TABLE OF CONTENTS
Title Page i.
Approval Page iii.
Table of Content vii.
CHAPTER ONE (Introduction)
1.1 Background of the Study 1
1.2 Statement of the Problem 5
1.3 Objectives of the Study 6
1.4 Limitation 6
1.5 Significance of the Study 7
Literature Review 9
Myths and Fables Around the Calabash 39
Calabash as a Creative Resource 44
CHAPTER SEVEN 53
1.1 Background of the Study
Most natural objects have organic shapes because they reflect the free-flowing aspects of
precise species and hence their irregular shapes. Some characteristics that help us to appreciate the
shapes and forms such as surface, weight and mass, material composition and position in space add
to our experiences and heighten our visual pleasure. When we draw or construct shapes, we need to
understand how to interpret qualities such as lightness or heaviness. There is a striking difference in
the quality or value contrast between rendering a cloud and rendering a rock or a mountain form.
While the former has subtle flow and diffused edge, the latter is described with sharp surface quality,
coarse and edgy structure.
The surface and shape of the calabash are two of many qualities that not only inform but also
delight the eye. Visually experiencing smooth textured surface is often linked with past tactile
encounters with the human skin. For the sightless, the tactile experience translates important
impressions from fingers to brain. Both eyes and fingers can move easily across glass, finished wood,
polished metal or processed gourd. However, some natural medium can be transformed into eerie or
surrealistic forms by changing their texture or juxtaposition their various forms. Invariably, our
psychological responses are heightened by seeing such unusual effect where shapes or forms are
positioned in space to generate a force or create a feeling of repose and stability, visual strength or
Nature, with its almost unlimited supply of forms, is a great source of design. It has always been a
primary stimulus for artist and the calabash being an object of nature, could perhaps be an
interesting medium for the researcher to begin.
In fact, there is no household item that is so responsive to human need as did the calabash in
the ancient time. Its multiple functions to different people have not only made it common to all
cultures but also popular. The etymology of the word came from sources that are quite equivocal.
One came from Spanish ‘Calabaza, another, possibly from Arabic Car’ayabisa dry gourd or from
Persian “Kharabuz, used for various large melons; or from pre-Roman Iberian Calapacia.’ When
people of temperate regions used the word calabash they are referring usually to the fruit of the
calabash gourd. Or bottle gourd, Legenaria Siceraria (Legenaria Vulgaris) an annual vine of the
According to Bailey (1956) ‘The original species of Legeneria Siceraria is probably from
tropical Africa and eastern India. The Gourd families which include vine species that may exceed 700,
with at least 100 different genera, are actually primordial.”
Morton (1957) adds that ‘the variously shaped and multi-coloured fruits of this species, dried
and often varnished are usually utilitarian or familiar as decorations”. While some use the calabash as
bird houses, food conservers, dippers or ladles and musical instruments and so on, others see it as
Another variety of the hard-shelled fruit is the crescentia cujete or crescentia alata, popular
as the calabash tree. Wayne’s Word (1996) acknowledged that ‘there are two species of calabash
trees that grow wild in Mexico’(p4). Similar species of crescentia cujete that is found in parts of
Nigeria, however, is easily identified because it has simple leaves and gourd-like fruits. Yvonne (1995)
confirms that gourds grow in most parts of Africa. When cut and dried, they are used as food bowl,
serving dishes and sound boxes for musical instruments.
The word calabash and gourd have been used interchangeably over the years to mean the
same thing, and they will also be used in this manner in this project report.
It is rather fascinating to note the diverse ways gourds are appreciated around the world.
Modecai (1978) admits that, ‘So important were gourds to the Haitians in the 1800’s that gourd was
made the national currency by the then governor of northern Haiti, Henri Christopher. To this day,
the standard coin of Haiti is called the gourd’
In other parts of the world, the value of gourds goes beyond finances and ventured into food
and health. According to a leading authority on gourd, Whitaker and Robinson(1986) ‘early people in
the new world that are diet conscious know that squashes are low in calories, high in fiber, and some
are rich in Vitamin ‘A’. They can be eaten raw in Salad, or fried, boiled, steamed, pickled, candied,
dried, baked or made into pies and bread’ especially by the Asians and Caribbean.
The ancient Chinese remedy for health recommends that doctors carry medicine inside
calabash because it has fabled properties for healing. Whitaker and Robinson (1986) accept that the
hulu is believed to absorb negative earth-based qi (energy) that would otherwise affect health hence,
its use as traditional Chinese medicine core. In Hawaii, the ATM machines of University of Hawaii
Federal Credit Union (UHFCU) are labeled Kalabash perhaps because they can be thought of as a
large serving bowl for twenty-dollar bills. Further influence of calabash was evident on the soccer city
stadium that hosted the FIFA world cup 2010. This great structure in South Africa has a shape inspired
The Crook Neck gourds are carrier vessels for the popular liquors (palm wine, brukutu, pito,
ogogoro etc) of the West African region. Also, Kora, a harp lute used today as the symbol of the most
prestigious African music award is adopted from a calabash musical instrument. On a humorous note,
people in most West African countries use the title ‘second in calabash’ often to refer to someone
who is the second in command.
