Water pipe in the form of a seated female figure
- Kanyok peoples
- late 19th or early 20th century
The Portuguese introduced tobacco (Nicotiana tobacum and Nicotiana rustica) to West Africa in the 17th century after they discovered it in the Americas. Other explorers and merchants, including the Dutch and Arabs, reintroduced tobacco at different times and at various points along the west and east coasts from which it spread to the interior of the continent. Access to tobacco, whether in the form of leaves or snuff, was a prerogative of African rulers.
Tobacco usage inspired artists to create pipes for their patrons, who may have been African or European. This rare Kayok water pipe, of which only three are known, was made for an African local patron. It is carved in the form of a seated woman with a swollen abdomen, which serves as the water chamber in which the tobacco smoke is cooled before being inhaled. The large covered hole at the center originally held the pipe stem. Water pipes were used by bilumb, women who were possessed by ancestral spirits and functioned as diviners. They performed the diving ritual while seated on the chief's stool.
- Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 284-285.
- Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
- University of Iowa Museum of Art, Art & Life in Africa
Read more about drinking and smoking in African cultures.