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Three Tales of How Gourds Saves Life

Joanna is an online writer who enjoys researching historical and scientific topics.

Bottle Gourd

Bottle Gourd


Before the invention of pottery, humans treasured the gourd as a container for thousands of years. The gourd was used for various things, including food and medicine, containers, antiques, and musical instruments. Since 2,000 BCE, it has been grown as a vegetable in India. It is an integral component of the Karbi and Khasi hill tribes' culture in Assam (India), where it is used in various social festivities and rites of passage, as well as in the giving of rice beer to gods and deities and serving guests. To declare a couple's engagement among the Karbis, the offer and acceptance of a bottle gourd as a present is sufficient. In a legitimate Khasi marriage, it is a necessary component. The local expressions around the plant demonstrate the herb's influence on Indian, Chinese, and African languages. In China, it is regarded as a symbol of long life and good fortune. In Nigeria, the number of decorated bottle gourd containers symbolizes a Hausa tribes person's social rank, an essential or indispensable portion of a bride's dowry. The bottle gourd was supposed to have originated and domesticated in Africa for an extended period. Recent studies have revealed its origin and native home in Asia. And who knew gourds too could save a life! Here are three tales of how gourd saves life:

Kitagawa River

Kitagawa River

1. The Story of Kowakubi and Koromono-ko

Record in Nikon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) has it that during the reign of Emperor Nintoku in the 323 A.D., the Kitakawa and Mumata rivers were overflowed. Unable to combat the problem, the Emperor has received a divine revelation to sacrifice both Kowakubi of Musashi and Koromono-ko of Kawachi. To offer prayer to the deity of the Kitakawa, they threw Kowabuki into the river. The record has it that the sacrifice made the construction of the river bank possible. And as it came to Koromono-ko, he threw two gourds into the torrent. He told the deity of the Mumata river, "I came here to sacrifice myself to thee, because thou art inflicting the calamity upon the people of this district. If thou dost sincerely want my life, sink these gourds so that they may not float again; then I shall know thee as the true deity of this river and offer my body to thee. But if thou canst not sink them, thou art not the true deity, and it would be in vain for me to throw away my life." The wind blew, trying to sink the gourds away, but the buoyancy gourds kept dancing on the top of the waves. The water agitation grew tiny and trim, and the bank was made strong. Koromono-ko has saved his life. And that is how a gourd has saved Koromono-ko's life.

Si Lunchai

Si Lunchai

2. Si Lunchai

Si Lunchai is a story of a poor firewood seller man named Si Lunchai. Because he was pot-bellied and big-buttocked, he was called Si Lunchai. Si Lunchai wishes for an audience with the king, but the king refuses because of Si Lunchai's ugly face. The king's refusal had Si Lunchai paint his buttocks red, black, and yellow and stick them with flowers. When Si Lunchai finally has the chance to present himself to the astonished king, he bursts out laughing upon seeing the king's newly shaven head. After being pressed, Si Lunchai told the king that His highness's bald head reminded him of his old father. Because Si Lunchai offended the king, the king ordered his men to drown Si Lunchai with a stone around his neck in the river's mouth. Si Launchai began singing in the canoe and unbound his arms so he could escape the execution for lèse-majesté. He planned to use the water gourd on the canoe as a buoy and escape. He told the boatmen to answer his refrain --

'he leapeth down with water gourd.'

with the words,

'ah, let him go. Ah, let him go.'

They sang together for a while. While the boatmen were busy singing and the steersman and the paddler's backs turned, Si Lunchai took the opportunity to jump overboard and swim away. The steersman saw him and yelled,

'he leapeth down with water gourd.'

the paddlers only answered in chorus,

'ah, let him go, Ah, let him go.'

And this is how gourd saved Si Lunchai's life.

"Follow the Drinking Gourd"

"Follow the Drinking Gourd"

3. Follow the Drinking Gourd

Follow the Drinking Gourd is an American folk song that tells how enslaved people in the southern United States escaped following the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and the North Star (Polaris) to reach the North.

1 When the sun come back,
When the firs' quail call,
Then the time is come
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

Chorus: Foiller the drinkin' gou'd,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
For the ole man say,
"Foller the drinkin' gou'd."

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2 The riva's bank am a very good road,
The dead trees show the way,
Lef' foot, peg foot goin' on,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

3 The riva ends a-tween two hills,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
'Nuther riva on the other side
Follers the drinkin' gou'd.

4 Wha the little riva
Meet the grea' big un,
The ole man waits-
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

- H.B Parks version

The first stanza tells how the enslaved people must leave in the winter and walk toward the Drinking Gourd (constellation Ursa Major). The enslaved people will then meet a guide who will escort them throughout the rest of the journey.

The second stanza tells how the enslaved people should follow the bank of Tombigbee River north. Along the way, they need to find dead trees marked with drawings of a left foot and a peg foot.

The third stanza guided the enslaved people as they reached the headwater of the Tombigbee River. They were to walk north over the hills until they met the Tennessee River. They were then to journey north along the new river.

The last stanza tells of how the enslaved people will cross the Ohio River that joined the Tennessee River, and on the north bank, the enslaved people will meet a guide from the Underground Railroad.

And this is how gourd, once again, has saved lives!

Sources and Further Reading

Ahuja, S. C., Ahuja, S., Ahuja U. (2011). Bottle Gourd - History Uses, and Folklore. AsianAgri-History Vol. 15, No. 4, 2011 (283-302).

Tsuda, Noritake (1918) "Human Sacrifices in Japan," The Open Court, Vol. 1918, Iss. 12.

Wilkinson, R. J., (1923). Papers on Malay subjects : life and customs [Pamphlet]. F.M.S. Govt. Press, 1908-1910

Hazrul Mazran, Rusli and Abdul Aziz, Zali @ Zalay (2020) Adaptasi kesusasteraan rakyat (cerita Si Luncai) dalam karya seni cetakan / Hazrul Mazran Rusli dan Abdul Aziz Zali @ Zalay. Idealogy Journal, 5 (1). pp. 43-56. ISSN 2550-214X

Parks, H. B. ‘‘Follow the Drinking Gourd.’’ Publications of the TexasFolk-Lore Society 7 (1928) 81 – 84. Mother Wit from the LaughingBarrel: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folktales. ed.Alan, Dundes. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1990. 465– 68.

Kelley J. (2008). Song, Story, or History: Resisting Claims of a Coded Message in the African American Spiritual “Follow the Drinking Gourd” The Journal of Popular Culture. 41(2):262 - 280 DOI:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2008.00502.x

© 2022 Joanna Maxine Jack

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