Thursday, February 22, 2007


More on Drinking Tobacco

Dear Mr Gilleland,

Your post on drinking tobacco reminded me that I had heard, years ago, about some of the early Europeans to come into contact with tobacco wondering in what way best to consume it, and having tried infusion. I can't find any of those references; but I did turn up this, which might interest you:
"Probably the oldest way of taking the weed, and the most straightforward, was chewing it. Cured tobacco leaves were mixed with salt or ashes, formed into pellets or rolls, then tucked into the user's cheek, or under a lip. The juices thus released then dissolved in saliva and slid down the masticator's throat. Tobacco chewing could be recreational, or magical. The next method of consumption, in terms of complexity and pedigree, was drinking tobacco, in a sort of tea. Tobacco leaves were boiled or steeped in water and the resulting brew drunk via the nose or mouth. This was a popular method of consumption among shamans, as the strength of the brew could be adjusted to deliver the massive doses they preferred. The provenance of the tobacco used in making tea was a matter of great importance. For instance, Acawaio men would travel to a special stream to collect ‘Mountain Spirit’ tobacco, which was steeped in the water of the stream to enhance its potency. Drinking tobacco also presented the opportunity of mixing other narcotics into the brew. Novice shamans would sometimes add a dash of the fluids they collected from a dead shaman, and a qualified shaman's tea was often loaded with other hallucinogenic plant extracts. Tobacco was drunk in sufficient quantities at shamanic initiation ceremonies to induce vomiting, paralysis and, occasionally, death. Even everyday tobacco drinkers attributed mystic powers to their brew."
Also, someone did a book on Tobacco and Shamanism which lists all the South American tribes that drank rather than smoked tobacco. So I imagine it was a question of which tribe which Westerner first met, for a while at least.


Roger Kuin

The excerpt quoted by Professor Kuin comes from the first chapter of Iain Gately, Tobacco: The Story of How Tobacco Seduced the World (New York: Grove Press, 2001). Gately provides this additional detail about drinking tobacco:
Tobacco tea was also ‘drunk’ via the anus where it was introduced in the form of a clyster, using a hollow length of cane or bone, or with a bulb made out of animal skin and a bone or reed nozzle. An early example of such a device, dating from AD 500, has been discovered in the tomb of a Colombian shaman.
Don't try this at home, kids.

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