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African Smoking and Pipes

  • John Edward Philips (a1)


This article first explains the importance of the history of smoking pipes for other historical questions, especially in West Africa, where pipe styles are used to date archaeological levels. A survey of the major theories about African smoking and pipes is presented. This is followed by a review of the published archaeological literature pertaining to smoking pipes found at various sites from around the continent. The various controversies surrounding African smoking customs are then looked at in the light of the available evidence. The most likely hypothesis is that cannabis was smoked in water pipes in eastern and southern Africa before the introduction of tobacco. Further research is called for to prove or disprove this hypothesis. Tobacco is shown to have been introduced to West Africa from eastern North America, most likely by the French coming to Senegambia, though possibly by Moroccans coming to Timbuktu.



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1 Posnansky, M., ‘The excavation of an Nkole capital site at Bweyorere’, Uganda Journal, XXXII, ii (1968), 165–82.

2 Ozanne, P., ‘The diffusion of smoking in West Africa’, Odu, new series, II (1969), 2942.

3 Ozanne, P., ‘Notes on the Early Historic Archaeology of Accra’, Trans. Hist. Soc. Ghana, VI (1962), 53 et seq.

4 Balfour, H., ‘Earth smoking pipes from South Africa and central Asia’, Man, XXII (1922), 65–9.

5 Dunhill, A., The Pipe Book (New York, 1924; reprinted London, 1969), See also by the same author ‘Pipe Smoking’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, XVII (1972), 1098.

6 Laufer, B. et al. Tobacco and its Use in Africa (Chicago, 1930).

7 Wulsin, F., ‘An archaeological reconnaissance of the Shari basin’, Harvard African Studies X: Varia Africana V (Cambridge, Mass., 1932), 188. Cf. Lebeuf, J.-P., Lebeuf, M. D., Treinen-Claustre, F. and Courtin, J., Legisement Sao de Mdaga (Tchad): Fouilles, 1960–1968 (Paris, 1980), reviewed Shaw, Thurstan, B.S.O.A.S., xlvi, i (1983), 203.

8 Shaw, M., ‘Native pipes and smoking in South AfricaAnnals of the South African Museum, XXIV (1938), 227302.

9 Leakey, M., ‘Report on the excavations at Hyrax Hill, Nakuru, Kenya Colony, 1937–1938’, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, xxx, iv (1945), 271409.

10 Shaw, C. T., ‘Early smoking pipes: in Africa, Europe, and America’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, xc, ii (1960), 272–93.

11 van Sertima, I., They Came Before Columbus (New York, 1976).

12 du Toit, B., ‘Man and cannabis in Africa: a study of diffusion’, African Economic History, I (1976), 1735. This argument is repeated in the same author's Cannabis in Africa (Rotterdam, 1980), although this work is primarily concerned with a survey of the present situation in Natal.

13 In addition to M. Shaw, ‘Native pipes’, and B. du Toit op. cit., see Baard, E., ‘Dagga stone pipes in the collection of the National Museum’, Researches of the National Museum, II (1967), 216–33; Walton, J., ‘The dagga pipes of Southern Africa’, Researches of the National Museum, I (1953), 85113; Laidler, P. W., ‘Pipes and smoking in South Africa’, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, XXVI, xii (1938), 124, tried to show that there was no smoking in South Africa before the arrival of the Dutch in 1652, but in fact demonstrates that the Africans knew water pipes (which they could not have learned from the Dutch) before they learned the use of elbow-bend pipes.

14 In addition to M. Leakey, ‘Report’, see Dombrowski, J. C., ‘Excavations in Ethiopia: Lalibela and Natchabiet Caves, Begemder Province’ (Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1971).

15 Shaw, M., ‘Native pipes’, 281.

16 Summers, R., Ancient Ruins and Vanished Civilisations of Southern Africa (Cape Town, 1971), 164, 226.

17 Summers, R., Robinson, K. R. and Whitty, A., Zimbabwe Excavations 1958 (Salisbury, National Museums of Southern Rhodesia: Occasional Papers, vol. 3, no. 23A, 1961), 184, 191–92, 213, 226.

18 Dombrowski, , Excavations, 127–9.

19 Leakey, , ‘Report’, 347.

20 Posnansky, M., personal communication, 1981.

21 Phillipson, D. W., ‘Early Smoking Pipes from Sebanzi Hill, ZambiaArnoldia, I, xl (1965), 14; see also Fagan, B. and Phillipson, D. W., ‘Sebanzi’, J. Roy. Anthrop. Inst., xcv, iii (1965), 253–94.

22 Sassoon, H., ‘New Views on Engaruka, Northern Tanzania’, Journal of African History, VIII, ii (1967), 201–17.

23 Sutton, J. E. G., ‘Engaruka and its Waters’, Azania, XIII (1978), 3770.

24 Dombrowski, J. C., ‘Excavations’, 102, 105, 100–12, 127–9, 209–11.

25 van der Merwe, N., ‘Cannabis smoking in 13th-14th century Ethiopia: chemical evidence’, in Rubin, V. (ed.), Cannabis and Culture (The Hague, 1975), 7780.

26 Dombrowski, , ‘Excavations’, 160.

27 F. R. Wulsin, ‘Archaeological reconnaissance’ see above, n. 7.

28 Atherton, J., ‘Excavations at Kamabai and Yagala rock shelters, Sierra Leone’, West African Journal of Archaeology, II (1972), 71–2.

