cuia (Dish)

About this object

History of use

Gourds have several uses: as food recipients, vases, fruit plates or planters, or for bathing or removing water from canoes. Painted gourds have been documented as an indigenous art form in Amazonia since the 17th century. Gourd painting was slowly appropriated by settler communities over time, but had become rare by the early 21st century. In 2004, the Ministry of Culture of Brazil launched a project to revitalize this women’s knowledge and practice in communities around Santarém, in the state of Pará. Calabash gourd making processes in the Lower Amazon were classified as Brazilian intangible cultural heritage in 2015.

Specific techniques

The gourds are made from the non-edible fruit of the calabash tree (Crescentia cujete). The fruit is cut in half and emptied. It is then polished inside and out with the scales of the fish locally known as pirarucu (Arapaima gigas). The outside surface is further polished with leaves of the imbauba tree (genus Cecropia). Once dried, polished and decorated, gourds have several uses: as food recipients, vases, fruit plates or planters, or for bathing or removing water from canoes. There are two types of modern gourds: the pitinga or natural gourd and the tingida, the painted or tainted gourd. The latter is dyed with cumatê, a natural extract from the bark of the axuazeiro tree (Myrcia atramentífera). Both natural and painted gourds are decorated with incisions.

Physical description

Painted gourd dish. Large, deep dish is light with a very thin wall, with an irregular shape at the rim. From a rounded bottom the dish flares widely toward the mouth. Vessel is painted a shiny black on both interior and exterior, with an incised decoration in a wide strip around the midpoint. Pattern is sets of concentric circles, cut in half, lining the top and bottom of the strip on its interior, with diagonal lines cutting through to their midpoints. The decoration is unpainted, and left a raw light brown.