Crafting with calabasas is a lot of fun, especially with your community kiddos. You can make an assortment of utilitarian or decorative items, including bowls, cups, utensils, bathing totumas, hanging units, mobiles, and masks!
After you harvest the calabasa you want to work with (pick ones from the tree, not ones that have fallen), determine what shape you want it to be. For making masks, it is best to cut lengthwise in half. For deeper bowls and cups, cut it width wise. A segueta (in English I think it is a hacksaw..) works really well. If a segueta isn’t available, you could use a saw, machette or knife. You could either draw a line to follow your cut or just wing it. Once the calabasa is cut, it is time to scoop out the gooey innards. Unfortunately, these are inedible…even for most animals. It is great for the compost pile though! I’ve found that a trowel works well to scoop out larger chunks. Then complete the task with a spoon. Scrape out all the goo until you reach the hard inside shell. Clean any remaining goo off then place it in a pot of boiled water for a minute or two. This hardens and preserves the shell to prevent breaking later on.
Now the fun part! The calabasa has been picked, cut, cleaned and hardened. It is time to start carving and decorating. For making a mask, I recommend drawing out where you want to cut first. If you want the mask to be symmetrical, measure out the middle lines both lengthwise and widthwise (just like drawing a face on a piece of paper). Choose the style of eyes, nose and mouth-circular, triangular, squared, rectangular, linear, zigzagged, a set of dots, ect. Slowly cut with a knife or hacksaw; a regular saw will be too large for this task. Once the basics are cut away, begin decorating the shell face. A scribe works really well for this (I lucked out that my art major boyfriend brought his to Panama). If you don’t have a scribe, use a knife, nail, scissors or anything sharp. Use enough force that the top layer is scraped off, but be careful of poking a hole through the shell. If you decide to hang it in a window and wish for light to enter through, then poke holes in various spots of the mask. Be careful not to poke one too close to an edge or a whole chunk will come off!
Don’t be alarmed when the color of the mask changes. The shell will start off more green and turn brown within several days. If you want to paint your mask, opt for non-acrylic. In my experience, acrylic paint has washed and chipped off quickly. A cool style one niño did was put paint in the grooves then wiped the excess off the shell, so that only the grooved lines were colored. Try different styles and have fun with the kids! This is a great activity to do when they come over with lots of energy. All the cutting and scooping can actually become tiring. Hang your mask up or wear it around the community as you pasear. 🙂