In the Begining, There Was the Calumet
<< July, 2014 >>
Search Blog

100+1 Uses (1) RSS
Adam Davidson (10) RSS
admissions (1) RSS
Advertising (2) RSS
Alex Florov (5) RSS
Ardor (4) RSS
Art and Pipes (4) RSS
Ashton (1) RSS
Ashton (3) RSS
Behind-the-Scenes (11) RSS
blog (9) RSS
blog (40) RSS
bloopers (2) RSS
books (2) RSS
Brad Pohlmann (2) RSS
Brad Pohlmann (2) RSS
briar (8) RSS
Brick House Cigars (1) RSS
Brigham (2) RSS
Broken Pipe (2) RSS
Bruce Weaver (2) RSS
Capstan (6) RSS
Carlos Torano (1) RSS
Castello (6) RSS
Chacom (4) RSS
cigars (20) RSS
Claudio Albieri (1) RSS
Claudio Cavicchi (3) RSS
comic strips (2) RSS
Cornell & Diehl (10) RSS
Customer Service (6) RSS
Dunhill (12) RSS
Ernie Markle (1) RSS
Ernie Markle (2) RSS
Escudo (1) RSS
Esoterica (2) RSS
estate pipes (17) RSS
events (2) RSS
Famous Pipe Smokers (11) RSS
Fitness (1) RSS
Flor de Gonzalez (1) RSS
Food (12) RSS
Gabriele (1) RSS
Gamboni (2) RSS
Gawith Hoggarth & Co (1) RSS
gift cards (1) RSS
Giveaways (6) RSS
G. L. Pease (10) RSS
grain (1) RSS
Gran Habano (1) RSS
Grant Batson (1) RSS
Grechukhin (2) RSS
hemp wick (1) RSS
Hermit Tobacco (1) RSS
Hiroyuki Tokutomi (9) RSS
history (4) RSS
Humor (23) RSS
Ikebana (1) RSS
Il Duca (1) RSS
Interview (2) RSS
Italy (3) RSS
J.Alan (1) RSS
J. Alan (11) RSS
Japan (1) RSS
Jess Chonowitsch (1) RSS
J&J (3) RSS
Johs (2) RSS
Kaywoodie (1) RSS
Kei-ichi Gotoh (2) RSS
Kristoff (1) RSS
La Gloria Cubana (1) RSS
Lars Ivarsson (3) RSS
Lasse Skovgaard (4) RSS
Leo (1) RSS
Letter (1) RSS
lighters (1) RSS
Low Country Pipe and Cigar (3) RSS
Luciano (3) RSS
Mac Baren (17) RSS
Maigurs Knets (2) RSS
McClelland (6) RSS
Michael Lindner (2) RSS
Michael Parks (1) RSS
Michail Kyriazanos (1) RSS
Michal Novak (2) RSS
Mystery Tobacco (2) RSS
Nanna Ivarsson (2) RSS
nasal snuff (1) RSS
Nathan Armentrout (1) RSS
Neerup (1) RSS
Newminster (1) RSS
newsletter (266) RSS
Oliva (1) RSS
Orlik (5) RSS
Padron (1) RSS
People (22) RSS
Pesaro (1) RSS
Pete Prevost (1) RSS
Peter Heding (2) RSS
Peter Heeschen (2) RSS
Peterson (7) RSS
Peter Stokkebye (3) RSS
photography (18) RSS
pipe accessories (3) RSS
pipe basics (4) RSS
Pipe Clubs (2) RSS
Pipe Fiesta (1) RSS
pipe making (6) RSS
pipe making (55) RSS
pipes (44) RSS
pipes (8) RSS
Pipe Shows (23) RSS
Pipes in Film (4) RSS
pipe tobacco (81) RSS
poster (1) RSS
Press (7) RSS
Rad Davis (1) RSS
Radice (6) RSS
Ray Kurusu (1) RSS
Reiner (1) RSS
Reviews (4) RSS
Rocky Patel (1) RSS
Rocky Patel (2) RSS
Sales (3) RSS
Samuel Gawith (1) RSS
Samuel Gawith (2) RSS
Savinelli (3) RSS
scott thile (2) RSS
Sebastien Beo (4) RSS
Ser Jacopo (3) RSS
Simeon Turner (1) RSS
Sixten Ivarsson (2) RSS
Smio Satou (3) RSS (74) RSS
SPC Merchandise (1) RSS
SPC University (2) RSS
Stanwell (4) RSS
Storient (1) RSS
Summary (6) RSS
Takeo Arita (2) RSS
Tatuaje (2) RSS
technology (5) RSS
Thanksgiving (1) RSS
Three Nuns (4) RSS
tobacco (7) RSS
tobacco aging (1) RSS
tobacco blending (5) RSS
tobacco review (5) RSS
Tom Eltang (5) RSS
Tonni Nielsen (1) RSS
Torano (1) RSS
travel (70) RSS
Tsuge (3) RSS
Vauen (1) RSS
video (57) RSS
video (5) RSS
Viktor Yashtylov (1) RSS
virginia (1) RSS
YouTues (4) RSS
Photo Albums
florov (1)

10 July 2012

In the Begining, There Was the Calumet

A pair of ceremonial calumets, as depicted by George Catlin, mid-19th century

A pair of ceremonial calumets, as depicted by George Catlin, mid-19th century.

