Snuff and Puff: Nguni Smoking Traditions

Step into a world of smoke and snuff with the Nguni people of South Africa

Woman with Zulu Beer PotPhansi Museum

"When I have brewed beer, my neighbors must know"

Exploring communal and collective pastimes of the Nguni people

Nqawe / Smoking pipeOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

Laying Down the Pipe

The Xhosa proverb ''Wabeka inqawe'' meaning “ laying down the pipe” refers to a person dying and laying down their pipe for the last time. This saying indicates the importance of pipe smoking amongst the Xhosa people. 

Iinqawe / Smoking pipesOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

A collective and communal activity

Smoking is almost always done in a groups and is often a social activity. It is also used as a way to communicate with ancestors.  Shapes, carvings, beadings and lengths indicate the different types of smoking rituals. 

Iinqawe / Smoking pipesOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

The beautiful beaded pipes of Xhosa women

These Xhosa pipes are often referred to as Umabuyakude - implying their length. They are smoked by women as a social activity. In addition to the pipe smoking the women brew a vat of amarhewu, a sweet thin porridge which they drink as a refreshment.

Nqawe / Smoking pipeOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

A pipe with a difference

This pipe is used by Xhosa men but it is not the traditional legnth or shape. As pipes are a source of pride and prestige amongst the Xhosa,  they have started to evolve into impressive and distinguishing shapes so that the smokers can show them off at social gatherings. 

Intshazi / Snuff spoonOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

A Sangoma's preferred ritual

A snuff spoon creatively attached to a necklace. Snuff, instead of pipes, is  preferred the diviners and healers known as Sangomas.

Traditional HealerPhansi Museum

A South African Sangoma or tradional healer Phansi Museum's founder  Paul Mikula met during one of his many collecting trips in Southern Africa. 

Intshazi / Snuff spoonOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

A necklace with a difference

Tobacco is not always smoked, it is sometimes crushed into a powder and snorted off a delicately carved spoon. Here we see a beautifully crafted snuff spoon which can double as a necklace.

Intshazi / Snuff spoonOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

Always at your fingertips

A comb-like snuff spoon which doubles as a hairpiece — enhancing the wearer's hairstyle and ensuring that a suff spoon is always close at hand. 

Intshazi / Snuff spoonOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

A useful hairpin

Snuff spoons can also be used as hairpins with elaborate patterns as decorations.

Markings with a meaning

Carved or beaded detail is an important feature of snuff spoons which are not only intricate and beautiful but can also denote the owner's clan patterns.

Ingxhowa / Tobacco bagOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

We've Seen the Spoons, We've Seen the Pipes

Now take in the special beauty of the  tobacco bags and snuff pots of the Nguni people

Ntshengula / Snuff containerOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

Personl style conspicously worn

Snuff pots are not only useful but are also intricately carved and creatively decorated by the wearer. Although the items are meaningful and distinct to each person,  they are worn conspicuously either in the the hair, around the arm and sometimes even as an ear piercing. 

Ntshengula / Snuff containerOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

Snuff in ritual and debate

 Snuff taking is a social institution of great  importance. Before engaging in a debate it is usual to take a pinch to clear the brain. Snuff also accompanies family offerings of meat and beer to the ancestors if  asking for children.

Ntshengula / Snuff containerOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

A snuff container with a difference

Note the stripped telephone wire which covers this traditional Zulu snuff pot. As industrialization entered the once rural dwellings, parts of the infrastructure were brought into the process of producing these kind of items - completely changing the fundamentals of their design.

Ntshengula / Snuff containerOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

Different wire, different patterns

In this snuff pot, made from a calabash, the stripped telephone wire does not cover the pot entirely. Rather is is used to create patters and shapes which accentuate the curves of the calabash. 

Ingxowa / Tobacco bagOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

How do young women from the Mfengu clan wear tobacco bags?

This tabacco bag belongs to the Mfengu clan, a subsection of the Xhosa nation. As writer  Dawn Costello outlines, tabacco bags are often used by young Mfengu women who are ready to be married. These bags are decorated with thongs and are worn over their skirts. 

Ingxowa / Tobacco bagOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

Tobacco love letters

Amongst the Thembu clan, tobacco bags are used in ceremonies where gifts are given to initiates."The girls of the umtshotsho and the sweethearts of those undergoing initiation send them cloth tobacco bags into which sweets and tobacco, tied in a handkerchief, are put." - Dawn Costello

Ingxowa / Tobacco bagOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

More than smoke

The beautiful and intricate pipes, snuff pots and bags of the Nguni people surpass a mere utilitarian function and are seeped in meaning, tradition and ritual. The Phansi museum holds a vast number of these special objects, celebrating their cultural value.

Credits: Story

Curators:
Paul Mikula
Similo Gobingca
Zinhle Khumalo
Phumzile Nkosi

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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