Man and Cannabis in Africa: A Study of Diffusion - Journal of African Economic History (1976)

Man and Cannabis in Africa: A Study of Diffusion - Journal of African Economic History (1976)
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  African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-MadisonRegents of the University of Wisconsin System Man and Cannabis in Africa: A Study of DiffusionAuthor(s): Brian M. du ToitSource: African Economic History, No. 1 (Spring, 1976), pp. 17-35Published by: African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison Stable URL: . Accessed: 22/08/2013 17:40 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  .  African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison  and  Regents of the University of Wisconsin System are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  African Economic History. This content downloaded from on Thu, 22 Aug 2013 17:40:27 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  17 Man nd Cannable n Africa: Studg f Diffuesion Brian M. du Toit University of Florida The past decade has seen an awakening of research interests regard- ing psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs. While the New World is par- ticularly rich in these natural products, no drug has as wide a distri- bution nor as universal an appeal as cannabis. This hallucinogen is known y different local referrents but the most widely distributed is marijuana in the United States and Latin America, and hemp or Indian hemp n many of the other Anglophone areas of the world. While it has near universal distribution, it is nonetheless to the Old World we must look for its srcin and srcinal acceptance. Cannabis was srcinally cultivated as a fiber plant and only its leaves were used in the pharmacopoeia of different peoples. Linnaeus classified it as a simple species Cannabis sativa, but recent research indicates that there may well be several species. '1 At this stage we are not concerned with this botanical question but intend to focus on the social use and diffusion of the plant through Africa. In this paper we will examine in turn the historical, sociological, and linguistic evidence relating to the cannabis plant in Africa. Then, after a brief review of current hypotheses regarding the diffusion of cannabis, we will propose a more encompassing hypothesis to account for its spread in sub-Saharan Africa. HISTORICAL EVIDENCE The early trading contacts between India and the Arabian Penin- sula, as well as trade and settlement by Indian and Arabian merchants started around the Horn, but soon extended southward along the east African coast. Early trade links between Arabia and the east African coast are well documented and were flourishing by the first centuries A.D. Doubtless such trading involved valued products from India, Turkey, and Persia in exchange for minerals, precious stones, and ivory. According to classical sources an Arabian trade center existed at Rhapta and in time settlers and traders spread southward, along the coast. Neville Chittick reports that by the eleventh or twelfth century Muslim settlements could be found on Zanzibar and Pemba, and also at Kilwa.2 The same author suggested that By the early tenth century A.D. (al-Mas'udi), there were Muslims in Qanbalu (Pemba?) and there were already Bantu settled in this zone. By the mid-twelfth century (al- Idrisi), most the inhabitants of Zanzibar were Muslim; there were num- bers of towns on the mainland, most of which appear to have been pagan, 3 and there was close contact between these settlers and Bantu speakers. This is also the period during which cannabis spread westward from India and Persia to Egypt.4 African conomic History, pring, 976. This content downloaded from on Thu, 22 Aug 2013 17:40:27 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  18 Ahmad Khalifa, referring to Arabic historians, stated that cannabis was introduced into Egypt during the reign of the Ayyubid dynasty, around the mid-twelfth century; as a result of the emigration of mystic devo- tees from Syria.5 We might then suggest that the Arab communities on the African east coast were associated with cannabis, either in the form of the domesticated variety used for its fiber, or the wild variety which was used as medication and as a mind-altering substance. Much of the trade with the interior regions of Africa was by ascent through river valleys but these frequently were rendered impassible during the rainy season, thus necessitating extended periods of stay in the interior. A.McMartin6 n fact suggests that at various inland centers the Arabs had semi-permanent settlements where they would spend one or two years away from the coast. When he Portuguese made their way up the Zambezi in 1531 to establish a trading post, a small Arab community existed at Sena, almost a hundred miles from the coast.7 Based on ethno- historical sources, D. P. Abraham has estimated that at the start of the sixteenth century at least ten thousand Arabs were in Rhodesia tapping the wealth of the Zimbabwe ettlers in Rhodesia.8 In time they had a great influence over the Karanga territory--an influence they later exchanged with the Portuguese who traded from their new base in Mozambique. Two centuries later David Livingstone commented n the presence of Arab traders and Arab influences in wide areas of