Friday, February 23, 2007

"A Chaw Of Tobacco And A Little Drink"

For rustics like me...
(Image from Wikipedia)

As a boy growing up in the Ozarks, I must have been one of the few who refused to undergo that otherwise nearly universal rite of passage to hillbilly manhood: trying a 'chaw' of tobacco.

Most boys didn't get it right the first time, accidentally swallowed a bit of the 'juice,' repeatedly yawned in living color, and learned to spit better the next go-around.

I turned down every offer of chewing tobacco proffered. Hearing anecdotes of those who had gone before persuaded me not to go there at all. Another old boy that I worked with had drawn the same conclusion, and if offered a chaw, he'd retort:

"No thanks, I don't even chew horsesh*t."
Like me, he preferred not to become one of the many who'd had a chaw of tobacco and a little drink along with the chaw, which reminds me of an old song title, though I don't know if the song relates the same experience.

I therefore found myself surprised yesterday to discover during my tobacco investigations that really drinking tobacco juice has been a cultural practice among some groups. I say "my tobacco investigations," but the legwork was done by others, for Michael Gilleland, of Laudator Temporis Acti, has again come to my aid. Not that Michael had much searching to do either, for he had help from one of his readers, Roger Kuin, who found a fascinating passage in an article "Tobacco: The Story of How Tobacco Seduced the World" from the February 8, 2002 edition of The Washington Post, which apparently reprints the first chapter of Iain Gately's book La Diva Nicotina: The Story of How Tobacco Seduced the World (Simon & Schuster, 2001):
Turning to the methods by which tobacco was consumed in South America, the astonishing diversity of tobacco habits reflects not only the multitudinous purposes it served, but also the different climatic conditions in which the weed was employed. For instance, it was hard to smoke in the thin, dry air of the Andes, so snuffing tended to prevail. Similarly, in the swamplands of the Amazon, where fires could not be kindled readily, tobacco was taken as a drink. Different methods of tobacco consumption often existed side by side -- one form for everyday use, another for magic or ritual.

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. Hunters of the Mashco tribe drank to communicate with the game animals that they wished to kill. Hunters in some tribes would apply tobacco juice as eye drops in order to help them see in the dark. In several cases this privilege was extended to their hunting dogs. (Gately, Tobacco, chapter 1, paragraphs 20-21)
Interesting that one aim of chewing on tobacco was that of swallowing the "juices . . . dissolved in saliva," precisely what people aimed not to do back in the Ozarks -- and with good reason, too, since too much tobacco imbibed could "induce vomiting, paralysis and, occasionally, death"!

But let us return to metaphorical drinks of tobacco. Edward Pettit, of The Bibliothecary, alerted me to an anthro-ling blog enty by linguistics student David Kaufman for June 26, 2006 on "Drinking Tobacco," in which Kaufman remarks:
In the last couple of days I've discovered the Biloxi [Indians] used to say

yani(ksoni) įni
tobacco(pipe) drink

While at first the idea of "drinking" tobacco seemed odd, I've since discovered that it is not so unusual. I'm told that "drink" for smoke also occurs in Crow (another Siouan language), some eastern Algonquian languages, and even Japanese:

tabako wo nomu
tobacco OBJ drink
Kaufman then asks: "Anyone know of other languages that have this idea of 'drinking' for smoking?" A couple of readers responded on June 29, 2006 with examples in Hindi and Arabic:
Nick Emlen said: The Hindi word for smoking tobacco:"Tumbako piina", literally "to drink tobacco".

arabicgeek-bot said: In Egyptian Arabic they say both "yišrab sagaayir", and "yidaxxan" both meaning "to smoke" but "yišrab sagaayir" literally means "to drink cigarettes."
I then chimed in, many months later (February 21, 2007) to note that "It also appears in Elizabethan English and Old English," directing Mr. Kaufman to my blog. I haven't heard from him yet, so perhaps he hasn't seen my comment.

I may have to smoke him out of his bloghole...



