Objects of the Forest

MATERIAL: Skin of the fruit of the Cuieira tree.

TECHNIQUE: Pulp removed out of the fruit and skin dried in the sun.

USE: When cut straight through the middle, the cuias serve as bowls and vessels for many activities.

Cuias Bowls


    This object is actually the skin of a fruit of the Cuieira tree, abundant in the Amazon. Available in several sizes but always of a round shape, it can reach the size of a large watermelon. The “globes” are usually cut in half, with their pulp removed, and are dried in the sun.

    When cut straight through the middle, the cuias serve as bowls and vessels for many activities: for eating and drinking, preparing mixtures, for bathing, to store liquids, as a shovel, bag, case, vase, as packaging, etc.

    Semi-closed cuias with small cuts, are used to make music, for instance as rattles or amplifiers. Its natural shape, the various cutting options and the durability of the material are key characteristics to provide such versatility.
    The “Cuias from Santarém”, typical of this Amazonian city, are hand crafted locally, and this tradition has been recognized as Cultural Heritage of the Brazilian State of Pará.

    • The cuia ready to be harvested and a sprout growing on its side.

    • Unlike other fruits, the pulp of the cuia is thrown away while the skin is utilized.

    • On top: bunch of cuias. From left to right: typical cuia from Santarém, typical cuia with internal black paint, mini-cuia, baby-bottle cuia, decorated cuia.

    • A special use of the cuias is as a measuring unit, to “pick up” prawns at Ver-o-Peso market in Belém, serving as a rough measure.

    • Cuia drawing in the book Flora Brasiliensis.

      After drying the cuias, it is very common to paint them
      black with the resin of the stalk of a plant called Cumatê. The Cumatê is very adaptable and abundant in the surroundings of where Cuieiras usually grow.

      There’s an interesting technique to close the pores and fixate the darkness of the Cumatê: the black cuias are put in contact with human urine. The ammonia present in the urine hardens and darkens the Cumatê resin, resulting in a smooth and shiny surface, which protects the cuia from rotting and improves its functionality and hygiene.

      This process is still used in some localities in the Amazon, where the cuia is then called “pissed cuia”.

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