Words by Jesse Serwer—
The calabash, or “bottle gourd,” is one of the most widely used vegetables in the Caribbean, but not necessarily for food. In Montserrat (and some other islands, too), calabash is used to make everything from hanging baskets, masks and music instruments to handbags, jewellery and other fashion accessories.
A few years back, Montserrat was looking to establish a new festival to lure visitors in the summer months and encourage redevelopment following the devastating Soufriere Hills Volcano eruption of 1995. A local businesswoman proposed the calabash—besides for its multi-functionality and economic significance, the fruit-bearing vine is also a symbol of strength, versatility and resilience—as a theme, and the Montserrat Calabash Festival was born. Now in its eighth year, the festival is held annually during the third week of July, the anniversary of the Soufriere Hills eruption.
This year’s edition of the Montserrat Calabash Festival (not to be confused with Jamaica’s Calabash Literary Festival or Montserrat Festival, the island’s Christmastime carnival) began yesterday (July 14) and runs through this Sunday, July 21.
Besides for boosting economic opportunities for local craftmakers, the festival also encourages other Montserratians to incorporate a little calabash into their lives. A fashion show has even been held with designers incorporating the vine into their pieces. A Friday-night food fair features the calabash alongside other local cuisine like the national dish, goat water. And a music festival (“Music Fest By the Bay”) closes out the week, bringing steel bands, string bands and calypsonians together on the beach in Little Bay (Montserrat’s makeshift capital since the destruction of its old one, Plymouth). Oh, and crab racing.
See here for the full schedule of events.