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Pumpkin Origins
Pumpkin Origins

Ancient Origins of Halloween

"The motley of older varieties of edible pumpkins has shrunk to the monochrome, indigestible Halloween porch sitter of today".
"Food in name only,” historian James McWilliams calls the bloated Halloween decorations we know as pumpkins: "Dried, stewed, roasted, baked, raw . . . served as side dish, dessert, drink, livestock feed, the pumpkin used to support man and beast". - US Colonial Pumpkin History


Calabash with Ritual Pieces, Songye, circa 1910

Which came first, man or gourd?

  • "It was reported by Dutch visitors to Loango in the 1668 book Description of Africa as referring both to a material item and the spiritual entity that inhabits it.[1]"
  • Minkisi are primarily containers - ceramic vessels, gourds, animal horns, shells, bundles, or any other object that can contain spiritually-charged substances.
  • minkisi have even been described as portable graves, and many include earth or relics from the grave of a powerful individual
  • Lunda Protective Figure — Zambia-Angola, Mid-20th Century, possibly earlier
    Lunda protective figure from Northwestern Zambia - Eastern Angola. Objects such as this consist of carved figures inserted into gourds or clay pots into which a mixture of clay, vegetable matter and other unknown substances have been hardened. The fact that the figure has "charged" substances (ie. the red seeds) would give this object its protective power. Artifacts of this type were not used in divination rites, but were owned by the diviner as protection against harmful influences during the divination process. Well carved wooden figure with seeds attached with a resin type material. An incredible piece with signs of tribal use.[3]
  • The most highly esteemed and favourite Calabashes (Gourds) had chants composed for them as though they were human beings, and when they were placed on the table one would hear their owner with proud countenances, canting of the celebrated deeds of those for whom they were named.[7]
  • So important were Gourds to Haitian people in the early 1800's that gourds were made the national currency.[7]

  • All Saints Day tradition

    the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain


    How did Samhain become Halloween?

    Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. ref:history.com

  • In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.
    The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1.

    The practice of decorating “jack-o'-lanterns”
    The name comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack—originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes served as an early canvas. -History of the Jack O' Lantern ref:history.com

    Celts didn't have pumpkin, which are a crop from Africa and South America. So it wasn't until those with Celtic ancestry came to North America that they began using gourds.

  •  Mexican squash (pumpkin) with its flower, c. 1440-1521

    Merging of European and Native Mythology

    Gourds have been used in religious ceremonies, used as tools, carved into stone, and had historic accounts carved into them. The oldest evidence we have is the Stone Squash, a stone carved into a squash shape from the 10th century.

    Settlers brought their tradition of carving turnips and Souling with them and began carving the native gourds and pumpkins, and Souling was then called trick or treating.




    Worldwide celebrations of the dead combines to create modern Halloween

    In Africa a similar tradition was already established: "It was reported by Dutch visitors to Loango in the 1668 book Description of Africa as referring both to a material item and the spiritual entity that inhabits it.[1]"

    "Banganga harness the powers of bakisi and the dead by making minkisi. Minkisi are primarily containers - ceramic vessels, gourds, animal horns, shells, bundles, or any other object that can contain spiritually-charged substances. Even graves themselves, as the home of the dead and hence the home of bakisi, can be considered as minkisi. In fact, minkisi have even been described as portable graves, and many include earth or relics from the grave of a powerful individual as a prime ingredient. The powers of the dead thus infuse the object and allow the nganga to control it.[2]"

    A multitude of cultures, including Celtic and African combined to create what we know as Halloween today. Instead of gourds, Americans began to use pumpkins because they were a readily-available crop, the result of being grown for thousands of years as a food crop by Native Americans.

    Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas.

    Giving away food in the name of the dead

    [1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nkisi
    [2]
    [3]http://www.ancientartifax.com/african.htm
    Celtic: turnip
    {4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack-o%27-lantern
    [5]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will-o'-the-wisp
    [6]https://www.le.ac.uk/ebulletin-archive/ebulletin/features/2000-2009/2007/04/nparticle.2007-04-20.html
    Will o the wisp: http://inamidst.com/lights/wisp/blesson1832
    [7]https://yagbeonilu.com/gourd-calabash-basics/
    Halloween version 5.0 history
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