The family calabash

In 1924 P's father decided to upsticks, jump on a ship and go to South America - Peru to be precise. He'd had the travel bug before, tried to board a ship bound for Australia, but his father had hauled him off the boat at Tillbury as he was still a minor. This time, however, turned twenty-one and now the master of his own destiny, he applied for a job with Lobitos, an oil company in Peru, and off he went.  We're a bit hazy about the journey, knowing only that the route took him through the Panama canal, but though he would have been travelling in relative style, we can assume it can't have been easy at sea for weeks on end. 
In 2004, Felix, his grandson, applied to several companies offering gap year placements in Peru.  Felix worked for six months in a bingo hall and staged a selling exhibition of his digital art to help fund his dream trip. When the time came for him to go, it turned out that his placement would be helping in an orphanage and living with a Peruvian host family. 

Les (P's father) had died ten years previously and no thoughts of parallel paths had occurred to us.  So we were stunned when we learnt that Felix was placed in Piura, a small town a few miles from the equator - the very same town where his grandfather had lived eighty years before. Incredible! Who says there's no grand order in the universe?

Les lived in Piura for six years, before returning to the UK, but what I'm getting round to is showing you something he brought back, which we all cherish and wonder about from time to time...
...a calabash gourd, wonderfully carved with people who look as though they're dressed in Peruvian Sunday best, playing bugles and harps, canoodling, dancing, there's a whole world in there. A tree of life with monkeys, birds, alpacas, llamas, flags, flora and fauna, as well as many fabulous decorative freizes and repeating patterns - a veritable feast of inspiration!
P remembers as a child being totally fascinated by it, especially as the lid held a secret, if you didn't know about the tiny dots and get them aligned, there was no way the lid would fit. Once it was on, you could barely see that you could take it off.
Close-up of zigzag pattern where lid joins rest of gourd
...and here's the bottom of the gourd with the underside of the lid.
The dancers
Close-up of the dancers
The bugle player
Top of the tree of life with birds
Couple at bottom of the tree of life with different bird
Monkeys on the tree of life
Men with monkey
Male dancers with the harpist beneath them
Various friezes around lid
It's intriguing to me how objects define families, providing the fibre that knits the family together and creating continuityThe objects we grow up with have many stories to tell about those who chose them and bestow a sense of security and belonging. Personally I have very little from either my mother or my father's families, so I always thought how wonderful it was for P to inherit  such beautiful bits and pieces from his parents. I'm not necessarily talking about things which cost a lot, but both his mother and father had an eye for good design, resulting in a rich heritage of lovely things to pass down the generations.

I'd love to hear your stories about objects in your family and if you know anything more about the provenance of our gorgeous calabash, please let us know.


  1. I inherited a secret from my mother's side. Her mother ran away in 1924, leaving her 3 children and died of a broken heart. Nobody knew how she died until I found a scan of her death cert in Cleveland Ohio, she had died of an infection from a botched 'self induced abortion'. It was the days before antibiotics. Anyway, in the days following that, I followed her history back, back, back in time to Kings and Queens. Not that it makes any difference, but I feel better about this lost grandmother now that I know she came from a better place. :) No objects, though, only a print out of a very old death cert. Lois from Canada.

    1. Lois that is heartbreaking even after all these years - it's amazing what some people go through. I'm so sorry that you never knew your grandmother, but it must be a comfort to you now you know her story. x

  2. I read about the calabash gourd from Philip's family with great interest. It certainly is a beautiful object. We saw them being carved at the other side of the world in Indonesia when we travelled. Lots of different designs, I seem to recall one beautiful gourd with M.C.Escher style lizards - intertwined and crawling all over it. They coloured them by dipping brushes into paint can sized tins of liquid Kiwi brown boot polish! I remember being shown a 'naked' white gourd and asking how they got the dark, lustrous colour. The reply was, 'Why Kiwi of course!'
    Thanks for another wonderful blog. x


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