The History of the Hookah
The origins of the hookah come from the north western provinces of India along the border of Pakistan in Rajasthan and Gujarat nearly a millennia back [map]. These hookahs were simple, primitive, and rugged in design, usually made from a coconut shell base and tube with a head attached. They were designed to smoke opium [more], and hashish [more].
The hookah made its way through the Persian Kingdom [map], which also included Pakistan, Afghanistan, much of Middle Asia and Arab parts of Northern Africa. The hookah acquired tombeik on its way through Persia. Tombeik is a dark tobacco grown in modern day Iran. Tombeik is rinsed and packed in the large older style heads where hot coal is applied directly to the wet tombeik, which gives it a strong flavor.
The hookahs designed in the Persian Empire are still hand crafted with each one being cut from a piece of wood. In the 19th century, cigarettes were made easily available and mostly women smoked the ghelune because they were not on the go. Women used the ghelune in the home for entertaining and as a past time.
When the hookah made its way into Turkey [map] about 500 years ago, it endured a surge of popularity among the upper class and intellectuals and thus changing in design. The hookah grew in size and complexity and became similar to designs that we are more familiar with today. Brass and glass were added to the design and less wood was used. Intricate paintings and mosaics were added for beauty and elegance.
The popularity grew into hookah coffee shops in Turk society two to three centuries ago. A hookah bar waiter was treated similar to a chef because of the preparation for hookah smoking. The packing and moisture was a skill, and it was considered rude to touch the coals. Hookah smoking migrated south into the Arab world from Turkey to Lebanon and Syria [map] where it got the name argile. It then spread into Egypt and Morocco [map], where it is known as shisha.
It is also know as the hubble bubble in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Today, hookah bars are social places where many people get together to discuss politics and local events. In Kuwait and Saudi Arabia [map], the hookah bars are for men only, and in some Muslim countries, many believe that the hookah is haram [more], or forbidden.
Most hookah smoking countries serve Naklia shisha. Naklia shisha is a combination of foreign tobaccos, honey molasses and dried fruit. The smoke is filtered through ice cold water to make the smoke cool and soothing. Older generations smoked hashish and opium, which has created a negative stigma for the hookah that is smoked today. Slowly society is accepting the hookah as more of a pipe for tobacco instead of illegal drugs. The hookah has been growing in popularity in the United States and Europe since the experimentation of the 60's [more]. Now they are in every college head shop and Middle Eastern market across the entire U.S.. It is also growing in popularity in Japan.
"Cigarettes are for nervous people, competitive people, people on the run. When you smoke a narghile, you have time to think. It teaches you patience and tolerance, and gives you an appreciation of good company. Narghile smokers have a much more balanced approach to life than cigarette smokers." (Ismet Ertep, 71 years Turkey).