To me calabashes are symbols of generosity, openness of heart and mind. Their sound and feel is of warmth, truth, purity and simplicity. That is why I love them so much. They are the perfect symbol of motherhood and a tool that represents so beautifully the inexorable heart desire of a mother to share herself with her children. You will feel it also listening to the Kora or Balafon players, in the rythm of the Fulbe dancers and in the carvings of the craftmen, etc... Calabashes cannot lie....
Hollowed out and dried calabashes are a very typical utensil in households across West Africa. They are used to clean rice or vegetables, to prepare millet flour dishes, to carry milk and traditional Yogurt, as well as other foods. The picture on the left shows Fulani Women selling Yogurt at the market in large calebashes carefully closed with beautifully hand woven trays.. They often go door to door in villages and larger cities for their trade. Calabashes are still commonly used in the Sahel region of Africa for food shopping at the market or vending food products. They are also used to wash clothes and bathe. Smaller calabashes are used as spoons for cooking serving food or drinking.
Senegalese, Guinean and Malian kora players use Calabashes to in making the West Africankora (a harp-lute), (if you never heard the Kora follow this link to a beautiful video of a Great Kora player from Senegal: <iframe width="420" height="345" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/JNl8kIwj1_k" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>) a link to a video xalam/ngoni (a lute) and the goje (a traditional fiddle). They also serve as resonators underneath the balafon (West African marimba). The calabash is also used in making the shegureh (a Sierra Leonean women's rattle) and balangi (a Sierra Leonean type of balafon) musical instruments. Sometimes, large calabashes are simply hollowed, dried and used as percussion instruments, especially by Fulani, Songhai, Gur-speaking and Hausa peoples.
Wonderful artists all over West Africa create amazing works of traditional art from the calabashes. Traditionnally Fulani wadabe people create beautiful designs on their calabashes, and you can see below works of art by Nigerian artists and craftmen.
In South Africa, calabashes are commonly used as a drinking vessel by tribes such as the Zulus. Recently, the Soccer City stadium which hosted the FIFA World Cup has been completed and its shape takes inspiration from the calabash.