mysterious origin of narghile
hypotheses on the birthplace of narghile must be taken into account.
They concern Europe, America, India, Persia and Africa. Those who try
hard to write the official history of tobacco mention an American origin
for the latter and a European one for the transmission of its use modes,
as the common pipe, the chibouque or even narghile. Such an argument
states that the Europeans would have taught Asian and African peoples
how to smoke, particularly through the pipe. A consequence is that
cannabis would have been inhaled, neither in Europe, nor in Africa, nor
anywhere else, before the arrival of tobacco.
hypothesis of an American origin arose from the crossing of speculations
on ways tobacco was used through gourds in America and from deep studies
as those conducted at the beginning of the century by a scholar named L.
Wiener. The latter asserted that tobacco smoking would have been
imported from America to Africa several centuries before the arrival of
Europeans. I. Van Sertima enriched such a contribution by endeavouring,
in his turn, to show that African men certainly lived in America before
the discovery of this last continent and brought to theirs smoking
behaviours like the use of pipes.
Indian (Asia) track lacks sources. So, here, let us restrict ourselves
to quote only two authors without proceeding with the discussion. J. A.
Frank freely asserts that "two thousand years before the discovery of
tobacco, it seems that a water pipe called Dhoom Netra, filled with
aromatic and medicinal herbs, and also very probably with drugs, was
smoked". G.Gercek states, without supporting facts, that narghile was
born in India and that the artefact benefited from the addition of
innovative elements as the bowl and the nozzle when it reached the
Persian origin is particularly upheld by B.M. Du Toit through
ethnographical surveys in southern Africa. The researcher was interested
in the origin of dagga (cannabis) and repeatedly reports the use of the
"dakka" water pipe. From contemporary Iran, a researcher named Hasan
Semsar ascribes the invention of narghile to the "Persian genius", ex-nihilo,
without providing with more details on the emergence of such an
innovation in smoking manners.
possibility of an African origin for narghile has been submitted by
specialists as A. Dunhill and J.E. Philips. The first of both considers
the "dakka" water pipe used by the "Hottentots" (Khoikhoin), living in
the South of the continent, as the precursor of narghile. As for the
second scholar, his research was based on a detailed and technical
discussion, particularly about undertaken excavations and dating
problems posed at Hyrax Hill in Kenya, Sebanzi in Zambia, Engaruka in
Tanzania and in other places of the African continent.
up, the social use of narghile, on a large-scale, can be fixed as
simultaneous with the emergence of the public coffee-house and the
adoption of tobacco. Today, the hypotheses we have kept, on account of
their pertinence and relevance, ascribe a South African, Ethiopian or
Persian origin to the pipe. A European origin is also defended by
historians of tobacco. These last ones consider that narghile would be a
form adopted by the American pipe in the Mediterranean region, in Africa
or in Asia, after the spreading of the latter by the Europeans in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Should they continue in a
systematic way, the archaeological excavations undertaken here and there
in southern and oriental Africa throughout the twentieth century, could
indeed come up with the definitive evidence of the use of water pipes on
this continent well before the critical and symbolic threshold year 1600
represents for the upholders of the European hypothesis. The case of
this Ethiopian cave where water pipe bowls were discovered, and where
the smoked use of cannabis in the fourteenth century has been confirmed
by chemical methods, undoubtedly constitutes a step forward.
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