Not Your Native Americans' Original Tobacco
Having got rid of cigarettes, are there any viable reasons for retaining tobacco
as part of our lives? And if the why makes sense, then when, where and how? This writing
seeks to open this up but does not, at least in this venue, offer any conclusions.
Most of us realise that when smoking cigarettes in this modern age, we are not particpating in an act
that is in any way simlar to that performed by those
from whom we adopted practice of tobacco smoking.
The tobacco companies and suggestive cigarette brands such as "American Spirit"
would have us believe otherwise, but the evidence suggests that this is utterly mistaken.
What is done does not alone define an act, there are always other matters needing to
be considered - the time, the place, the circumstances, the occasion, the reasons why, etc...
This is the time of the advertising cowboy. Tobacco and cigarettes have become
commercial products, engineered for taste, flavour, moisture content, nicotine, tar content and who
knows what else. The tobacco is raised using fertilizers and pesticides.
The cigarettes are mass manufactured, mass distributed and mass marketed to the
addicted consumer on a strictly for profit basis. In order to achieve maximum return on
their gross capitalization the tobacco companies have to constantly be expanding their market share.
To achieve this they use advertising, free offers, mailings and other gimmicks to recruit
new smokers and encourage the existing smokers to
remain loyal to a particular brand and smoke it to excess.
Young people are not given any valid reasons for smoking, no special significance is
attributed to it, other than being an aid to socializing. Instead the smoker's psychology is conditioned by the extensive
marketing programs generated by the tobacco companies, who encourage smoking as
'something stylish to do or consume', like eating sweets, wearing the
latest fashion or listening to music.
There is a paralell in the 'Health Industry' which has managed
to completely dehumanize healing to the point where it is now a for profit venture...
We are being conditioned or pressured (if the conditioning fails) to become a society of consumers,
our focus in living quite different to that of our predeccessors.
The author wishes matters
were different but wistfully has to view it as how things are in the world at the
beginning of the twenty first century.
For those of us living today, as we do, in an industrialised society, tobacco can never have
the same meaning,
significance or usage as it did for those who lived and smoked two hundred years ago;
and the further back in history we might chose to go, the greater will be the difference encountered.
To be able to more fully understand this, it would be best to make a
brief journey backwards in time, beyond the reach of
both the tobacco companies and the nay-sayers from the ranks of the public health professionals.
And visit the time that originally inspired the use of tobacco,
The time of Columbus and Raleigh...
The Native Americans not only introduced tobacco smoking but also their enthusiasm for it,
to the early explorers of the Americas.
Before anyone had had time to get the good news back to Europe, its highly addictive nature
had also been discovered, it even rang a few alarm bells in their minds.
They, nonetheless brought the practice,(minus the culture and its reasons), back to their
respective Courts. The rest, as they say, is history...
Once the locals got over their usual reluctance to try anything new, tobacco smoking was
soon in vogue and also, because of its addictive properties, entrenched.
All over Europe and Asia all manner of elaborate smoking styles and etiquettes were adopted.
(Various governments and religious authorities tried to stop it, but once it was discovered
what tobacco taxes could do for a treasury, all resistance would quickly crumble).
Its medicinal virtues were also researched and the results gravitated into the pages of
the popular herbals.. Thomas Culpeper a 17th century herbalist had this to say...
TOBACCO (Nicotiana Tabacum)
'Governmant and Virtues, It is a hot martial plant.
- A slight infusion of the fresh gathererd leaves vomits roughly;
is good medicine for the rheumatic pains.
- An ointment made of them with hog's lard is good for painful and inflamed piles.
- The distilled oil dropped on cotton cures the tooth ache, if applied.
- The powdered leaves or a decoction of them, kill lice and other vermin.
- The smoke of Tobacco injected in the manner of a clyster, is of efficacy in
stopppages of the bowels, for destroying small worms and for the recovery of
persons apparently drowned.
abstracted from Culpeper's Complete Herbal.
Tobacco also got itself written up in dictionaries...
Tobacco. [Altered from the Spanish tabaco, according to Oviedo (1535) the native
name of the tube or pipe through which the Native Americans inhaled the smoke; but according to
Las Casas (1552) applied to a tubular roll of leaves used by the Native Americans like a rude cigar.
