Local names: Calabash, Kalbas
Scientific Name: Crescentia Cujete;
Family: Bignoniaceae
Origin: Native to the Caribbean Islands and from southern Mexico to Peru and Brazil. Widely distributed throughout the tropics as an ornamental tree.

Chanson Kalbas (Song)
By Ras SKY and the Calabash Crew: Chorus (ankò): Kalbas Kalbas Pyé Nasyonnal nou ha kwiyé’w Kalbas Kalbas Pyé Nasyonal sé sa ou yé

Calabash is celebrated through art form and design

Calabash is celebrated through art form and design

“Calabash, calabash, food time come; Bring, bring calaloo, an’ gee me some.”
The Sun’s Eye, 1968

Curator and Coordinator of the Calabash in Splendor Exhibition
Archaeological Secretary – SLAHS

Every year, on October 28th, the French Creole speaking world celebrates Creole Day (Jounen Kwéyòl). In Saint Lucia, they celebrate Creole Heritage Month throughout October and during that period the atmosphere is saturated with everything Creole, from the simple to the sublime. Last year’s (2017) festivity was no exception. Very specially, three organisations came together, in a joint effort, to celebrate the Caribbean Calabash-ness under the theme, ‘Calabash in Splendour’ to underscore one of the major symbols of Creole-ness : The Saint Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society (SLAHS), People Engaged in Your Interest (PÉYI) and the Alliance Française de Sainte Lucie. These three, together with Calabash artisans from Martinique, dovetailed their efforts to fashion one of 2017’s festivities into a Calabash extravaganza. The calabash exhibition took place within and without the Alliance Française Pyramid building in Castries, Saint Lucia, from October 11th to 24th .

At the opening gala evening of the exhibition, several well-known cultural enthusiasts and artisans gathered to partake in the premier hosting of a National Calabash Exhibition. The festive night began with the National Anthem, sung in Kwéyòl, followed by several artistic expressions in song, poetry, music, readings, fashion show and a fine arts and crafts indoor exhibition all with the Calabash theme. This event ushered in 2017 Creole Heritage Month celebrations. And yes, what a festal evening it was! The night’s event took place under the auspices of the 1st Vice President of the SLAHA, Saint Lucia’s Minister of Culture, the Director of Alliance Française, the French Ambassador’s representative, and Ambassadors of Mexico and Venezuela to Saint Lucia.

Prior to the evening’s celebrations, the grounds of the Alliance Française were decked out with painted calabashes suspended on bamboo sticks which bore semblance to totem poles. The outdoor displays were the fruit of a consortium of several artists working together in a ‘mass camp’, or ‘Koudmen’ in Kwéyòl, which they themselves dubbed the “Mass Mask Camp.” The dominant features on many of these painted Calabashes were motifs of the island’s indigenous people, the Kalinago, as a tribute to their contribution to the bio-cultural heritage in the Caribbean.

Calabash is celebrated through art form and design

Calabash is celebrated through art form and design

The significance of the Calabash

Why Calabash? Apart from it being Saint Lucia’s National Tree, this fruit has been shaped for centuries into a traditional eating bowl and the chief vessel for collecting and storing water. It is, perhaps, the foremost or main vessel upon which the Caribbean civilisation was built. Calabash allowed for transporting and making water available near human dwellings, spaces and places before there was any pipe-borne water supply. In celebrating the Calabash tree, people sought to honour the memory of the late Mr. Gabriel (Coco) Charles, a former Chief Forestry Office of St Lucia, who was instrumental in designating the Calabash tree as St Lucia’s National Tree.

In addition, the calabash has become a special object of concern and conversation ever since young non-conformists, namely Rastas, including this author, were arrested and imprisoned in the early days of the Rastafarian movement of the mid-1970’s, for the use of Calabash in public. The charges were that calabash users had come to corrupt the youth by leading them back into an era that was considered backward, which the then authorities deemed to be undesirable. The quest of these calabash users was to live ‘simple and natural’ with an ecofriendly consciousness, in order to reduce their environmental footprint, known as down-to-earth or creole living. The Calabash exhibition symbolizes a tribute to the triumph of stubbornness and resistance against so called progress. In essence, calabash was relocated from the state penitentiary to state gallery.

Celebrating Creole Day in Saint Lucia

Celebrating Creole Day in Saint Lucia

Calabash: multifaceted

The overall objective of the Calabash festivity was to raise awareness on many fronts of the versatility of this resourceful, multipurpose plant in St Lucia’s ethno and biosphere. It was designed to excite the youth’s curiosity, unleash their creativity and imagination, to generate works of art and craft beyond our own imagining. It was meant to offer the youth low hanging Calabash fruit as sustenance for now and the future. The thinking having evolved from corrupting the youth to inspiring the youth.

