Cel­e­brat­ing the cal­abash

Grocott's Mail - - OUTSIDE -

have a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence on the diet choices of youth.

The on­go­ing nu­tri­tional tran­si­tion in South Africa has made peo­ple more vul­ner­a­ble to non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases such as stroke, coro­nary heart dis­eases, phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity, hy­per­ten­sion, and di­a­betes mel­li­tus.

In­crease in obe­sity and over­weight has been as­so­ci­ated with this is­sue found in adults and stunt­ing and un­der­weight in young chil­dren.

Her­itage month should also aims to ex­plore the sig­nif­i­cance of indige­nous life­styles to im­prove the sta­tus of our na­tional health.

The ca­pac­ity of ama­ranth leafy veg­eta­bles are to be used in ad­di­tion or sub­sti­tu­tion of the agri­cul­tural pro­duced food as a tool to fight food in­se­cu­rity in South Africa.

•Dr Nosiphiwe Ngqwala is a se­nior lec­turer in the Phar­macy de­part­ment at Rhodes uni­ver­sity. She is also an Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee for South African Yound Academy of Sci­ences (SAYAS) and also part of Ac­ti­vate youth lead­er­ship.

La­ge­naria sicer­aria



ra­di­tional com­mu­ni­ties would gather around and drink amasi (sour milk) from the iselwa (cal­abash). Af­ter fin­ish­ing the amasi, women play a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment called uhadi (Xhosa mu­si­cal bow string) made from a cal­abash.


The plant is a close rel­a­tive of pump­kins and squashes be­long­ing to cu­cur­bitaceae fam­ily. It is a creep­ing an­nual herb with the stems sup­ported by ten­drils. The large, rounded leaves are some­what toothed along the mar­gins and are hairy be­low. Flow­ers re­sem­ble those of the pump­kins but they’re not yel­low, and open at night. The fruit is green at first, but be­comes pale brown when it ripens and dries out, leav­ing a thick, hard, hol­low shell with prac­ti­cally noth­ing in­side ex­cept the seeds (the fruit fleshy dries out com­pletely).

What is

Uhadi is a Xhosa mu­si­cal in­stru­ment made of in­jikwe (stave), usinga (string), umqungu (the beater), and iselwa (res­onator).



One of the early choices of wood in mak­ing the stave or in­jikwe in isix­hosa, was a tree called the um­ban­gan­dlela (Hetero­mor­pha ar­borescens). It was later made by bush call ‘uliza’ which in abun­dance on the moun­tain sides of the East­ern Cape. The length of the stave is made by mea­sur­ing the wood in re­la­tion to the arm of the par­tic­u­lar.

The wood is then forced into curved shape by forced the ends into an in­ward di­rec­tion and se­cured in this po­si­tion by means of string­ing.

The string

Be­fore the 20th cen­tury, the string or ‘usinga’ in isix­hosa was orig­i­nally made from a length of an­i­mal gut or hair. Artists of the 20th cen­tury made bow­strings from the twisted wires of the ban­gles that the women wore in their an­kles. The ban­gle was heated on the fire and stretched out to be used for the bow. By the 21st cen­tury, Xhosa peo­ple started mak­ing strings out of brass wire.

The res­onator

The res­onator is made from cal­abash which is a grow­ing cal­abash that is har­vested when green and al­lowed to dry out.

A hole is made on one sur­face where the stalk would be at­tached ap­prox­i­mately 7-9mm wide.

The seeds are re­moved, and the in­ner walls of the gourd are scraped with a stick to re­move all residue. The gourd is left to dry for at least two days. Af­ter the gourd has dried out, two small holes are made in the cen­tre, in the area di­rectly op­po­site the open­ing.

To make the in­su­lat­ing pad, a piece of soft cloth is folded into a square.

An­other nar­row strip of cloth is twisted into a thin rope or ‘string’, and this is passed through the two small holes in the gourd, so that the two ends hang loose, and are avail­able for se­cur­ing the gourd and the in­su­lat­ing pad to the bow stave.

The beater

The beater is called ‘umqungu’ in isix­hosa, and is made from the tam­bokkie grass, or um­fuqa. https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/uhadi_­mu­si­cal_bow

His­tory of La­ge­naria

La­ge­naria is one of the most an­cient of all crop plants and is con­sid­ered to be indige­nous to Africa. There are many ques­tions around the ori­gin of the bot­tle gourd.did it re­ally orig­i­nate in Africa, as is usu­ally sup­posed? Was it do­mes­ti­cated as a food plant or as source of gourds? Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains in Africa date back a mere 2 000 years, while Cen­tral and South Amer­i­can sites have seeds dat­ing back about 9 000 years. No one can say with cer­tainty if the seem­ingly spon­ta­neous pop­u­la­tions on Africa are truly wild.

It is pos­si­ble that early wild forms were dis­persed along the sea cur­rents to trop­i­cal Amer­ica, Asia and Pa­pua New Guinea. The fruits are known to float in the sea for many months with­out the seeds los­ing their vi­a­bil­ity. Green leaves are com­monly eaten as a veg­etable and are added to maize por­ridge, or a rel­ish is pre­pared with them, mixed with other plants.


Van Wyk, B.E., Ger­icke, N. Peo­ple’s plants, A Guide to Use­ful of South­ern Africa. First edi­tion, first im­pres­sion. 2000, se­cond im­pres­sion 2003, third im­pres­sion 2007, Briza Publi­ca­tions, Pre­to­ria.

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