Did the Ancient Africans Smoke Marijuana?

Posted on May 25 2016

The history of Africa is incredibly varied, and has the oldest record of human civilisation going back over tens of thousands of years. The question we’re asking today is, did they smoke marijuana? 

In modern times cannabis is a cash crop in South Africa and Malawi particularly, while North Africa contains some of the world’s largest hash producers. 

The first use of marijuana in Africa can be traced back to the 14th century Ethiopia. The cannabis plant originated in Asia and thus the only access africans had to the plant was through traders, likely with Arabs who expanded across North Africa at the time. 

To begin with, these tribes chewed the cannabis leaves, similar to the way they ingested other ethnobotanical, but after they found that smoking the plant produced better results, and thus a culture of smoking and pipe making took hold. 

The Bashilenge tribe took it even further and formed an entire religion around the use of marijuana. The tribe calls itself the Bena-Riamba, which translates as ‘The sons of hemp’. The tribe regarded the cannabis plant as a god and the pipe as a symbol of peace among men. They believed the plant was magical and was used to ward off evil spirits. The men even smoked as frequently as possible to show their devotion. 

Linguistic analysis can show the route taken by cannabis when it first came to Africa by studying what the plant is known by in local languages. The rough passage can be seen in the figure below:

So it turns out that cannabis was indeed smoked by africans up to 700 years ago, and the plant spread throughout sub saharan and north Africa, making it one of the oldest regions of the world to have a continual tradition of using cannabis. 

 

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