Manataka American Indian Council




Submitted by Carol Spirit Dove Henderson 



A collection of quotes about gourds and their many uses




"Presently in came fine men dressed up with feathers, their faces being covered with wizards made of gourds... "...while the other rattled with a gourd that had corn in it, to make a noise…” 


"The Indians tap the maple sugar tree and make Gourds to receive the liquor... when it best yields its juice... of which they carry it home, and boil it to a just consistence of sugar, which grains of itself, and serves for the same uses, as other sugar does."

"The Planters put gourds on standing poles, on purpose for these fowl (martins) to build in, because they are a very warlike bird, and beat the crows from the plantations"

"A plant which was important in the agriculture of the Southeastern Indians was the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), one of the oldest plants cultivated in North America, dating to before 1000 B.C. They cultivated it not for food, but for a truly remarkable variety of material uses.





The bottle gourd grows to different sizes, ranging from a few inches to as much as fourteen inches in diameter. Its form varies from a small globular shape with a long neck to a large globular shape with a vestigial neck. Its most important property is that when cured it has a hard shell that is superior to pottery in that it is break resistant and very light. From the bottle gourd the Southeastern Inds. made water vessels, dippers, ladles, cups, bowls, bird houses, rattles, masks, and many other things. The large gourds made especially good water vessels. They were made simply by cutting a hole a few inches in diameter on one side of the gourd near the top. This was both the mouth of the vessel and the handle, for the Inds. could carry it by hooking their fingers into the hole. Water would soak very slowly through the gourd, but this was desirable, for as it evaporated it cooled the water inside. 


"The gourd.... gives more than bottles and containers. It is also used for food, floats, musical instruments, medicine, artistic endeavors ... as well as many other ways."

One of the most important uses of gourds is for containers. The gourd makes an ideal receptacle for water. Some gourds come with an hour-glass figure, more or less, which made it easy to attach a rope for carrying them."

"Early utensils such as plates, cups, dippers, and spoons were made from gourds in many places."

"Gourds have also been used as floats for swimmers, somewhat in the fashion of the old water wings. Two gourds were tied together with a string or rope, which was placed under the arms, and the gourds would serve to support a person in the water. Korean women divers used gourds as supports between dives."

Gourds were used for floats -- for rafts, and fishing nets.....

Birdhouses were made from gourds, and hunt from the trees near the planted fields of corn. The martins, particularly, kept other birds away.....

Masks... "their use persisted until fairly recently in the Booger Dance of the Cherokees. These masks had holes for the eyes and mouth and an elongate nose formed by the neck of the gourd.

"Gourds are usually decorated after they are completely dry. The thin epidermis is usually removed if it has not already weathered off. To accomplish this the gourd is usually soaked in water, after which the outer skin is easily peeled or scraped off. Sometimes whole gourds are used, but more often the gourd is cut in half or the top cut off, depending on the the purpose it is to serve, and the seeds and dried pulp are removed and the inside smoothed. The outside of the gourd is then polished with some variety of rough herb. The gourd then may be decorated in this state -- its natural yellow-tan color, which is not unattractive -- or it may be stained various colors by the use of natural dyes.

"The pattern or design is traced on the gourd with a pencil or sharp tool. It is then incised with a knife or chisel, a process sometimes known as pressure engraving, and may be left in this state. Among some gourd carvers the background around the patterns or figures is scraped away so that the figure is raised. Frequently, by means of a hot tool -- the gourd is scorched or burned (pyro-engraving).

"The black house martin is a favorite with the Cherokees who attract it by fastening hollow gourds to the tops of long poles set up near their houses so that the birds may build their nests in them. 'The planters put gourds on standing poles on purpose for these fowl to build in, because they are a very warlike bird and beat the crows from the plantations'

Today, other uses made from gourds are flowers, lamps, Christmas tree ornaments, wreaths, dolls, hats, and all types of dishes. Also, musical instruments....   and rattles...

GOURD RATTLES: "sometimes more than a single gourd is used to make a rattle, or pieces of gourd may be threaded on a stick to make a rattling instrument. Although gourds are usually shaken, sometimes they are attached to a stick that is stamped on the ground or hit against the thighs.


"Not everyone appreciated the music of the gourd rattle, as is evident from Capt. John

mith's account of the Inds. of Virginia. "Their chief instruments," he writes, "are rattles made of small gourds or pumpeons shells. Of these they have base, tenor, counter-tenor, mean, and treble. These mingled with their voices, sometimes twenty or thirty together, make such a terrible noise as would rather affright than delight any man". 

Interesting Note: A telephone 1000 years old was discovered in the ruins of a Peruvian palace? It consisted of two gourd necks, one end of each covered with hide and pulled taut to carry the human voice.  


~Submitted by Carol Spirit Dove Henderson