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Gourd Art – Cabaças

In Brazil, the gourd or cabaça (as it is known in the Portuguese language), has been used as the primary sustainable resource for the production and expression of different forms of arts and crafts such as cooking utensils, musical instruments, home decorations or simply toys.

As with many Brazilian arts and crafts, the Indians have great influence on the use of the gourd as home utensils such as water containers, bowls for serving, eating or storing food. The gourd is also used as a musical instrument by the Indians during tribal rituals which are performed by the chief during celebrations or shaman ceremonies to call on the spirits to bring health back to the tribe or for good fortune when hunting.

Most of the traditional indigenous methods have been maintained in the production process of gourd for arts and crafts to this day.

Traditional indigenous methods

Once the gourd is removed from the tree, it goes through a cleaning process (removal of the kernel), drying and removal of imperfections (usually sanded using natural local resources such as large fish scales). Afterwards, the gourd is dyed with "cumatê," a dark red natural dye extracted from the bark of the tree known as axuazeiro. The parts are then left to dry while it absorbs the ink.

At this point, production enters its most interesting stage: the indigenous gourd work is then treated with urine. The gourd is covered with a lining of straw that prevents any direct contact between the gourd and the urine. The gourd only extracts the ammonia from the urine which acts on the dye cumatê, blackening it in full. After it is washed and dried, the gourd loses any residual odour of urine there may have been during the process and is ready to be used or painted absolutely hygienically. This process and chemical reaction has been known by the Indian women for at least four centuries.

Modern painting and preparation techniques these days do not require the Indians' method of production however the presence of the gourd in our daily lives has been truly inspired and passed on by the native Indians.