The Planet Saver: Calabash
The word calabash is derived the French word ‘Calebasse’. Calabash and gourd are often used interchangeably. The calabash is simply the dried hollow shell of a gourd used for household utensils and its among the very first crops that man cultivated.
We know that the gourd was domesticated in Africa over 4,000 years ago. Nigeria, in particular the area of old Yoruba Empire, is a center for traditional gourd use and art. Calabash fruit is a creeping/climbing plant which grows easily in almost every part of Nigeria. The fruits are regular in shape. It is in many sizes which determines its uses. Calabashes are mostly round. The calabash is known by various different names depending on the area or people in Nigeria. For example, the Yoruba call it “Igba”, the Igbo call it “Ugba”, while the Hausa call it “Duma” or “Kwarya”.
Calabashes undergo some processing to produce household utensils like bowls, cups and water/wine containers among others, not only for domestic uses, but for religious and religious cultural purposes. When the calabashes are ripe for harvesting, those that are to be used as household utensils and/or other purposes are gathered and soaked in water for several days until the seeds are rotten.
The carvers hold to the belief that “In the next three or five years, modern items will no longer become fashionable because they are seasonal. People will go back to using traditional items like the calabash. In the nearest future, it will definitely pick up again. It is a tradition that cannot be ignored.”
Then the calabashes are cut open, and the contents are scraped out clean. The shells are dried in the sun until they are hard. The dried calabashes are then ready for use. The natural colour of the outer skin of dried calabash is warm yellow, and it darkens with age and use. The calabashes may be stained in other colours: rose, by rubbing them with millet leaves; blue, with indigo among others. They can also be darkened by hanging them in a smoky room.
However, calabashes can be decorated by several different techniques or methods according to the tradition of the area; though some people can use them as they are. They simply wash the calabash regularly. They are numerous varieties of designs and patterns which calabash carvers carry out for calabash decoration. These are achieved by applying the following main techniques or methods namely: Scraping; Carving; Scorching; Pyro-engraving and Pressure-engraving.
In the most areas of the country, the techniques or methods in use are combined. For example, calabash carvers in Oyo State or Kwara state combine Scraping Carving and Engraving techniques. In Adamawa State, they combine the Pyro-engraving and the engraving techniques, while in Kwara and Sokoto, Scraping, Carving and scarification as well as Painting methods are used.
The basic tools for calabash decoration include: Knife of different sizes and shapes; iron needles; Saw; Perforated polished can; scrapper; nails; white chalk etc. The decoration techniques are:
Scraping Method: This technique involves the use of a sharp knife which sometimes has a serrated edge. This is used to scrape off the pattern motif to some depth, about 2-3 millimeters below the surface. The Fulani women carvers may rub chalk into the scraped area. As the background area is carefully scraped away, then the pattern stands out in the natural colour of the skin of the calabash against a white background.
Carving Method: This is another technique, whereby lines are incised with a sharp knife. The carvers make as many incisions as possible to decorate the calabash both inside and outside. This is also called “Cutting” or “Scarification”. They put their knives in the made or prepared fire. When the knives get red-hot, they use them to design on the calabashes.
It is said that calabash add palatable taste to water and does not have any impurities that can poison food or water even when stored in it for a long time. Experts agree that calabashes are environment friendly and would be a better idea than plastic. The African calabash is one of the products that have been regarded as a planet saver. Once it breaks or become unusable, it can be disposed and it will decay naturally without polluting the soil. The history of the African calabash has truly ascertained that this is a valued product and it will always be in use across multiple cultures.