The Spiritual Significance of Xhosa Tobacco Pipe Smoking

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:09
Location: Hörsaal 13 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Adolph VAN DER WALT, University of Gottingen, Germany, South Africa
In a number of cultures of the world, growing, smoking and using tobacco in other ways is still a significant part of spiritual practices and identity markers. The Xhosa people of South Africa use tobacco pipes as a means to communicate with their ancestors and plea for protection from bad spirits, as well as human solidarity since the ancestors can no longer smoke. In this paper I argue that smoking among the Xhosa people remained a religious practice even in cases when it is moved out of traditional rituals to the private sphere and everyday religion. Even under the pressure of antismoking campaigns the heritage of pipe smoking is kept strong among that Xhosa non-smokers, as they keep decorated pipes as a cultural marker.

I aim to show that traditional Xhosa pipe smoking as a well established custom acts as a right of passage for men and women and suggest different gendered types of smoking which is encouraged by society. The Xhosa heritage of smoking is still strongly practised among the village Xhosa people on a daily basis, where smoking is not a matter of addiction but a continual communication with the ancestors for protection. I suggest that Xhosa tobacco pipe smoking can be analysed as a religious practice and be a point of interest for the field of Material Religion due to the treatment of the pipe as a portable alter as well as the encoded messages in beadwork decorations of pipes and the symbolism of their shapes.