A tiny fire illuminates dancers secretly moving to an ancient African beat. The rhythm comes from beating sticks on two calabash halves placed facedown in a tub of water, abastel. The sound is softer than a drum; drums are forbidden. Quickly, the bastel is dismantled… someone is coming.
As a food, the bland calabash wasn’t very popular. But few fruits in history have played such an important role in the development of a culture. Many musical instruments fashioned from the calabash created a culturally distinct sound still heard in folkloric festivals. For years, a calabash decorated with a heart was a traditional courting gift, a tribute to the island’s love affair with this fabulous fruit.
Calabash (kalbas in Papiamentu) refers to two different kinds of fruit: wild calabash (kalbasdimondi), which grows to the size of a grapefruit and drops from the tree when ripe, and cultivated calabash (kalbasdikunuku), which grows on a vine and is much larger.
When dried in the sun, both harden to an indestructible finish that has, for centuries, been the principal material for countless creations. Bowls, spoons, cups, boat bailers, bath scoops, and spinning tops were just a few. Calabashes made perfect natural storage units for myriad food items. The larger calabash forms an ideal water bottle and when wrapped in flax rope becomes an insulated thermos.
Today, calabash seeds are still baked with sugar for a tasty treat. The pulp can also be roasted and eaten as a porridge or used in herbal remedies. Calabash artifacts are exhibited at museums throughout Curaçao.