The calumet, a catch-all term for the original tobacco pipe indigenous to North America, was an object of singular significance. Though often referred to simply as "peace pipes", there were in fact ceremonial calumets specifically created and adorned for numerous roles, including the declaration or prosecution of war.

Though a good pipe, being an object of some considerable labor investment (especially when shaped only by non-ferrous hand tools) would be a natural choice for the ceremonial occasions of tobacco use, it's also important to note that the tobaccos available were much harsher than those products of careful selective breeding that we enjoy today - not to mention that one common leaf, Nicotiana rustica, contained three times the nicotine as our strongest popular variations of Nicotiana tabacum. Furthermore, they were often mixed with other dried herbs as well. Tobacco was a commodity to be used only sparingly and on special occasions - "padded out" in mixture and puffed on through long-stemmed pipes which would help tame the blend. (Similarly, the Tainos of Cuba, the first smokers met by Europeans, rationed their own tobaccos by rolling them into cigars with a plantain or palm leaf wrapping.)

Access to the very pipestone itself (otherwise known as catlinite, after George Catlin) from which the calumet was most commonly carved was highly valued as well, to the point that amongst the peoples who inhabited areas where pipestone supplies originated, quarries were considered neutral ground, thus assuring that even within the context of oft-perpetual intertribal conflict, a supply would be secure. Given the importance of smoking the calumet in sealing bargains or, most famously, coming to terms of peace, this can be interpreted as quite a pragmatic measure - I would hazard a guess that a violation of this tradition would go over about as well as the killing of an emissary in the Occidental or Oriental spheres; a profane transgression against a trust both idealized as sacred and highly functional, which could see an entire kingdom, or even an empire, justly ground to dust in retribution. In short, the pipe of autochthonic North American societies was of such importance to politics not only within the tribe, but also in effecting relations (peaceful or otherwise) amongst other tribes, that the act of sacrilege in denying its availability or desecrating its symbolism was a line none could cross without expecting to earn a dire stigma, as well as consequences. When a pipe was puffed on in ceremony, the smoke was seen as carrying the participants' prayers, oaths, pacts, or decisions to the attention of the Creator-deity or other important and potent spirits - effectively serving to accomplish what we would now call "putting it in writing". In this light the pipes of a tribal leader or "medicine society" were both religious artifacts and, in and of themselves, akin to the highly-respected scribes who would follow lords, kings, and other powerful figures in European, Mediterranean, and Asian societies previous to the widespread use of the printing press.

The red pipestone bowl of Sauk leader Black Hawk’s personal calumet, preserved at the Black Hawk State Historic Site, Illinois

The red pipestone bowl of Sauk leader Black Hawk’s personal calumet,
preserved at the Black Hawk State Historic Site, Illinois.

Given the high esteem in which the indigenous pipe and its array of ceremonial and symbolic roles were held, it should come as little surprise that its storage and transportation required means fitting to its station. As with the pipe itself, the pipe-bag was an artifact of no little labor, and subject of much care and attention; Native-made traditional pipe and tobacco bags, still produced to this day, are on par with modern artisan-made briars in terms of the skill and cost involved, typically featuring extensive symbolic decoration laid out in careful beadwork, embroidery, and/or quillwork.

Northern Plains pipe bag and Sioux pipe bag, both circa 1870, from the Pierre L. Fabre collection

Northern Plains pipe bag and Sioux pipe bag, both circa 1870,
from the Pierre L. Fabre collection.

While public-domain images of modern calumets are hard to come by, in searching for pictures for this entry I did come across a Flickr set of some of the best examples of Native pipe-bowl art, the Hopewell-period Tremper Mound trove discovered in Ohio just shy of a century ago: The Hopewell Effigy Pipes


Eric Squires: Copywriter

 Eric Squires: Copywriter

Posted by eric at 4:00 PM | Link | 3 comments

Re: In the Begining, There Was the Calumet
Fascinating post. Nicely done.

Posted by Jeff Smith on July 10, 2012 at 8:34 PM

Re: In the Begining, There Was the Calumet
An extremely interesting article.
Had me wishing it was a whole book.
More please Eric.

Posted by squirenorm on July 10, 2012 at 8:47 PM

Re: In the Begining, There Was the Calumet
Nice post. Do you guys sell any of these pipes?

Posted by Brenden on July 10, 2012 at 8:56 PM

Name:   Required
Email:   Required your email address will not be publicly displayed.

Want to receive notifications when new comments are added? Login/Register for an account.

Anti-spam key

Type in the text that you see in the above image:

Your comment:

Sorry, no HTML allowed!

Subscription Options

You are not logged in, so your subscription status for this entry is unknown. You can login or register here.



New Pipes

Fresh Items



Click to verify BBB accreditation and to see a BBB report for

View in English View in Japanese