someting precious, and an essential part of community. The deep sound the base makes is healing and satisfying. I love listening to the noise it makes. However with all the beads laced on, it adds a sharpness to it. I rather prefer the noise without the lacing and beads just the pure sound.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *