by David Rogers
from Jumbie Journal, February 2005 Issue
In preparation for the APAP conference, we had this "great idea" to make a bunch of small gourd rattles to give out to folks who came by the Jumbie booth. Someone had heard that if you put a gourd in the oven on very low heat overnight, the inside will dry out and the seeds will form a perfect rattle - like an ensasi from Uganada or hosho from Zimbabwe.
No matter that the Connecticut farmer we bought our sack of gourds from confidently told us that the only way to dry them was to let them sit in a shed until February or March. "Don't mind the mold. You can rub that off in the springtime when it's ready." We had no time to spare waiting for spring.
A web search found inconclusive directions on how to handle the mysterious drying process. The first night of oven drying was fraught with questions: How hot? How do you keep them from cooking? Is it safe to go to sleep with your oven on?
Cautious heating yielded a gourd the next morning that was warm to the touch but otherwise unchanged. Then, our second gourd-drying laboratory (based in Michigan) decided to opt for puncturing the specimens with an ice pick to help let the damp air out. More heat! More holes! More cooking time!
Slowly, a strange smell started to fill the house. "Dad! WHAT IS THAT? Did a skunk get into our kitchen??" bellowed 9-year-old Abena, quick to detect an experiment gone awry.
Alas, the ovens were turned off, the gourds discarded except one, and the plans for our conference give-away nixed. Several weeks after the event, though, our lone un-cooked gourd was recently uncovered… mottled with green and black mold, but distinctly drier. A shake of its stem already brings a soft swishing sound, ready to accompany a small kalimba or horse-hair fiddle. By March it should be perfect for showtime.
The moral to aspiring rattle-makers: listener to your local farmer. (And don't rush Mother Nature.)