A Little Bit of Pipe History

by Raegan Castillo-Fontana on August 26, 2019

The history of the practice of pipe smoking cannabis is a debate-able topic, at large, as far as who smoked what, when. Although cannabis is said to have been used since 5000 BC, it wasn’t typically pipe smoked, or smoked in general until the emergence of tobacco in the 16th century. The different kinds of pipes varied from culture to culture, and always held the same structure. 

Some pipes are thought to have been used to smoke cannabis dating back to the 10th to the 12th centuries in Southeastern Africa. The English tobacconist-entrepreneur, Alfred Dunhill, and author of, The Pipe Book, wrote about the long African tradition of gourd pipes, and that by 1884, the King of the Balikpapan tribe of the Congo had created a “riamba” which was a hemp-smoking “cult,” or group. Here, they gathered together and smoked their cannabis from huge, squash-like, hollowed out and dried gourd pipes.

The calumet is a long-stemmed wooden pipe used by the North American Indians for centuries. It was usually made of soft red stone and a long reed. Often times, these pipes were decorated and ornamented with feathers. We would refer to these pipes today as a “peace pipe.” It was revered by the tribes as a holy object and was smoked as a major means of communication between humans and sacred beings.

Clay pipes were introduced to England in the late 16th century, mostly for tobacco. These pipes had quite the history, going from extremely expensive and popular, to being demonized by religious leaders of the time that did not approve and persecuted people for it. In some parts of Europe, people were actually put to death for smoking. Yet in times of plague, men, women and children were actually forced to smoke, as it was believed to be a cure.

The art of glassblowing dates back as far as the ancient civilization of the Roman Empire. Procured for the elite dating close to 30 BC, were hollow glass vessels that were made by colored glass rods and blow tubes. The Romans shaped the glass when it was warm by blowing into it with a blow pipe, a basic technique used by glassblowers to this day. These pieces weren’t smoked from. They served as a luxury: valuable pieces of art. It wasn't until 1977 that the first patent was filed on a glass smoking pipe. 

Pipes and pipe smoking have come a long way since the days of their originations. The basic idea of pipe smoking hasn’t changed. You still have the same elements: a bowl, a stem and sometimes a carb. It is the innovation that we see in the marksmanship of pipes today that add even more pleasure to the already pleasurable act of smoking from your pipe. It’s just nice to know the roots and where it all started.


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