Calabash: The First Water Bottle

Zulu women of the Masai Mara, circa 1910
Zulu women of the Masai Mara, circa 1910

There was a story on the radio recently that related to the calabash fruit, and how it can be used as a musical instrument for calling the ancestors. Unfortunately there’s very little information online regarding this ancestral link, but nonetheless it’s still a very interesting fruit and one that has special significance in KZN.

The calabash was one of the first cultivated plants in the world, grown not not so much for food, as for its usefulness as a water container. This is primarily what the Zulus have used this fruit for over the years, although younger fruit are also hollowed out and used as musical shakers, with Zulu drums also sometimes being adapted from the calabash fruit. Because of their waterproof skins, calabash are also used as ‘spoons’ of sorts by Zulu people, and are often used for drinking uMqombothi (Zulu beer). The fruit is also sometimes used as a pipe for smoking, as a string instrument or simply as decoration.

Living in KZN you see the calabash in its various incarnations all the time, but it’s only when you stop and think about it that you realise just how inventive the Zulu people have been when it comes to this humble fruit!

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Read more about how the calabash fruit is used all over the world here.

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