12 Jul2007

Upo Helmet

by Marketman


I’m not sure where I have my mental picture of a revolutionary soldier with musket from say 100+ years ago, but I seem to recall it having one of these snazzy hats/helmets. On our recent trip up North, I spotted these highly lacquered or varnished dried upo (bottle gourd) helmets for sale at one of the handicraft/pseudo-antique shops in Vigan. hat2Aren’t they cool? How an upo which has such a soft, watery flesh can turn into such a firm material has always fascinated me (in the same way that patola turns into a loofah when dried). Frankly, I can’t imagine that this helmet can provide any serious resistance against a bullet, but it does keep the heat of the sun and the rain away… This reminds me of another prized antique artifact I have from the wilds of Irian Jaya, my antique carved ceremonial “koteka.” Look it up if you are curious what it is… :) A few days later, at a local market, I took this photograph of the fresh upo that is raw material for the hat… does anyone know why these aren’t elongated? Is it because they grow it on the ground and not hanging from a trellis?



  1. mel says:

    MM most likely its a different variety from the elongated ones. I planted an upo before on the ground (not hanging), it still produced elongated fruits.

    Jul 12, 2007 | 4:04 pm


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  3. bernadette says:

    googled on the koteka…interesting :-)! I once decided to collect hats from all my travels here and one of them was this upo helmet.I gave it away because it didn’t fit my head but I was just so amazed at the hardness of it. Now, tending my own garden, I cannot imagine using it in comfort nor protection from the elements…except from a falling bayabas :-).

    Jul 12, 2007 | 4:24 pm

  4. lee says:

    i would love to have an upo hat, with less varnish if possible. It’s the rainy season and with a hat like that i would really look cool in school.
    What about a post on your interesting finds? “Me and my patola koteka.”

    Jul 12, 2007 | 4:51 pm

  5. MegaMom says:

    Hi MarketMan! You misspelled the title of your post… but ‘s ok – we all knew what you ‘ment’. hehe
    Mel is correct. I believe the rounded gourds are a different variety. We used to have both in our backyard.

    Jul 12, 2007 | 4:54 pm

  6. elaine says:

    First time I’ve seen an Upo helmet and a rounded upo…but I think I’d rather eat…you might want to include some recipes with it…?:)

    Jul 12, 2007 | 6:17 pm

  7. Kongkong622 says:

    I remember seeing these hats being used by the Bayanihan dancers.

    OMG, mali nga yun spelling!!

    Jul 12, 2007 | 6:28 pm

  8. Apicio says:

    This was also promoted as the official headgear of Filipino boy scouts in one of their “Jamborees” in the early sixties and so what was ordinarily donned as a quaint local version of the pith helmet (bastipol) became all so suddenly commonplace. Thousands of them must have been accumulated over time to meet that sudden demand.

    But the profusion of gourd shapes caught the eyes of the Chinese potters early on, after all those were the original vessels used for transporting liquids. You see them now as porcelein vases reflecting idealized gourd shapes. My favorites are the the graceful hipped ones with a second smaller swell leading to the opening at the top, not as suggestively curvacious as the present-day Coca-cola classic shape but a forceful symbol of fecundity nevertheless.

    Jul 12, 2007 | 7:24 pm

  9. MegaMom says:

    I’ve seen those too Apicio, in a Vietnamese refuge farming garden in Palawan. In fact I believe they are called bottle gourds.

    Jul 12, 2007 | 7:31 pm

  10. Marketman says:

    mel, okay, different variety of gourd, that would explain it… lee, will have to consider a koteka post under the humor vein… MegaMom, thanks for that, I have edited title! Apicio, yes, those gourd bottles are unique to this part of the world…I have to look them up a bit as something about them fascinated me a few years ago when I was researching a spotted one I inherited from my grandmother/mother’s collection…

    Jul 12, 2007 | 8:40 pm

  11. Maria Clara says:

    First time I’ve seen upo like this.

    Jul 12, 2007 | 11:41 pm

  12. brenda says:

    MM, since you’re a Cebuano, and I have been here for almost 3 yrs now, so correct me if I’m wrong but I haven’t seen an elongated upo here in Cebu City. I love ginisang upo and I remember on my first few months here I always see these rounded upo and I was wondering what it is. when I asked a Manang in the mercado she said its “kalabasa” (squash). I said if its kalabasa why is it green, and pointed to a nearby yellow squash. She said the yellow one is called “puwa na kalabasa” (red squash) and the green one is the “kalabasa”. Anyway, when she cut it open to show me the inside, I told here its called “upo”. So I bought one and made some ginisang upo and it tasted the same.

    Jul 13, 2007 | 3:00 am

  13. CecileJ says:

    MM, not to be nitpicky, but…there’s another “helments” word in the second sentence! It’s the proofreader in me…

    Jul 13, 2007 | 10:35 am

  14. Marketman says:

    CecileJ, thank you, thank you… at this point I need a full time proofreader and editor to keep things up to snuff! :)

    Jul 13, 2007 | 10:46 am

  15. Queen B says:

    Hi! This reminds me of the belen we have when we were growing up… it looks like the hat you pictured but our belen is whole and there’s a semi-circle cut on one side, inside is a cardboard picture of the nativity scene and on the ‘floor’ are straws and cotton… behind the cardboard is a small light. i remember we use to put in small toys inside to witness the birth of Christ. :D hmmmmm… i wonder where it is now…

    Jul 13, 2007 | 11:46 am

  16. bea says:

    Hi MM!! Was it you in Mactan Airport yesterday? PAL and CP flights were both delayed. Major bummer! i had to wait for 4 hours to get back to Manila. Anyway, i really enjoy reading your posts. More to come . . . =)

    Jul 13, 2007 | 1:25 pm

  17. Marketman says:

    bea, HAHAHA! Yup that was me. I was going to ignore the fiasco, but I guess I have to write a RANT about it now that a reader saw me in a crazed mode… If you saw me throw a minor wangot at the Cebu Pacific counter then disappear, it was because I managed to get myself onto the full PAL flight which was on TIME and I have to spend several thousand more to get full price tickets. I got to Manila BEFORE my CP flight was supposed to arrive orignally, not 4 hours later! Post coming up…

    Jul 13, 2007 | 1:41 pm

  18. kikay says:

    Looks like the same “helmet” Rob Schneider wore when his home was featured on MTV Cribs.

    Check out this link:

    Jul 13, 2007 | 3:27 pm

  19. bea says:

    lucky you! i had to endure the 4-hour wait. and what did we get in return? one-piece jollibee fried chicken meal!!! i can’t wait for the RANT!!

    Jul 13, 2007 | 4:32 pm

  20. Manila Streetwalker says:

    I think this is called TABUNGAO in Ilokano (as told to me by that elderly lady) whom I got the for, she was, apparently, one of the last few makers of this craft. I got myself one and have often wondered where and when it was actually used for. Can anyone enlighten me on this?

    Jul 26, 2007 | 9:42 pm


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