many observers, the social acceptance of narghile is surprising.
Nevertheless, we can partly explain this fact by the nature of the
special tobacco it uses. Actually, the so-called mu'essel, which is a
flavoured mixture of tobacco and treacle (molasses), is the product
mainly consumed in this pipe. Now, if the mu'essel indeed associates a
negative principle, materialised by the fire burning its tobacco, this
is however moderated by the positive representation of honey - or
treacle (molasses) - the second element.
rather collective practice.
Narghile amateurs would rather smoke in group first to let conversation,
or waiting, naturally take place among them. Then, they appreciate the
collective participation in the punctilious preparation and smoking
rites. When they are dependent, it is a wonder that they do not
generally substitute the consumption of cigarettes for their practice.
In fact, such an attitude reveals the existence of two different
universes. We insist on the collective form of the narghile practice
even if it is sometimes individual. However, even under this aspect, it
can be understood as a waiting for the fellow smoker (or non-smoker) who
will come and sit to listen and share. This said, there is certainly,
these last years, a trend towards individual smoking (one person one
narghile) to the point that some people declared that it is a hedonist
practice. In fact, it is only a recent evolution we can explain, on one
hand, by the individualistic contagion of current times which extends to
all spheres of society and, on the other hand , by the publicising of so
many epidemics. Certainly the medical talk is not irrelevant to the
observed preventive concern. Consequently, within such a configuration,
the passing around of the hose - on which our traditional commensal
narghile model is based - disappears. If such a model is not
appropriate, in certain circumstances, it serves here as a reference and
remains, for example, well illustrated in yesterday' Syria - with its
singular coffee-houses where professional story-tellers (hekewêtiyyé )
officiated - and the same country of today where a revival of narghile
may be observed. Besides, narghile is characterised by a triple
egalitarianism: social, sexual and religious. This is mainly due to the
passing round of the hose which also represents a symbolic sharing. In
this respect, it is of importance to mention here that many broadcast
football amateurs, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, are also narghile
social egalitarianism of narghile.
All strata of society are affected. Such an ignorance of social
frontiers gave to some travellers of the past the illusion of
"class-less" societies, particularly in the Ottoman Empire.
Nevertheless, one should know that this last one was extremely divided,
according to social, professional or religious memberships. Such a
social promiscuity even worried political and religious authorities.
Moreover, their fears led to disastrous episodes of ban on cafés, coffee
and tobacco by Murâd IV who wanted this way to put an end to the
transgression of limits between social groups.
In Tunisia, upper classes seem to turn up their nose at narghile and a
same evolution is noticeable in other countries as Egypt for example.
More and more, this pipe may appear as the symbol of lazy persons or
"baddies". The case of the famous 'El-Fishâwy café in Cairo is here
relevant because this coffee-house was originally created by a gang
leader: "By the doorstep, Hagg Fahmi 'el-Fishâwy was permanently smoking
an endless narghile" (G. 'el-Gîtâny).
sexual egalitarianism of narghile.
A riddle collected in Jordan
evokes the feminine narghile figure: Who is this princess standing in
her palace with her hand on her hip ? ("'Amîra fî qasrihâ; wa yeduhâ 'elä
hasrihâ ?") The pipe bowl is indeed similar to a crown; the baluster
body, elegant and rounded, evokes that of a woman. As for the hose curve
coiling up around the mast, it can easily be compared to the arm
outline. Finally, the palace is a metaphor of the atmosphere in which a
narghile session ideally takes place: pillows, tapestries, vegetation,
and so on. In the past, women of the Shah' suit spent most of their time
smoking narghile. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the
beginning of the twentieth, Turkish women of the upper classes were fond
of being photographed near their narghile for the latter had become an
essential element of any social or intellectual gathering. Today, be
that in Iran, in the Persian-Arabian Gulf countries or in the Middle
East, women remain narghile amateurs. We can see them smoking in Beirut,
Damascus, Amman or Cairo. Their absence in Tripoli's (Libya) or Tunis'
cafés may be explained, hypothetically, by the relative newness of
narghile in these last countries whereas in the first ones, women have
often been using it for several centuries.
religious egalitarianism of narghile.
Believers of the three monotheist religions of the region have been
smoking narghile for centuries in an undifferentiated way. The route
from the mosque to the coffee-house and vice versa was, for a long
period, a vulgar course of daily life. In less puritanical times than
today's, it was not rare to meet religious men in cafés and in
particular sufis. As for the annual festivities accompanying the ritual
fast month (Holy Ramadân) widely observed by local populations, they
have actually made of narghile a star of Arabian-Islamic sociability.
The specific conviviality of narghile.
be analysed through the three intrinsic dimensions of the generated
situation : time, conversation and play, which are key notions in
sociology and anthropology. The passing around of the hose is remarkable
in that it places narghile in the centre of a "giving" and
"counter-giving" process of exchanged words and shared passing time on a
playful mode. The corresponding rites, that is puffing and blowing but
also those that the punctilious preparation and staging of the
instrument implies, are naturally profane. However, they certainly
contribute to the smoker's integration in her or his social environment.
The etiquette, here and there complied with, normalises a part of this
ritualising process, thus allowing the perpetuation of traditions.
private and public practice.
The house and the café represent the main places where the above
described specific conviviality of narghile emerges. From a domestic
anthropology point of view, the kitchen is a real ritual nebula because
it simultaneously feeds tea and coffee conviviality. One can see how the
many gestures required for the preparation of the latter harmonise with
those required by narghile in a sort of ritual symphony where the woman
and the man do not play a less inferior part than that of the conductor.
Narghile in " Oriental coffee-houses ".
writers of every day's life in Arabian-Islamic societies are generally
fond of speaking about the cafés of old they used to frequent. Actually,
narghile has witnessed verbal spars and political and poetic debates
among intellectuals in countries as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria or Iraq. And
how wouldn't it have, it whose main and highly social function is, as a
matter of fact, conversation… Certainly, Eastern coffee-houses underwent
the shock of modernity and evolved in several directions. Some of them
became cafés in the European way. Others remained what they have always
been, satisfied in their destitution. Finally, a hybrid model, with
finely decorated spacious rooms and terraces, and particularly spread in
the Middle East, for about fifteen years now, really catches on. In both
last cases, the conviviality was not affected and this sociological
constant should be ascribed to the nodal presence of narghile in these
establishments, whereas the artefact was taken out from those of the
Revival. Today, narghile smoking is flourishing in societies of
the Arabian-Islamic world as well as in those of Europe and America. In
the latter, new coffee-houses, that we term "neo-Orientalist cafés", are
opening out. Indeed, narghile became, because of its specific and unique
conviviality, the pretext for their emergence and looked for activity
(ref. to section on places where one can smoke it).