Carved calabashes: Photos Pat Ryan
by Cathy Buffonge
Caribbean News Now contributor
BRADES, Montserrat -- “Gimme me food in a Calabash...” This traditional song highlights the past importance of the calabash as a household item. A couple of generations ago the calabash was commonly used as an eating and drinking utensil for daily life in many Caribbean countries. Older islanders remember well the use of the calabash, cut in half or into various shapes, for cups, dishes, bowls, water containers, spoons, dippers and other daily utensils.
A calabash on the tree
For the younger ones or those who don’t know, the calabash grows on a tree and is green when freshly picked, but turns brown when it has dried out. It has a smooth, woody hard outside and a pulpy inside, which has to be removed and is not edible. It can be anything from a few inches to more than a foot across. The calabash can be carved into all sorts of different designs and artifacts, or painted to form innovative ornaments. In Africa it is used to make musical instruments and other traditional items.
On Montserrat, the volcanic island’s Hospitality Association puts the traditional and cultural significance of the calabash to good use by mounting a Calabash Festival every year in July. This year’s Festival will run for a week, beginning July 15, and the programme includes a host of activities with something for everyone.
One of the highlights will be the grand Food Fair, with dishes from the various nationalities that make up Montserrat’s population. During the years of volcanic activity many Montserratians migrated to other countries, and in their place people from other parts of the Caribbean have arrived and settled on the island, including Guyanese, Jamaicans, Dominicans as well as Spanish speaking people from the Dominican Republic. The island is also home to Indians, Africans and people from other parts of the world. Some of these diverse nationalities, as well as Montserrat, will be represented at the Food Fair, giving a wide variety of dishes to choose from.
A calabash exhibition will be mounted and can be viewed at the same time as the Food Fair. On display will be some of the locally made carved and/or painted calabash items mentioned earlier, some of which will also be on sale and make great gifts and souvenirs. There will also be information on the uses of the calabash in different parts of the world, along with tips on the technique of preparing and carving the calabash. Cultural dancers and local musicians will also be performing.
Other activities for the week include an early morning hike in the mountains taking in the viewing of calabash trees, a fun cricket match, a gospel concert, an annual lecture discussion, and island boat tours to view the volcanic devastation further south. The week starts with a church service and a national neighbourly day, while the final activity is a Calabash Music Fest by the Bay, featuring steel band, string band, calypso, pig roasting, cashew roasting, local drinks, a bonfire and fireworks, all on the beach.