The Many Uses of Gourds
Gourds can be found in every corner of the earth and their uses date back to 13,000 BC. They were one of the earliest crops ever to be imported and exported. The word nerokolokytha is Greek for “gourd” and “flask,” which also translates literally to “water pumpkin” in English. In ancient Greece, gourds were first used by travelers to transport honey, milk, water, wine, and medicine. It was called “the donor of life” since it kept them alive by providing health and longevity during their travels.
At the age of 10, I was first inspired to paint gourds by my grandfather, Demetrios Iosifellis. One summer when I was visiting him in Mesotopos on the island of Lesvos (Mytilini) Greece, there were lots of gourds hanging above his porch to dry in order to preserve their natural colors. He gave me one and said, ‘’Give it life again and paint it.” When he saw how much I was impressed by this beautiful vegetable, he explained to me how they were used differently in the past. According to him, the village folks used gourds as plates and containers for wine, water, olives and medicine. During Halloween in Greece the men in his village would also hang them from their bodies with bells as a symbol of sexuality and fertility. This can still be seen today in traditional folkloric dances. Another use that inspired me to learn more about gourds was when parents used to put them near their children’s’ beds as a symbol of health. Parents believed that fairies would use them to trap their children’s nightmares.
As I grew older, I learned more about gourds by talking to older people from all around Greece and reading many books about gourds. It seems that there are different stories and uses for this plant all around the world. For example, gourds were used by pharmacists and spice manufacturers in the Middle East and Egypt to preserve spices and medicines, so they would not lose their flavor or medicinal value. In ancient China, gourds are known as” Wu Lu”, a powerful symbol of health and one of the strongest symbols of Feng Shui. They believe that gourds absorb the negative energy that surrounds a sick person’s body. On the Mediterranean island of Ikaria, gourds were used as a type of container for testing wine. The winemakers there used big clay pots to ore the wine and placed these underground to keep the wine at the right temperature. The only containers that could be used to test the wine were gourds due to their slender shape and size. They would make holes on both ends as if it were a straw and suck the wine until it was filled. Then they served the wine and tasted it. Similar uses can also be found on the island of Cyprus.
Nowadays gourds are mainly used for decorative purposes.
My First Hand-painted Gourd
The first time I ever painted a gourd was when I returned from the island of Lesvos. I will never forget how happy I was when I completed painting that first gourd. My grandfather was right by giving me something so precious! One year afterwards, I asked my beloved aunt Ralio, who was like a mother to me, to bring me some seeds back from the island after her summer trip. That April, I was excited to plant my first gourd seeds. When the plants bloomed, I never imagined that those beautiful white flowers would become big beautiful gourds and that each one would have its own unique shape. By the fall, I had my fist crop, and a year after that, I had my first home-grown dried gourds. Since then, I have painted lots of different sizes and varieties of gourds.