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Tobacco conquers Africa.

In the sixteenth century, when the Europeans began to delve further into the African jungle, all of the tribes that they came upon had already discovered the smoking of tobacco in various different forms. Deriving pleasure from smoke was nothing new for the Africans, who had for ages intoxicated themselves by smoking hemp. They also acknowledged that the ‘drinking’ of hemp smoke was much more pleasurable and effective if it is first passed through water. And this is how the dagga pipe came to be (daga is the name given to hemp by certain mountain tribes, such as the Damara). Without much adaptation this was used for drinking of tobacco smoke.
The Damara water pipe (bong) illustrated here, consists of an antelope horn with a tube linked to the pipe's head loaded with tobacco. The horn is filled with water, and the tube, to which the pipe's head is attached,  reaches the very bottom of it. The smoke is drawn through the wide open end of the horn. The filtered smoke is tastier and cool, what in Africa is especially valued. The bong (which according to some sources, was adopted by the Persians and Hindu from the Africans and takes the name hookah and narghile) enabled the use of tobacco in a way that is not available to smokers of pipes, cigars or cigarettes. After some time, the water in the pipe becomes saturated with the less volatile combustion products of tobacco. Once this solution is dense enough, it can be poured onto bark or grass, creating a form of chewing tobacco. Other tribes have used segments of bamboo or calabash as the container for water through which the smoke is drawn. The African pipes, as opposed to the relatively simple European and sailor's pipes, are distinguished by their extraordinary artwork and diversity. They were a symbol of status of their owners, as well as their wealth. Even tribes with the simplest material culture, such as the Bushmen, who due to their way of life do not carry anything else than a bow, arrow and an ostrich egg shell for water, could not give up smoking. They therefore had to devise a special type of pipe, an earth pipe that they could construct as needed, the smoke from which was drunk either lying down or on all fours.


Drinking smoke in the Calahari desert.

Perhaos it would be worthwhile to bring back these exotic methods to diversify the life of smokers, and maybe also for their health (the bong does seem to be a healthier alternative), and of course to express appreciation for indigenous cultures. For example, one could designate certain areas in public places, where it would appropriate to dig a hole in the ground to drink some smoke. 

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© (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

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