Calabash gourds, drinking vessels known as jicara
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Thursday November 15, 2018

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The calabash fruit

Xquic visiting the forbidden calabash tree
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Institute of Archaeology (NICH)
Institute of Archaeology, NICH Administration Building, Culvert Road, Belmopan, Belize C.A. Belmopan, Belize
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Calabash gourds, drinking vessels known as jicara

Top photo, Jicara

Crescentia Cujete known in northern Belize as Jicara (Spanish), Luuch (Maya Yucatec) is important to the Mayan religion. It is used to keep water on the altar during the ceremony and for serving and drinking after the rituals. The small dried fruits filled with certain seeds and a handle turns into a sacred rattle used in the Mayan ceremonies. Some Mayas believe that Cháak (rain deities) ride across the sky sprinkling rain from a jicara. Therefore this vessel is a must when performing the “Chá Cháak Primicia” which is a Mayan rain ritual to summon rain.

To the Northern Mayas of Belize, the most common use of the jicara is as nature’s drinking vessel that grows on trees. Nature made sure the jicara can handle hot as well as cold food and drinks. Lagenaria Siceraria, Calabazo (Spanish) Chúuj (Maya Yucatec) is used by Maya Yucatec of northern Belize as water bottles. They are watertight, keeps hot and cold, and durable if properly handled.

In solidarity with Mother Earth, we invite everyone to use the luuch and chúuj as our ancestors did since these have been substituted by plastics which are harmful to our environment. Such plants are highly respected and promoted by NGO Kanan Miatsil (Guardians of Culture)

If you visit contemporary Maya houses, particularly in the south, it is very likely you will see drinking vessels that are not plastic, ceramic, or china. They are gourds, organic material, that come after the calabash fruit is carved out, leaving the shell which is hung to dry. The resulting vessel is known as a jicara.

The calabash tree, is of course, part of Maya mythology and tradition. When the father of the Hero Twins (Hun Hunahpu) was decapitated, his head was placed in a calabash tree. The daughter of a Xibalba lord, Xquic, visited the forbidden tree, and after her interaction with the head (which was now a calabash fruit) became impregnated with the Hero Twins.

The Maya of Northern Belize even though many of us don't live in traditional Maya houses (thatch house in our case), we still have our Jicara we call it in Yucatec Maya "luuch" we use it to drink our traditional Maya drinks like Choco Sakan, Balche and ha (water). We also have the Chu which is used to store water and it kept it cool.

Balche is still made but especially and specifically for the traditions of Cha Chaac, and primicias (Maya Thanksgiving). The H-men has to bless it dou, There are still 3 Maya communities in Corozal and one in Orange Walk which do the Balche for these events.

In September for the celebration of Marcus Canul in Orange Walk, some Yucatec Maya men from Cristo Rey in Corozal brought Balche for people to taste but they have to ask the H-men (Maya shaman) permission and his blessing for the balche and those doing it.

Photographs courtesy Institute of Archaeology

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