The BBC news of 6th January 2009 reported on ‘Nigeria biker’s vegetable helmets’ where
calabash was used to avoid a law requiring the wearing of helmet on motorcycle. Unlike the bikers,
the people of Argungu took a positive twist by perfecting the art of fishing on round gourds as
floaters. Most especially when they display their skills annually during the fishing festival in Kebbi
Summit & Wides (1996) reports that, New Guinea however, has one of the most remarkable
use for gourds. Interestingly, is the use of penial sheath gourds for their males, which has
considerable speculation among anthropologist about the purpose of such gourds. Yet, it is agreed
that they serve more than just being a protective device for the penis but, also serve an important
The calabash has been used to transmit words that rejuvenate the spirit of Africa in her
people, but the mysteries of this great fruit linger like the myths in the tales that they carry. The
religious life of the African people was characterized by the uses of certain objects and vessels during
their worship sessions in the ancient times. This was due to the presence of rituals in the worship
pattern of the indigenous religion and one of the most prominent vessels used during those rituals is
the calabash. The same calabash serves as containers for storing concoctions from the native doctors
meant to ward off evil spirits, thieves, or even to charm people. Other circumstances where the
calabash is outstanding included masquerade dance theatres and burial rites, where women and
children are mostly forbidden from participating.
Such uses of the calabash as the ones mentioned above have made it appear hideous,
extremely sacred and repelling to some modern day Africans. The body of work intended in this
research is however an attempt to pry into some of these mysteries through the explorations of
calabash as a sculptural medium
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Despite its inherent qualities, prolong history of use, and commonality, work
produced in calabash are stereotypically relegated to the confines of craft, religion
or fetish, and not acceptable as sculptural pieces.
Works of art that art presented in calabashes are thus restricted to an aspect of art
that have shallow meanings and which are produced by common skilled people”. This is because
most calabash works particularly in Africa either serve one utilitarian function or the other. But this
case is even made worse by the introduction of plastics as substitute containers at a relatively low
price which has adversely resulted in the low patronage of calabash works for either household
utensils or decorative items.
From the available literature reviewed for the purpose of this studio research, there is no
evidence of free standing large scale calabash outdoor sculpture in the open space in Nigeria
elsewhere. In spite of the immense potentials that the calabash holdes for creative expressions,
particularly in sculpture, artists have scarcely explored the medium elaborately for their studio works.
Apart from the Fulani milk maids’ calabashes which incidentally are regarded as craft, all other
calabash works are mixed-media pieces where calabash is brought in as supporting element in the
composition. However, subjecting calabash to critical studio explorations
to discover creative potentials locked in the medium and the means to exploit the potentials have
formed the thrust of this studio enquiry.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The objective of the research is: to create free standing sculpture with whole gourds so as to
accentuate the variety of forms inherent in the medium, in an attempt to establish calabash as a
viable sculptural medium.
The researcher will through exhibition of the research work rejuvenate appreciation for
calabash from the public.
To stretch the context of the use of calabash to such limit of being placed outdoors.
To evoke a consciousness in the minds of government and policy makers on the need to
formulate policies that promote Nigeria cultural relics.
The researcher is focused on exploration with various calabash forms for display outdoors
with a view to reviving a public appreciation for the medium.
Due to low patronage, calabash is scarce thereby, making it expensive in the few places
where it is found. The acquisition of the product has become perilous lately due to the civil unrest of
“Boko Haram” in most parts of the northern Nigeria. And in the eastern and western parts of Nigeria
the product is not found in the open market unless one travels to the villages. The challenge in the
southern part of Nigeria is that of difficult challenge most especially during the calabash harvest
Sequel to the above, transporting calabash from several parts of the country to Enugu has
been herculean. Though the material is light weight it is bulky and therefore, takes up more space
that transporters had to charge higher fares or refuse transporting the items a times.
These among many other factors like language barrier between the researcher and the
people in some local community where calabash is found.; and also the fear due to stigma that
calabash is considered fetish makes some people unwilling to dialogue with the researcher, thus,
dwindled the pace of the research.
1.5 Significance of the Study
Sculptures in open spaces in various media have been done elsewhere and especially in
Nigeria. The bulk of the work of this research is an attempt to stretch the context of the use of
calabash to such limit of being placed outdoors. This is in addition to bridging the yawning gap of such
pieces in a material like calabash: an unusual phenomenon in the Nigerian landscape.
To pave way for other artists to venture into the medium and explore its limitless unique
Definition of Terms
Anansi- In Ghanaian myth; an epitome of wisdom or a trick-star, prominent in Ashanti
Burkutu- A local brew made from sorghum popular in the northern part of Nigeria.
Ha-le-mau-mau- Hawaiian sacred mountain
Hulu- Chinese word for bottle gourd
Jibue-A Jenjo (a tribe in Karim-lamido LGA, Taraba State) word for ladle
Nyame- The God of wisdom in Ghanaian myth
Obatala- The creator of mankind in Yoruba myth.
Oduduwa- A Yoruba deity of good will
Ogogoro- A local gin distilled from coconut or palm tree.
Olodomare- The Yoruba word for the Almighty God.
Pele- Hawaiian goddess of fire, hospitality, kindness and reward.
Pito- The Hausa word for burkutu that is not yet fermented.
Poi- A Hawaiian word for portage.
Shantu- A popular musical instrument derived from calabash, usually played by women
and teenage girls in northern Nigeria.
Shinto- A Japanese cult that believes in the generative force of nature coexisting with
Zana- Mat- fence made of straw / grass that is popular as screen, wall fencing in northern Nigeria.
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