Articles

A JALISCO CALABASH BOTTLE

 

The Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco is one of the thirty-one states comprising the nation of Mexico.  It is believed that humans have lived in this Pacific Ocean bordering region well in excess of ten thousand years and have been practicing agriculturists for at least 8,000 years and possibly before then.  It is also believed that Asians, who crossed the frozen Bering Strait Land Bridge from Siberia more than 12,000 years ago, brought with them various seeds from plants grown and consumed in their native lands.  Such seed transference produced a unique member of the gourd family and eventually led to this Jalisco calabash bottle.

 

The calabash gourd (Lagenaria sicerearia) is believed to have developed naturally and independently in both the continents of Africa and Asia.  DNA rind sequence analysis seems to verify that this plant, as is now grown in the Americas, came from the Asia into the Western Hemisphere and probably over the iced-covered northern sea by the Paleo period people.  These ancient natives moved through North America and into the land now known as the Oaxaca Valley, Jalisco, Mexico, by conceivably about 10,000 years ago, bringing with them the seeds of this calabash plant which is also known as the opo squash, the white-flower gourd, the long melon and especially as the bottle gourd.

 

Jalisco gets its name from the Aztec Nahuatl language words “xalli” meaning sand and “ixtli” meaning place – thus Sandy Place.  It is home to tropical and temperate forests, to grasslands, to beaches, to arid and semi-arid scrublands and to sandy plains depending on the topographical elevation at any given part of the state.  Such extremes are because the country sits directly amidst the temperate north and the tropical south zones.  Today there are over 7000 species of veined plants growing throughout the region, one of which is the calabash gourd.  This vining plant produces a squash family fruit which is eaten as a vegetable when it is young and tender and is used as a water carrier when it is large and mature.  In many parts of Mexico and Central America the calabash seeds are toasted and mixed with various herbs and water or milk to make a drink called borchata and it is theorized that the ancient inhabitants did this also and carried this drink, during their journeys, in their calabash gourd receptacles.  We know that the aborigines began making earthenware vessels at least 3500 years ago in the region, one of which was probably a container for transporting water as they traveled and the current supposition is that they copied the simple calabash gourd for this purpose.  They called the terracotta gourd replica, as well as the actual dried calabash gourd shell, a bule or guajc which would loosely translate as canteen.

 

This particular pottery gourd copy was acquired in the late 1950’s by a citizen of the United States and legally brought into this country.  It would have been found or excavated by a local digger or monero in San Isidro Mazatepec, Jalisco which is in the central part of the country a short distance southwest of the capital of the state, Guadalajara.  The shape is that of the tall calabash gourd with its typical constricted center.  The exterior is a burnished pale brown colored slip over the original buff ceramics and with some of the faded remnants of red geometric painted decorations still visible.  It is 6 ½ inches tall by 7 inches diameter at the widest point and could possibly date to the period of early pottery making called the Capache Phase which was in the 1500 BC time frame when it is believed that the first of the gourd effigy ceramic vessels were made.  Or it could date to as recently as the Late-Formative Period also known as the shaft-chamber tomb age or 200 BC to AD 300 or anytime between the Capache and the Late-Formative eras.   The outer surface has appreciable black firing clouds and manganese deposits.  This hard and brittle grey-white manganese is the twelfth most abundant mineral in the world and is plentiful in the soils of West Mexico.  Due to the mineral’s resistance to being broken down, the time period for the manganese particles to attach to something in the earth is very lengthy – hundreds of years.  Well after the Capache vessel and subsequent to the shaft-chamber tomb periods ending, the natives in the region that would become Jalisco, were conquered first by the Toltec and later the Chichmeca and still later by the P’urhepecha ethnic groups.   Then the Spaniard Nuno de Guzman invaded with his large army in AD 1529.  History reports that he was especially cruel and brutal to the natives sending many into slavery in the Caribbean and committing mass genocide.  He was so evil to the Indians that the Spanish government recalled him to Spain and placed him in prison in AD 1536.  Other Spaniards, though, replaced Guzman in Jalisco and were almost equally barbaric so that by AD 1600 over ninety per cent of the indigenous people had been completely exterminated.   The pre-Hispanic natives of the West Mexico states are known for producing thin walled replicas of local plants in their pottery creations and this one is typical of the type.  It was maybe made as a vessel into which water or a local alcoholic drink was placed before it was buried with a revered deceased member of a family in a shaft-chamber tomb.  Or it could have been made simply as a drinking container to be used for traveling or for the swallowing of liquids with meals.  We, today, will probably never know for sure why or exactly when this ceramic vessel was originally made but we certainly know that it is a rare and delightful Jalisco calabash bottle.

REFERENCES:

Bell, Betty                                                                               1971

     “Archaeology of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima”, ARCHAEOLOGY OF NORTHERN MESOAMERICA

Coe, Michael D. & Rex Koontz                                                1994

     MEXICO: FROM THE OLMECS TO THE AZTECS

Furst, Jill L. & Peter T. Furst                                                    1979

     PRE-COLUBIAN ART OF MEXICO

Gallagher, Jacki                                                                       1983

     COMPANIONS OF THE DEAD:  CERAMIC TOMB SCULPTURE FROM ANCIENT WEST MEXICO

Kelly, Isabel                                                                             1978

     STUDIES IN ANCIENT MESOAMERICA

Pearsall, Deborah M.                                                              2007

     “Plant Domestication”, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ARCHAEOLOGY

Reynolds, Richard D.                                                               1993

     THE ANCIENT ART OF COLIMA, MEXICO

Schaffer, Arthur A. & H. S. Paris                                              2003

     “Melons, Squashes and Gourds”, ENCYLOPEDIA OF FOOD SCIENCES AND NUTRICIAN

Townsend, Richard, Editor                                                      1998

     ANCIENT WEST MEXICO – ART & ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE UNKNOWN PAST

Von Winning, Hasso                                                               1974

     “The Shaft-Tomb Figures of West Mexico”, SOUTHWEST MUSEUM PAPERS, NO. 24