Nxa! Our ancestors were all stoners


Nxa! Our ancestors were all stoners

MAX DU PREEZ goes back 5,000 years in search of the history of dagga. Was Paul Kruger also a roeker?

Image: © Angela Tuck including “Khoikhoi man smoking a pipe” by Robert Jacob Gordon, 1778 housed in the Library of Congress

IN the early 1990s, a few colleagues and I visited Krugerhof, the house in Waterval-Onder, Mpumalanga, where President Paul Kruger stayed briefly during the Anglo-Boer War. It is now a museum.

My friend and colleague Ryk Hattingh stopped by a glass case and pressed his nose against the glass. “Ha! Uncle Paul was also a roeker!" he said, showing us the cannabis seeds in a pipe in the display case. (And if there was anyone who could recognise a cannabis seed, it was our Ryk.)

Years later, a Brit told me his father had once said the expression “smoking your socks" came from Kruger’s habit of storing his dagga in a sock in his drawer. This might not be true, as I know the expression is also used in Scandinavia. Who knows?

It is true, however, that some of the old trekboers of the 17th and 18th centuries smoked a dagga pipe as a sundowner in the late afternoon. The Voortrekkers took dagga on their ox-wagons, They used it as medicine but also smoked it or drank it as tea to relax.

The English trader George Thompson recorded in 1823 that he saw a large harvest of dagga leaves in a farmer’s store in Graaff-Reinet. Bags of dagga were offered for sale in the Cape Times until 1889.

Marijuana, or cannabis sativa. Ganja. Pot. Grass.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

The word “dagga" comes from the Khoekhoen word “daXab". Dagga played an important role in the culture of these First People and was used in spiritual rituals. It was from them that the old Boers became acquainted with cannabis.

But cannabis sativa is a plant native to central Asia. How did it arrive in southern Africa centuries, perhaps thousands of years ago?

Cannabis is one of humanity’s first cultivated crops. Researchers have found that cannabis was used in China as early as 2700 BC as a painkiller and recreational substance, and in India shortly thereafter.

The Greek historian Herodotus recorded in 450 BC that the plant was used to make clothes and for relaxation. The leaves were placed on hot stones or coals and the smoke was inhaled. People would then spontaneously start singing and dancing, he wrote.

Marijuana was popular in the Middle East because Muslims were prohibited from using alcohol, and cannabis was not specifically mentioned, though it was later also declared haram.

Evidence has been found that dagga was used in Ethiopia and Kenya in the 13th century, and in Zimbabwe and Namibia in the 15th century. Dagga was probably taken to east and north Africa by Arab and/or Indian traders, then spread further south with migrating black agricultural communities.

The Kingdom of Aksum in what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea traded with the Arabian Peninsula, especially Yemen, 2,000 years ago. Cannabis pipes from the 13th century have been found in the historic city of Lalibela in Ethiopia. The country is, after all, the spiritual home of the Rastafarians.

Researchers also believe it is possible that traders from Yemen, Persia and India, who had been trading along the coast of Kenya, Tanzania and northern Mozambique since the 8th century, brought the first cannabis to the subcontinent.

The Nguni and Sotho groups began arriving in what is now South Africa around the 16th century and brought dagga with them. Smoking dagga has been part of these groups’ cultures for centuries.

In ancient India, cannabis was called bhang or bhangi. The Shona of Zimbabwe call it mbanji, the Tsonga people of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique call it mbhange, and the Venda call it mbhanze.

A Dominican priest, Joao dos Santos, recorded in 1609 that he saw the Khoekhoen using dagga. The VOC commander Jan van Riebeek noted in his diary that the Khoekhoen ate a herb they called dagga, which made them drunk.

Hazel Crampton writes in her book Dagga: A Short History that the Khoekhoen not only smoked dagga but ate it and used it to brew tea. She writes that the traveller William Ten Rhyne recorded in 1868 that the Khoekhoen baked dagga cookies which made them very drunk.

The foremost dagga farmers were the Hancumqua of the Graaff-Reinet area, who were also called the Daggamakers by the Dutch.

The 18th-century Sotho-speaking chief and philosopher Mohlomi was a strong activist against dagga, which he said made people stupid and unproductive. Mohlomi’s protégé, King Moshoeshoe, also strongly opposed the smoking of dagga.

In 1965, the South African Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (Academy for Science and Arts) published a book of traditional Afrikaner medicine with 89 home remedies that included cannabis as an ingredient.

Cannabis was only completely banned in South Africa in 1922.

♦ VWB ♦

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