Calabash comes in different shapes from flattened to rectangular, elongated, rounded-drop-shaped, kidney-shaped, among others in the rural African life. A life that modern Africans are going back to for the sake of preserving culture.
It is usually harvested from a tree as a vegetable, then kept to dry and then scraped and molded tothe form the person desires. It is an object that was commonly used in most regions in Africa for serving and preserving meals. So whenever the calabash is seen, it means home.
When introducing this term to mathematics, Einstein didn’t quite have this in mind. To describe the nature of the universe, there is a kind of conceptual ‘cosmological constant,’ attached to all hinges on the calabash in traditional West Africa.
There’s a Yoruba adage with says.
“Igbá nlá méjì s’ojú dé’ra won.”
(Two halves of a gourd create one universe.)
In Yoruba cosmology, this conceptualized calabash is split into two symmetrical but opposing halves, base, and lid; one contains the visible, the human, the earthly, the other the invisible, the ethereal, the eternal.
According to Nigerian Art Historian and Scholar, Babatunde Lawal.
“The top half signifies maleness (ako) as well as the sky/heaven (isálòrun)—the realm of invisible spirits. The bottom half represents femaleness (abo) and the ancient waters out of which the physical world (ayé) was later created. A mysterious power called àse is thought to hold the gourd in space, enabling the sun and moon to shine, wind to blow, fire to burn, rain to fall, rivers to flow, and both living and nonliving things to exist.”
The calabash as a cosmologically constant representation of the universe spills over to the Fon’s ancestral description of the world as well; eternal, halved, and brimming with the male-sky (Lisa) above and the female-Earth (Mawu) below. The Hausa tribe also imagines that the joining of each half marks the horizon, the harmonious meeting of celestial and terrestrial spheres. Multiply the upper areas, setting smaller gourds within larger ones’ à la Matryoshka stacking dolls’, and the Fulani vision of a layered sky filled with stars is complete.
The spherical calabash was used as a primordial template; it can be traced in charcoal at the beginning of time by the Batammaliba god, Kuiye, used to give Earth its circular contour, which attests to its cosmogonic importance. Batammaliba resides in the northeast of Togo.
According to one creation story, “Kuiye then, took a calabash seed saying, ‘I would like to have humans’ and this vine produced.” Humans multiplied. Befittingly, the Batammaliba word for calabash, fayafa, is the same word for multiplication.
Anthropologists have confirmed that the calabash, gotten from the plant, Lagenaria siceraria, has been cultivated in West Africa for at least four thousand years, more than enough time for it to carve out its place as the cultural object par excellence.
Its hardened and hollowed-out shell is used to create everything from rattles to receptacles to ritual regalia. The calabash appears in all places, at all times: set on the ground to mark a public meeting point, swirled by a Tuareg diviner’s hands, balanced on a water-bearer’s head, decorated and displayed as a Fulani bride’s finery, brimmed over with a healer’s traditional remedies or a brewer’s fermented millet, or sounded like the conventional Ewe funerary “drum of the dead.”
It’s believed that once the calabash is shattered, it’s no longer ‘trustworthy’; its fragments are strung together as the Bambara’s traditionally symbolic “liar’s necklace.” Broken, it is the Batammaliba’s visual metaphor for the loss of children.
It’s called Igba in Yoruba, ugba in Igbo, wamdé in Mooré, or flè in Bambara the words for the calabash are as diverse as the cultures that name it and as assorted as the role it is given. The Fulani manages to evoke the calabash in 23 different ways , and the Hausa have nearly as many calabash-inspired idioms, metaphors, and proverbs.
Here are some of them.
“A rarrabe da d’an duma da d’an kabewa.”
(One will distinguish between the bitter gourd and the sweet, the true and the false.)
“Kowace k’warya tan da murfinsa.”
(Every gourd has its lid, it’s matching half.)
“K’warya ta bi k’warya.”
(A gourd follows a gourd, same follows same.)