Book VIII, Chapter IV
Of the tree called higüero or calabash tree. The emphasis on the letter u should be long, or said as a space, in such a way that it is not pronounced quickly, nor running together with the three letters gue, but rather pausing a tiny bit between the u and the e and saying hi…gu…ero. I say this so that the reader will not take it to mean higuero, or higuera of figs [fig-tree].
Translated by Laurel Hanson ’23
The calabash is a large tree, like the mulberries of Castilla, more or less. The fruit that it bears is a sort of squash that is round and sometimes elongated. The round ones are very round, from which the Indians make cups and other little vessels for drinking and other purposes. The timber or wood of this tree is sturdy and good for scissor or folding armchairs and smaller chairs, as well as for the horse-saddle tree and other things. It is flexible, pliant, and strong, and the grain resembles, after being carved, the pomegranate or hawthorn tree. This tree’s leaf is long and narrow, with broadest part at the pointed end, and from there it narrows downward to the stalk, where it is formed like this, as I draw it here. When necessary, the Indians eat this fruit, by which I mean what is inside it, which is like squash curd when it is ripe. By curing them and removing the insides in order to make a cup from the calabash fruit, that very cup has the same shine and shape as those of a squash. They are nothing if not a squash, in both the shape and type, as I have said. The biggest of these fruit or squashes are as large as a pot that fits two azumbres [about four liters] or more of water, and they continue to decrease in size until they are no larger than a closed fist. From them, they make vessels of the size allowed by their dimensions. These trees are common and ordinary on this and every island and the Mainland of these Indies. They are even more common given that in some provinces, the cups that are made from these fruits or squashes are beautiful and lovely. Apart from that, there is another mysterious difference in the leaves, which, in the first printing, I promised to discuss in the second part of The General History of the Indies. I then felt it would be better that these materials be together, saying in the prologue of this Book VIII that I would discuss in it that which relates to the Mainland. And keeping my word, I tell you that the common leaf of the calabash tree is long and narrow, with the broadest part at the end or at the point, and from there it narrows down to the stalk where it is rooted, as said above. Here it is seen clearly (Lam. 3.a fig. 3.a). There are other calabash trees on the Mainland differentiated, not by the fruit, nor by what I have said, but only by the leaf, which is like so (Lam. 3.a fig. 4.a), each leaf making a cross, as I have drawn here. It appears to me very notable, as it seems to be a testimony of the Cross that these people have not been able to ignore. I have seen these calabash trees that have crosses for leaves in the province of Nicaragua, and especially in Nagrando, where the city of León is, and in other parts of that land. Marveling at the leaves, I picked a few to show in Spain, as I showed them, and even now I have some of them in my possession. In the places I mentioned, where there are many of these trees, and in Nicaragua, they call this tree guacal. Those beautiful calabash cups were found in Darién and the gulf of Urabá, with grips or handles of gold. So beautiful were they one could offer a drink from it to the most powerful king without doubt or reproach. This fruit arrived through trade routes along the great San Juan river, which flows into the gulf of Urabá.
Image: Illustration by J.T. Descourtilz in Flore pittoresque et médicale des Antilles, published in the 1820s