At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My guess is that Robinson Crusoe is the most famous literary tobacco "drinker." He steeps and imbibes liquid nicotiana:

Now, as the apprehension of the return of my distemper terrified me very much, it occurred to my thought that the Brazilians take no physic but their tobacco for almost all distempers, and I had a piece of a roll of tobacco in one of the chests . . .

What use to make of the tobacco I knew not, in my distemper, or whether it was good for it or no: but I tried several experiments with it, as if I was resolved it should hit one way or other. I first took a piece of leaf, and chewed it in my mouth, which, indeed, at first almost stupefied my brain, the tobacco being green and strong, and that I had not been much used to. Then I took some and steeped it an hour or two in some rum, and resolved to take a dose of it when I lay down; and lastly, I burnt some upon a pan of coals, and held my nose close over the smoke of it as long as I could bear it, as well for the heat as
almost for suffocation . . .

It grew now late, and the tobacco had, as I said, dozed my head so much that I inclined to sleep; so I left my lamp burning in the cave, lest I should want anything in the night, and went to bed. But before I lay down, I did what I never had done in all my life - I kneeled down, and prayed to God to fulfil the promise to me, that if I called upon Him in the day of trouble, He would deliver me. After my broken and imperfect prayer was over, I drank the rum in which I had steeped the tobacco, which was so strong and rank of the tobacco that I could scarcely get it down; immediately upon this I went to bed. I found presently it flew up into my head violently; but I fell into a sound sleep . . .

At 9:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Ed, for the passage. The blogging community, as well as the larger internet society, makes possible a rate of learning that exceeds anything that I'd previously ever experienced.

I know feel myself an 'expert' in drinking tobacco...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:28 PM, Blogger Hagfish said...

This is immensely off topic. Please forgive me.

Would you please contact me via my profile re blocking blogspot?

I will be in debt to you.

Thank you.

At 9:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hagfish, I'm afraid that I haven't understood your request.

What do you mean by "blocking blogspot"?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:54 AM, Blogger Hagfish said...

Hi Jeffery,
Thanks for responding. I have been picking things up from the web during searches, where there was mention of Live Journal, Blogspot, and GeoCities blogs not being allowed into Korea. They were blocked.

These mentions were made during certain 'politically delicate' times, and it's possible that the blocking was temporary.

Your profile mentions that you are in Seoul, and I thought since your blog is current, you would know one way or the other about the status at this time.

Again, I'm so sorry for taking up your space here.

If you have any answer, and you would find it less intrusive, a very brief e-mail would be fine and much appreciated. What ever suits you in terms of convenience.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Okay, now, I understand. I'll respond here.

Yes, there have been periods in which the ROK government blocked entire domains such as Blogspot, Typepad, and others.

The most widespread and lengthy of these was in 2004, when Kim Sun-il, a South Korean working in Iraq as a truck driver and improving his Arabic, was beheaded on videotape. The videotape was put onto the internet, so the ROK government quietly 'suggested' that blocks be put on domains that linked to the video. Since some blogs had done so, entire blog domains were blocked.

You might do better asking the Big Hominid, who knows more about the details of the blocking. You can email him at:

Be sure to write "HAIRY CHASMS" in the subject line.

You may want to visit the Big Hominid's blog first, which can be a bit shocking due to its scatological imagery and language, so be forewarned, but I can assure you that the Big Hominid is actually very helpful and very courteous, so don't hesitate to contact him.

Sorry that I can't help more.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:27 PM, Blogger Hagfish said...

Thank you so much! B.H. is exactly the sort of fellow who would know. I base this opinion on the content of the blog you mentioned.

Haven't been there yet, but rest assured, at the age of 67, I've seen nearly everything there is in that realm. So, not to worry.

Thank you for your sensitivity. It is most appreciated.

I want to look at your poetry later. You're a wonderful writer. I like your blog!

The Kim Sun-il 'situation' was the trigger I referred to as politically delicate, and mention of that block was what spurred me on to learn the current status, since I do some blogging regarding a certain situation in Korea now.

So, I'm off on the great hominid hunt.

Thank you again, and infinitum.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hagfish, I'm glad that I could be of a some help.

Thanks, also, for your kind words about my blog.

Jeffery Hodges

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