Friday, July 17, 2009

Inuit Pipe Update

For those of you waiting for the conclusion of the Inuit Pipe cliff hanger, I got a response from Mary Jane Lenz, a curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, today via email:
"Smoking was (and is) a leisure time activity; the "men of substantial means" sounds very odd though - they may have been thinking that only a wealthy man could afford tobacco, but I'm reasonably certain that anyone who had tobacco would share it.

Before Western tobacco was used, a kind of native tobacco was mixed with ash and formed into a cud and kept in the cheek. But Western tobacco was an early trade item, and people invented pipes to smoke it. The bowls were very small, only enough for a small dollop of tobacco (which was, again, often mixed with ash to make it go further.) Usually there was only enough for one big puff, so a man would light the tobacco, fill his lungs, and take one enormous puff which was powerful enough to set his head spinning.

There's a good book by Edward W. Nelson, published in 1896 and now available in paperback, called "The Eskimo About Bering Strait", which has a lot of information about pipes and smoking. I couldn't find it online but didn't have a lot of time to search for it. You may have better luck.

As to your question about pipes being disassembled when not in use, that whole business seems to apply only to the Plains, and even there not everyone is in agreement. But there is a current idea that a Plains pipe, when it is smoked, acts as a kind of "telephone line" to the Creator, and that when one is finished it should be "disconnected". So for the moment Plains pipes are usually stored and displayed with the bowl and the stem separated. This is certainly not the case for arctic people such as the Yup'ik and Inupiaq Eskimo, where smoking is more of a social event."
I am still planning to read the books I ordered from the library, as well as the one she recommends here. This was fun. :-)

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Interesting adventure seeking information about these pipes---The curator reminded me about Inuit generosity; everything I've ever read or heard stressed how people shared, even when food was in scarce supply. Northwest Coast cultures had stratified socio-economic classes, but not the Arctic peoples. As usual, captions on artifacts have to be read critically; misinformation is easy to come by. Another reminder to me is how diverse indigenous cultures were on this continent--Plains pipes wer used so differently from Inuit. Thanks, Ceilon, for sharing this little mystery and its unravelling.