Smokers from Africa

Smoking in Africa is almost as old as in Europe. Sailors from Holland, Spain and Portugal brought the use of tobacco in Africa. From the early seventeenth century onwards the tobacco pipe is general in use there. However, illustrations of Africans smoking a pipe are quite rare and difficult to find.

From North-Africa several prints can be found showing local dresses, of course including the characteristic pipes. Especially the water pipe was popular to be depicted because of its particular shape. A special chapter is dedicated to this subject.

The development of the tobacco pipe in Africa is quite special, often relating to the pipes smoked by the colonists. So we recognize German, French or English influence in the local pipes. Soon a design of its own is introduced, often stronger related to the local taste of the tobacco.

Regional varieties can be quite remarkable. Also, there are a lot of cross-links between styles showing the European influence and the local African styles. From the ethnographical point of view these objects are not really of great interest, but they illustrate the influences among the different tribes.

As said before, illustrations of smokers in Africa are quite rare. Usually they are to be found in travel reports when more or less by accident a pipe was depicted. In old and modern photographs the pipe plays a greater role, again not always on purpose. In some cases however the photographer realised the cultural value of the pipe, like with the portraits of Xhosa-women.

Smoker in traditional dress with fez and stub stemmed pipe on a long stem, London, 1819. two negros, the one on the left smoking an imported clay pipe, aquatint, 1760-1820
woman smoking a locally made wooden pipe after an European example, Congo, 1950-1960 woman enjoying her pipe, Mushi, Congo, c. 1940
a short stemmed pipe with a black backed funnel shaped bowl, Pygmee, Congo, 1960-1970
here the pipe is shaped after the European examples but the materials used are local, Rwanda, 1960-1980 next to the pipe also the cigar is popular, Congo, 1920-1950
the characteristic Zulu pipe with an extreme narrow bowl lined with metal, Xhosa, South-Africa, 1960-1980 woman in her best dress smoking the typical wooden pipe, Xhosa, South-Africa, 1960-1980
Illustrations on this page from the collections of Amsterdam Pipe Museum
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