central Africa. We need not overemphasize the presence of the Arab traders in the interior. At the time when the first Arab settlements were being estab- lished off the east African coast, and the gold trade with Sofala was being regularized,9 there were already Bantu-speaking peoples in contact with them. These Bantu-speakers were gradually spreading southward as they expanded their territory or grazed their cattle. As far back as the second and third centuries A.D. imports were reaching central Africa via indigenous trade routes,10 or spreading further westward along an extensive series of trade routes into the Congo basin11 or, more likely, conveyed by Swahili-speaking traders into the Great Lakes region. In a discussion of excavations of sites on Lake Kisale in northern Katanga, Jacques Neguin postulates a date of the seventh to the ninth century A.D. for them and states that the perforated cowrie shell found in Burial 54 probably comes from the East Coast. 12 This is one of many uggestions by research workers regarding trade contacts at an early date, but more important, trade contacts from east to west. Further south there is documentation of similar indigenous trade, for around 1835 the Matabele had considerable traffic with the Amasili/Masarwa off the edge of the Kalahari, exchanging iron, daggo (sic), spears, hoes, and knives for ostrich eggshell beads, ivory, feathers, horns and skins. 13 The same kind of trade into the Kalahari region from the peoples in South West Africa also existed, as did various trade lihks among the local populations who cultivated and used cannabis. H. Vedder (1928)13a emphasized the value of cannabis as currency in transactions where, for example, the Bergdama who cultivated the herb, traded it to the Ovambo for goats and cows. In fact it was the Bergdama's money with which they could buy everything they needed. In what later became South Africa we have earlier and better documented evidence of the presence 14 of cannabis, though it was frequently confused with Leonotis leonurus. The inclusion of cannabis in the list of trade items between Khoikhoi This content downloaded from on Thu, 22 Aug 2013 17:40:27 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  19 and Bantu-speakers on the east coast has been discussed elsewherel5 though it would seem that some groups among the Khoikhoi, particularly the Hankumqua, may have cultivated this herb. In addition to the Khoi- khoi the San hunters both usedl6 and traded17 cannabis. In fact, when Whites settled at the southern tip of the African continent cannabis was in common se. We will return to this question when dealing with the linguistic argument below. ARCHAEOLOGICAL ATA That Iron Age Africans were cultivating in the Zambezi valley and raising their cattle in that region by the second or third century A.D. is now a well established fact. In fact, authoritatively dated archaeo- logical sites from Zambia and Rhodesia show the presence of settled communities of Iron Age peoples between A.D. 185 and A.D. 300.18 These were village dwellers who were experimenting with iron smelting and pottery making. We also know that in Zambia trade items from the coast are quite common n archaeological sites dating from the sixth or seventh centuries.19 These sites are also rich in pottery and carved stone items, indicating that the bowls of pipes essential in the smoking of cannibis could have been readily prepared from either of these materials. Further south smoking pipes were found in the Brandberg, South West Africa, where they were associated with large, open-station settlement sites attributed to the Bergdama. Two of these sites have radiocarbon dates of 1590 and 1730 A.D. respectively.20 Apparently then people here- abouts were smoking by the sixteenth century. Based on ethnohistorical information we would suggest that they were in fact smoking cannabis. If we look to the north of the general region just discussed, it is clear that cannabis was being used in the northern Kenya-southern Ethiopia region shortly after the thirteenth century date suggested for the introduction of cannabis into Africa. That it was being smoked is borne out by excavations in Ethiopia where two ceramic smoking-pipe bowls were excavated with a date determined to be 1320+80 A.D. More important however is the fact that both yielded positive tests for cannabis- derived compounds.21 ETHNOGRAPHIC VIDENCE A survey of seventeenth century and eighteenth century travel docu- ments, ethnographies, and anthropological studies presents a picture of established cannabis users throughout sub-Saharan Africa.22 This applies not only to the Khoikhoi herders in the south and their San neighbors but also to the Bantu-speakers in contact with them. It applies equally to most of the Negroid peoples in south, east, and central Africa. This common ultural pattern of use and the terms used to refer to the herb (see below) suggests a longstanding acceptance of cannabis in most of sub-Saharan Africa. There is by contrast a significant absence of cannabis among the traditional societies in West Africa. We do know that early north- south trade routes existed across the Sahara and that a degree of trade This content downloaded from on Thu, 22 Aug 2013 17:40:27 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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