“Ti-ah pi-ah” which means in Kiowa, “Ready to go ready to die,” is the preamble of the Gourd Dance. The men form an inner circle and the women an outer circle. They shake painted gourds and the Pow-Wow begins.
The Kiowa Gourd Dance was outlawed by the federal government in 1899. By the 1930’s it was only a memory but later the Kiowa tribe began to practice again and today along with the abundance of wild gourd, the Gourd Dance is back.
Although there are many varieties of gourd, the Wild Gourd also known as Stink Gourd or Buffalo Gourd abounds in the Trans-Pecos. A member of the cucumber family and related to pumpkin, squash and melons, the stink gourd emits a strong smell when its leaves or vines are crushed. Some have likened the smell to strong body odor with a touch of garlic.
A yellow orange 5-lobed bell flower blooms from June to August adding an amber palette to the triangular gray-green leaves and hairy trailing perennial vines. Underground a taproot finds nourishment from the soil and produces green-striped baseball size fruit that eventually season to a pale yellow-crème. The gourd fruit is poisonous to humans and toxicity varies by season. The plants also absorb pesticides and herbicides and therefore should never be eaten.
Gourd art involves painting the dried gourd shells. Pointillism is a common gourd painting technique. Gourd decoration by pyrography or the use of hot tips to burn designs into gourds has been practiced for hundreds of years in Africa, Asia and by Native Americans.
Along with being an object of art and the principle instrument in the Gourd Dance, medicinally the Stink Gourd has been used by Native Americans in tea to speed labor at childbirth, crushed leaves mixed with saliva as a poultice for headaches and the peeled dried root to induce vomiting and as a laxative.