Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Scenes of West Africa - Calabashes: The Many Uses of Gourds

Calabash basins
Photo credit: Carsten ten Brink
A calabash is a gourd, and it's incredible how many uses it has in West Africa, especially in rural areas. These gourds get hollowed out and dried and immediately put to work.

Calabash bowls
Photo Source: Biodiversity International 
Calabash are used as storage for dry goods, and basins to carry water, and clean dishes or laundry. Smaller calabashes are used to drink and eat from, especially for palm wine. They are even used as buoys (as seen in the Nigerian Argungu fishing festival).

Decoratively carved calabash storage bowls
Photo credit: Tracy Longacre
Calabashes are also important for West African arts: bowls are sometimes beautifully decorated with carvings, and they can be cut into pieces and carved into stamps to be used for Adinkra cloth. There are also various instruments made with these gourds, like drums, the kora, and the balafon.

The Kora, an instrument made in part with a calabash
Photo credit: Daniel Bracchetti
You can read about and hear the Balafon and the Kora, both traditional West African instruments made with calabashes, here.


  1. I've heard of those before and it always amazes me how BIG they are.

  2. We have an African gourd drum, bought back by friends who were missionaries. I can't imagine using our gourds in the UK for anything other than eating (the insides). The outside would just go mouldy. Maybe because we don't have the intense heat of Africa we are unable to dry them quick enough before the go bad. I wonder if it would work in the oven?

    1. A gourd drum would be so much fun! Bird house gourds are grown here - they are dried out and used decoratively and/or as birdhouses. Apparently it's possible here, I've seen them, just somehow can never grow them myself. As much as I try, I seem to have little luck (talent) with the natural world!


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