A bong, according to the cronies over at Wikipedia, is “a filtration device usually used for smoking cannabis, tobacco, or other herbal substances.” Also referred to around the world as a billy, bing, moof, garblum, dave, dee, dozey, beeky, mitch and tisch, a bong is, in brief, a water pipe. A smoking apparatus now notorious for big, clean hits and chillin’ out max.
But in what country is the world’s oldest bong found? How did a water-filtered substance inhaler become a standard bearer for the culture that eventually grew from and around marijuana?
Common thought would steer you the way of Central and Southeast Asia. It is known that cannabis as a naturally occurring plant finds its ancestral roots in that region. Thailand and Laos, India and Persia, the spread of the hemp has seemed to bleed out from that central Asian region to the crest of the Mediterranean and farther west into Europe. As western history would tell it, only after travelers from Europe made their way into Africa were tobacco and cannabis introduced into the various cultures of the continent. Portuguese by way of Persia. Dutch by way of Portugal. Lots of western peoples divulging the secrets of the world to others.
Like most fairy tales, this is untrue. As archaeologists learn more and ask better questions, not only does it grow vastly clearer that marijuana-use predates western influence in Africa, but also that the use of water pipes predates the introduction of tobacco and any western influence in the land by a cool hundred years, at least.
Earliest written record of bong-use dates back to the Ming Dynasty of the 16th century. It is pretty undeniable that cannabis and hemp were in heavy rotation in China and the greater region at the time. What hasn’t really been recorded, is the use of similar water devices and pipes in Ethiopia and other parts of eastern and central Africa– carbon dated to as early as the 1300s.
The fact that the vast Ethiopian kingdoms of old go unspoken of by most seems proof of the cultural and racial biases at work. Aksum, Kush, Nubia. Some of the greatest strokes in technology and societal governing can be traced back to ancient Africa and more specifically Ethiopia and the northeastern region. Trading cultures cultivating rich interaction amongst themselves and any other seafaring nations. And it is within these confines that we spike the root of bong-use outside of Asia.
Some three hundred years prior to former history’s book–seemingly influenced by little to no one– ancient African empires, or at least small pockets of stoners within, were holed up in their abodes and adobes getting highhhh.
A bong found with ten other smoking apparatuses in an Ethiopian cave by archaeologist J.C. Dombrowski (photo via TheNationalMarijuanaNews.com)
Featured photo via MoroccoWorldNews.com