Historically, Calabash is a ‘keystone species’ in the bio-cultural heritage, which our ancestors, the trustees of this vital germplasm, held in trust for future generations. The folktales and the body of knowledge associated with the Calabash have been handed down from the older generations to new generations as a testament of their dependence on it for their own survival and a legacy meant for our present and future existence.

Celebrating Creole Day in Saint Lucia

Celebrating Creole Day in Saint Lucia

Calabash and artisans

It was an ecstatic evening, as people celebrated not only the Calabash biosphere, but the ethno sphere, namely the Artisans who shape, fashion and transform the raw material into their own images. These crafts persons appealed to and awakened the senses with several shapes and sizes of calabash, skilfully utilizing them in amalgamation with drift wood, acrylic paint, local dyes – curcuma and annatto, cloth, musical instruments and other mediums. A key feature of the evening was a new home grown song on ‘kalbas’, freshly ‘cut’, and its premier performance before a live, delighted and appreciative audience (see below).

Chanson Kalbas (Song)

By Ras SKY and the Calabash Crew.

Chorus (ankò): Kalbas Kalbas Pyé Nasyonnal nou ha kwiyé’w
Kalbas Kalbas Pyé Nasyonnal sé sa ou yé

Ou ban nou wimèd ― pou nou sa djéwi lakoklich
Ou ban nou kwi ― pou fè fouchèt pòt èk tjwiyè
Ou ban nou mizik ― chak chak èk chakari
Ou ban nou Kalbas ― alé lawivyè pou tjenn dlo fwé
Nou ka chanté …

Chorus (ankò):

The exposition was designed to appraise the youth of the importance of bio-diversity as a source of vital natural resources which could serve to create wealth. It can not only reduce the import bill, it can also be shaped into craft specimens and outstanding works of the finest art. It further symbolized the importance of digging deep into our under-utilized natural resources in search of means toward employment, sustainable development, bio-commerce and the maintenance of a Creole economy.

The Calabash paraphernalia utilized in the fashion parade revealed and validated the versatility, usefulness and diverse areas and sectors where calabash can be employed. On this occasion, the SLAHS seized the opportunity to Honor Dr. Gregor Williams, a long standing member of the SLAHS and a local historian for his dedication and contribution to the work of SLAHS and research into the history of St Lucia. He was gifted with a Calabash and assigned an artist to design or adorn it.

Celebrating Creole Day in Saint Lucia

Celebrating Creole Day in Saint Lucia

Old & Young planting for the future

The last act of this Calabash jamboree was the planting of a Calabash tree on the grounds of the Alliance Française which facilitated and housed the exhibition and the other associated events. For the author of this article, planting a tree showed faith in the future. The tree was planted by adults and young students, a collaboration and transition between an older generation and a younger one. Thus, this ultimate activity symbolized the past, present and the future. In other words, just as the former generation kept it in trust and handed it to this generation, this latter is to keep it in trust in as good a condition as they inherited it, or even better, for the succeeding generation. May the Calabash story live on!

Below 2 poems by Ashanti Prescott – Guest artist at the Calabash in Splendor opening night

The Calabash

Ah! The Calabash!
A mighty, mighty
good earner of cash,
Like glass, so, so versatile,
Surely! You too, it can put in style.
Its array of shapes and sizes,
Therein, lies its versatility and suitability
Shhh!!! Before the neighbour realises.
Check these Surety:
And Bangles to honour the woman of colour.
Stylish side bags, to identify with her African heritage
Plates, cups, spoons, pipes for pipers!
Even Containers!
and many, many others!
Just name it, and boy you dan know!

Even in di bedroom
You can light up with a low glow
As dem make perfect jackets fi di lamps
to spice up the whole show as tings flow
Po! Po! Po! And boy, you begin to row

Wi mwen d’w!

Wi mwen d’w!
Sé Misyé Jomo ki di!
Déotwa pyé kalbas
Épi dé lanmen ki pa las
Souplé! Kouté!
Sé pa yonn, mé dé,
Paskè, sé pa sèlman pou annèk fè kwi!
Mé pwodwi ki ka jwenn an bon pwi
Sa, sèlman, sa mété’w andidan an bon ti plas
Wè! Sa Anglé-a ka kwiyé, “class!”
Wi mwen d’w!
Sé Misyé Jomo ki di!
Sé pa sèlman kwi!
Mé pwodwi ki ka jwenn an bon pwi
Wi! Pwodwi kon lanp kalbas,
Pou dékowé népòt plas!
Pòt kalbas pou anplasé tout tas
Épi lézòt vésèl ki ka kasé.
Sa, sa vini an tout silon gwòsè
Pou pwen népòt bwè!

Jis tjwiyè ou sa anplasé,
Épi tout sa ki ka fè
moun soufè
Wi mwen d’w!
Sé Misyé Jomo ki di!