While Halloween marks a time of carving pumpkins for recreation in the West, gourd carving, known as “mate burilado”, done by Peruvian cultures requires mastery.

Gourd Carving is a common practice amongst artisans in the town of Cochas Grande, a district of Tambo in the province of Huancayo in the region of Junin of Peru. Gourds depict a way of sharing culture and tradition, reading like a storybook. From celebrations to traditions, the carvings depict daily life and culture of the town (1).

Photograph from Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2015: Photo by Joshua Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Gords often reflect social and environmental issues and can express any other story or sentiment that the artist sees fit. This tribe sees many issues that we race in the western world today. For example, one issue in the town is that children are spending more time with technology, resulting in less exercise and increased obesity. To address this issue, artisans carve games into gourds to pass along outdoor activities and games that were played in the past to share their traditions and encourage youth to get outdoors.

Photograph from Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2015: Photo by Joshua Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

This technique is very detailed and intricate. The art of gourd carving has evolved over time, and gourds with less attention to detail and intricacy are being produced as artists can create and sell them more easily. However, some artists maintain the sacred tradition of this art form (2). Typically, it takes at least 5 years of training, learning how to “draw well, how to use a chisel, how to draw landscapes, and how to express what you want to say”(1). This is no easy task.

Share the sacred tradition of mate burilado with your kids today!

I always recommend starting by preparing your mind and your materials. Take a moment to look over the activity and its meaning.Take a few moments to let it sit and breathe deeply with kids, and then begin! By organizing yourself first, you make the activity more enjoyable and meaningful for everyone! Also, a warning with this one, it is even harder than it looks! Start simple and small, and take it as a lesson of how talented Peruvian artisans are at this intricate art from!


  • Pumpkin/gourd
  • Pencil
  • Old grocery bag
  • Carving tools
  • Shoe Polish
  • Paper towels

1. Educate

Share images, videos, and a brief history of mate burilado to help kids understand what they are doing and why it matters!

2. Make Meaning

Encourage kids to take a moment to think of something meanful to them that they would like to share. This might be a bedtime story they were told as a child, an experience they had, or anything that they wish to express. Have them write this out first if you would like and then create imagery to convey the story. Map it out on paper first, then move over to the gourd!

3. Map it out

Using a pencil, have kids outline their story onto their pumpkin or gourd. This is harder than it seems, but allow them to explore and have fun drawing on a different medium!

4. Carve

Yet again, a difficult task, but just encourage kids to do their best! Play music and have fun, remember, this tradition has been passed down from countless generations of Peruvian tribes and takes five years of study to start to gain proficienct!

5. Darken

Notice how tradition mate burilado has a darkened effect? Traditionally, this is done by a burning technique, but we came up with a kids-safe alternative! Cover your gourd with a layer of shoe-polish and then wipe away the excess, this should leave dark marking in the cracks that create a similar effect!

6. Share!

Have kids share the meaning behind their carvings with you!

(1) “Gourd Carving | Smithsonian Folklife Festival.” Gourd Carving | Smithsonian Folklife Festival. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

(2) Festival, Smithsonian Folklife. “The Gourd Artist: Carving Community Traditions.” Smithsonian Folklife Festival. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.