29 Atherton, J., ‘The later Stone Age of Sierra Leone’ Ph.D. dissertation (University of Oregon, 1969), cited in Hill, M., ‘Archaeological smoking pipes from central Sierra Leone’, West African Journal of Archaeology, VI (1976), 115–16.

30 See, for example, the compendium of ethnographic accounts of cannabis use in Africa by Nelhans, B., Cannabis i Afrika (Uppsala, 1972).

31 van der Merwe, N., ‘Cannabis smoking’, 79.

32 Hill, ‘Archaeological smoking pipes’.

33 Lebeuf, J.-P., ‘Pipes et plantes à fumer chez les Kotoko’, Notes Africaines, XCIII, i (1962), 1617; see above, n. 7.

34 Anonymous, , ‘Datura’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Macropedia, IV (1978); Castenada, C., The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (New York, 1968); Anonymous, , ‘Jimson weed “tea” ends father's life’, Los Angeles Times (21 06 1978), 1, 20.

35 Rice, T., ‘Scythians’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Macropedia, XVI (1978), 440.

36 Sharma, R. and Dash, V., Agnivesa's Caraka Samhita, I (Benares, 1976), 113; Dunhill, Pipe Book.

37 For early discussions of the history of cannabis in Africa see Laufer, Tobacco; for more recent histories of cannabis see du Toit, ‘Man and cannabis’; Rosenthal, F., The Herb: Hashish vs. Medieval Muslim Society (Leiden, 1971) (although it does not include tropical Africa); Austin, G. et al. Perspectives on the History of Cannabis (Washington, D.C., forthcoming); Abel, E., Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years (New York, 1980).

38 Du Toit, ‘Man and cannabis’.

39 Marcais, W. (Fleisch, H.), ‘Djim’, The Encyclopedia of Islam, II, (Leiden, 1965), 543–5. ‘From the traditional pronunciation of the readers of the Ḳurʾān, from the basic ideas of the Arab grammarians regarding its articulation, and from the modifications in it conditioned by the proximity of other sounds which they have noted (assimilations and dissimilations), one can justifiably conclude that, from the dawn of the classical period, the occluded g in djim was opened through palatalization, affrication or even complete spirantization, at least in certain dialects.’ However the voiced velar g was still common in Aden during the Middle Ages, and is still found in Muscat, the capital of Oman. Both these cities had extensive trade connexions with east Africa.

40 Rosenthal, The Herb.

41 Dunhill, The Pipe Book.

42 Laufer, B., Tobacco and its Use in Asia (Chicago, 1924), 26–7.

43 Mundy, P., The Travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia, I (London, 1919), 384.

44 Du Toit, ‘Man and cannabis’.

45 E.g. dos Santos, , Ethiopia Oriental (1586) and van Riebeck (1658), both cited in du Toit, ‘Man and cannabis’.

46 A good introduction to the history of tobacco and pipes among American Indian peoples is Turnbaugh, W., ‘Native North American smoking pipes’, Archaeology (01-02. 1980). For more detail see McGuire, J., ‘Pipes and smoking customs of the American aborigines’, Report of the U.S. National Museum (1897), 351645; West, G., ‘Tobacco, pipes and smoking customs of the American Indians’, Milwaukee Public Museum Bulletin, xvii (1934), 1994; Cooper, J., ‘Stimulants and narcotics’, in Steward, J. H. (ed.), The Handbook of South American Indians, 7 vols. (Washington, D.C., 19461959), v, 527–36.

47 West, , Tobacco, Pipes and Smoking Customs, 5962, 482–3.

48 Turnbaugh, , ‘Native North American smoking pipes’, 21–2.

49 In addition to previously cited descriptions of smoking pipes in West Africa, see Afeku, I. K., A Study of Smoking Pipes From Begho (Legon, 1976); Daget, J. and Ligers, Z., ‘Une ancienne industrie Malienne: les pipes en terre’, Bulletin de l'I.F.A.N., xxivb (1962), 1253.

50 West, , ‘Tobacco, pipes and smoking customs’, 301, 934–5.

51 The Dawu pipes excavated by Shaw seem unusual in that they do not have a flat base, which suggests that they are the result of an independent introduction, perhaps related to the one postulated for Accra by Ozanne.

52 Ozanne, ‘The diffusion of smoking’; Hunwick, J. O., ‘A new source for the biography of Ahmad Baba Al-Tinbukti (1556–1627)’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (London, 1964), 588, lists the following terms for tobacco in Islamic Africa: tibgh or ṭābah (Maghribi Arabic), taba (Mande), tabā (Songhay), tābā (Kanuri), tāba (Shuwa Arabic), taba (Baghirmi), tāba or ṭaba (Dar Fur Arabic), tábà (Nupe and Yoruba); Shaw, C. T., ‘Chronology of excavation at Dawu, GhanaMan, lxii, ccxvii (1962), 136–7, also postulated a Senegambian introduction and spread to the east.

53 Walker, I. C., ‘Cajote–a Franco-African word for a tobacco pipe?West African Journal of Archaeology III (1973), 239–43.

* The author would like to thank the National Geographic Society for support for fieldwork carried out in Ghana during 1979, as well as the National Institute of Drug Abuse for grant number DA 02203, by means of which much of the library research for this paper was carried out. In addition Professor Merrick Posnansky has generously assisted with his time and erudition to help produce this paper. Paul Rutschky provided the drawings.

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