Saturday, November 3, 2007

Outta My Gourd for Ipu

As anybody who has tried to grow an ipu knows, it can be a frustrating experience. Ipu is a gourd, the fruit of the pohue vine (Lagenaria siceraria). Fruit flies love to deposit their eggs in ipu, and when the eggs hatch the maggots feed on the fruit. And the adults are merciless – they sting the ipu when the gourd is tiny and still developing from a flower. In addition, the soft, green, slightly hairy skin is easily damaged if the fruit is left to grow on the ground. Shee, no mo chance, eh?

Consequently, many halau gave up trying to grow their own Hawaiian ipu, and in the 20th century it became a common practice to use imported dried ones from California. These days, however, there is increasing interest in growing ipu locally. The newly formed Hawai'i Gourd Society is hoping to encourage more people to grow their own ipu as well as learn the art of Hawaiian ipu decoration.

At the Hawai'i Healing Garden Festival, held on Nov. 3 at Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook, HGS vice president Evie Morby shared her mana’o with me. While skillfully carving a smooth, plump gourd she grew herself, she told me that correctly using fruit fly traps that attract the male fruit flies has been extremely successful in her garden, practically eliminating the need for spraying pesticides.

When Morby first began using the traps, they were full of fruit flies, but over time their numbers diminished significantly. Even her next-door neighbor reported that he was able to harvest tomatoes and cucumbers due to her effective use of fruit fly traps. Morby suggests calling the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture for specific information on which fruit fly traps to use for ipu gourd vines and how to use them. Information is also available online from UH Manoa extension service "Uni-Fly-Versity". Most likely melon fly is the insect attracted to your ipu gourds.

To allow the fruit to hang freely so it develops a desirable shape and escapes damage, Morby uses an arbor-like system using pig iron fencing held up with metal pipe frames typically used for gray tarp canopies. The vines grow along this simple grid structure, forming a leafy green "roof."

Morby explained that it was long thought the ancient Hawaiian method of ipu decoration was all but a lost art, known only on Ni'ihau. However, about 15 years ago Dr. Bruce Ka’imiloa Chrisman rediscovered the technique. Through experimentation he found that instead of using a dried gourd and embellishing it on the outside, the ancient Hawaiians used the fresh gourd and dyed it from the inside. That is, the artist first creates the design by removing the skin with a sharp knife, then cleans out the gourd and pours a plant-based dye into it. The dye seeps through the gourd and colors the outside, but doesn’t penetrate wherever the artist has scratched off the skin. So akamai, yeah?

The Hawaii Gourd Society will be hosting a workshop on Sunday, November 18, at the Honaunau Ipu Farm. The workshop is made possible by the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement’s Huaka'i program. Read about it here.

Read more about ipu online:

Ipu in Hawaii’s History
How to Grow a Calabash

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