Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Calabash Tree

The arbol de las calabazas, higuera, or calabash tree (Crescentia cujete Linnaeus) is found growing throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Native Americans disseminated the calabash for centuries; now, it is uncertain where the tree originated.

The calabash tree grows to 10 meters (30 feet) often with multiple trunks. The rangy twisting branches have simple elliptical leaves clustered at the nodes. The greenish-yellow flowers are marked with purple veins. The flowers arise from the trunk or main branches and appear from May through January. The woody fruit, botanically a capsule, is elliptic, ovate, or spherical and may grow to 25 centimeters (10 inches) in diameter. The fruit takes up to seven months to ripen.

Fibers from the calabash tree were twisted into twine and ropes. The hard wood made tools and tool handles. The split wood was woven for sturdy baskets. But it was the calabash's gourd-like fruit that made the plant truly useful.

Large calabashes were used as bowls and, peculiarly, to disguise the heads of hunters. The Taíno of the Caribbean cut eye holes in the 'gourds' and fitted them over their heads. The hunters then waded out into lakes or the ocean. The apparently floating gourd did not frighten birds. Thus disguised, hunters could grab birds by their legs. Smaller calabashes made storage containers, dippers, and drinking cups.

The Taíno gave the musical world two rhythm instruments, maracas and the güiro. Maracas were made with small oval 'gourds' with pebbles or hard seeds like rosary peas inside. The güiro was made with an elongated 'gourd'. Parallel grooves were carved onto one side with a sound hole on opposite. The sound was created with a pua or scraper.

Considering though how the Natives spread the calabash tree from tribe to tribe, the instruments were probably not unique to just the islands where the Taíno lived. Few Natives survived the incursion of the Europeans, but their unique instruments were adopted by the slaves and the poor brought over to work the sugar plantations.1

My dad was telling me how back in the day his family used these things as bowls and then after that as cups, i guess when the calabash was smaller. Its amazing to see how God created all of these things in nature useful to man like the calabash tree. The calabash is a fruit not good for consumption, one would consider this to be a waste of a tree or so I thought, but look at everything the entire tree can be used for and was used for. What a wonderful God we have!

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