Indian Use of Gourds

The shells of gourds were employed by the Indians for storage and carrying, as water jugs, dippers, spoons, and dishes, and for mixing bowls, pottery smoothers, rattles, sounders for the rasping stick, roof-drains, masks, parts of ornaments, and other purposes, and the flowers were used as food, coloring material, and in ceremonies. A number of species and varieties were commonly raised, producing fruit of different shapes and sizes globose, lenticular, pyriform, and tubular, with necks of varying length and curve, or without necks, but all of value for the general or special purpose for which they were selectively grown. Gourds were sometimes shaped by pressure or bandaging while growing. Wild species were eaten green, or were used as medicine, but these were rarely made into utensils, while the larger and varied gourds, which were early distributed, like corn, from regions to the S. or derived during the historic period from the Old World, adapted themselves more fully to Indian needs. Aside from their use as domestic utensils they were extensively made into rattles, those E. of the Rocky mts. being almost universally of pyriform gourds, while the shape of the Pueblo gourd rattles is globular, lenticular, and pyriform. The Pueblos also made of gourd-shell heads for certain effigies, noses for masks, the bell ends of flageolets, ornaments for paraphernalia, and resonators for the notched rattle; and the Hopi imitate with a gourd trumpet behind a ceremonial altar the supposed sound made by the mythical plumed serpent. Gourd rattles for ceremonial use by various tribes were some times painted, burnt, or etched in symbolic designs. A Navaho specimen bears the outlines of several constellations scratched on the surface. Among the Iroquois gourd rattles were the special sacred objects of the medicine societies. The Cherokee, according to Mooney, fastened hollow gourds to tops of long poles set up near their houses so that the black house-martin might build their nests in them and frighten away the crows. Some of the Pueblos have Gourd or Calabash clans. See Dishes, Rattles, Receptacles. 

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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