Nigeria is a land with diverse cultures which share various things in common. Calabash, also known as white-flowered gourd or bottle gourd, has the scientific name Lagenaria siceraria. It is one object that is of the utmost importance in Nigerian culture.
Calabash is a vine that is grown for fruit and it is cultivated in the various vegetation zones of the country, most especially in the rainforest. It can be harvested young and eaten as a vegetable. It can also be harvested when mature, and then dried and used for several purposes.
Calabash fruits are of different sizes and shapes. They can be huge and rounded, small and bottle shaped, or slim and serpentine. The common ones found in Nigeria is the rounder varieties, which are typically called calabash gourds.
The three major ethnic groups in Nigeria are the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo ethnic groups. Calabash feature in the people’s way of life. Even with modern-day civilization, it still has its way in the life of the people.
Calabash in Hausa Culture
The people of Northern Nigeria constitute the Hausa and Fulani (Fulbe) tribes. Calabash, known as ‘Kwarya,’ is very important in the people’s culture as they are used as everyday-kitchen-utensils and as percussion instruments. They are used by the women as a container to clean rice, carry water, and as food containers (used for hawking wara by the Fulani people). Also as a container, it is used to collect milk from the mammary glands of their cattle. It is important in the making of the people’s music; percussion instrument such as goje (a traditional fiddle) is used in festivals such as Turbanning the Emir, Durban festivals, Argungu fishing festival and so on.
Calabash in Igbo Culture
The Igbo people are found majorly in the South Eastern region of Nigeria and some parts of the South-South. The people have a rich culture and tradition in which the calabash is a prominent feature. It is known as ‘ebele’ by the people and it is used for serving drinks, especially palm wine. It is also used to fetch water from the river. It is used by the traditional worshippers in their places of worship.
Calabash in Yoruba Culture
The Yoruba people are found in the Southwestern parts of Nigeria. Calabash is called ‘Igba’ by the people who have a very rich culture and a lot of traditional beliefs where it plays important roles. It is used in festivals such as Osun festival, Ogun festival, etc. and coronation ceremonies in Yoruba land. It is used in the ritual process and it is decorated with cowries for this purpose. It is also used for serving foods and drinks. The gourd-shaped one is used for holding palm wine while the round-shaped is used to drink the contents. It is also used for making percussion instrument such as ‘sekere’. Sekere is made of a dry gourd calabash which is decorated with beads used by traditional musicians.
In modern-day Nigeria, calabash fastened with elastic has been used as an alternative to a helmet when it was being enforced by the government. Even though the culinary uses of calabash are not common in Nigeria, the dry calabash is very important in the people’s way of life.