Taken by the Spaniards as the name of the herb or leaf, in which sense it passed into the other
European languages.] (1). The leaves of the tobacco-plant dried and variously prepared, forming
a narcotic and sedative substance widely used for smoking, also for chewing, or in the form of SNUFF,
and to a slight extent in medicine. (2).The plant whose leaves are so used: Any one of
various species of Nicotiniana (family SolanaceŠ) especially N.Tabacum, a native
of tropical America, or N.Rustica (green or wild tobacco), now widely cultivated...etc
Meanwhile back in North America
From the point of view of the Native American shaman we have misappropriated
a sacrament, much like the Persians of biblical times destroying the temple in Jerusalem and
making off with the Ark of the Covenant.
If we wanted to correctly use tobacco then we should not be smoking the way we do.
We are smoking in the wrong time and place and for the wrong reasons.
History does not record whether or not some of the Native Americans may have been addicted to
tobacco but it is clear that many, if not all, tribes held it in reverence not only as a gift from the gods
but also as a powerful sacrament that featured in most of their sacred ceremonies.
It was also considered to be a powerful healing agency; the Seminoles thought that tobacco smoke was a panacea and a prophylactic, and belived
that no harm would come to he or she who smoked.
The knowledge of how tobacco was prepared and employed as part of their sacred ceremonies
has mostly been lost or kept secret. What is known points to the importance
in which it was held.
Its prime virtue seems to be that of a mediator or broker of harmony between the smokers and the gods.
As a gift it was a powerful token of friendship, smoking it together would bring peace and
seal a covenant or an accord. They cultivated its meaning and usefulness as a security into their lives:
Members of the tribe if fighting amongst themselves would immediately stop in the
presence of the sacred pipe...
They made sure the tobacco they smoked was sacamentally pure as the following excerpt suggests..
'The leaves of the wild tobacco plants were never smoked, because they might have been
growing over a grave and become tainted by a corpse. Yet they would collect and sow seeds
of these wild plants - on a spot known to not be a grave - and then smoke the cultivated
leaves.'...(from "The Arapaho" Alfred L. Kroeber.)
One wonders what else the ancients knew passed on by oral tradition and now sadly lost.
It is one thing for tobacco to be revered as a sacrament inside a cultural and religious fortification;
it is quite another for it to be used to excess at the prodding of a commercial enterprise or
to satisfy the ever increasing demands of a runaway addiction...
One wonders if in knowing that it was highly addictive if incorrectly used,
did the Native Americans give tobacco to the Europeans as a genuine token of friendship (assuming them to be equal to it)?
or as a test (to find out if they were, a test they most certainly would have failed)?
For the genuine enquirer, wishing to deepen this research into the lore of the
please use this link...
A modern pack of 20 Marlboros bought from a convenience store,
or a cigarette machine and loosely smoked in a back alley to satisfy a craving,
just does not come anywhere remotely close. It points to some other side of smoking.
From the Darkside
This whole website is about breaking free from being trapped in the 'other side'
Many people, both young and old, are attracted by the lure of 'risky behaviour';
usually adopted for the thrills engendered and sometimes for darker, more sinister reasons.
To some the mystique of tobacco abuse appears to be part of this complex syndrome,
and various authorities often cite this as the main reason as to why people smoke.
As has been elsewhere shown, its actual dangers are of addiction, reduced physical performance
and a painful, earlier than normal death; which seems to offer little in the way of any immediate
risk or thrill - for the ultimate immediate dark thrill, Fugu liver should be eaten, if incorrectly prepared it
The appeal of cigarettes to young people is that they have an enjoyable and soothing effect
and are, like alchohol, an adult thing. Appearing grown-up
is a great psychological boost to the young. Any risk is of secondary
importance and lies in the act, not in what tobacco does; the act of doing
something forbidden, with the attendant risk of being caught.
For the young it is an easy way to challenge the authorities (another ego boost!),
the very thing they seek to emulate, to be safely rebellious and to join in
with others who are...Even the young are quick to realise that there are other, much more
effective forms of self-destructive behaviour to choose from rather than opting for a slow
suicide through smoking cigarettes.
Ultimately the true menace of tobacco lies buried in its addictive properties, often discovered by
the smoker only when it is too late.
It is one of the hardest addictions to break,
and this hints of something else perhaps a little more sinister, a true darkside, a subtle
and altogether different order of danger.
To the Lightside
So, finally: What then are the true virtues of tobacco?
and for us stranded here in the twenty-first century: What is its challenge?
Let it Pass