When we walk into a cigar or tobacco shop, one of the most regular items we see is the Native American Indian in full headdress welcoming us as we walk in. The most prevalent reason for that Indian being there is because American Indians introduced tobacco to Europeans, and the depiction of native people on smoke-shop signs was almost inevitable. As early as the 17th century, European tobacconists used figures of American Indians to advertise their shops.
The question here is: Are there other tribally based undercurrents of cigar smoking?
In a simple answer, I would say: several.
Native American Ceremonial Use
Recently I went to the deserts in California to participate in a Native American type ceremony. Afterwards, the person facilitating the ceremony gave me a gift. It was a braid of tobacco, a significant gift of respect and medicine. Being an avid cigar enthusiast, I got curious.
In real short terms, tobacco is central to Native American prayer ceremony. It is offered and smoked as a means of communicating with Spirit.
When prayers were made to the Great Spirit, pre-Columbian Indians made offerings with tobacco, the most valuable substance they possessed. The Cherokee consider these offerings to be contracts with the helper spirits that carry prayers to the creator.
Medicine-men were daily users of tobacco for healing rituals and for communicating with Spirit. Pipe-keepers were required to be of the highest character and moral standards. Tobacco was smoked during official functions such as tribal councils, and when guests visited the lodge. When hunting parties from neighboring tribes met each other in the field, the pipe was smoked among them to demonstrate peaceful intentions. A warrior seeking vision would pack his bowl with a special smoking mixture supplied by the medicine elder and then carry his pipe into the wilderness to pray for up to four days. During this time he would not drink or eat or smoke but concentrate his full attention on ‘crying-for-a-vision’. Only upon returning to the sweat lodge and relating his experiences to the medicine elder was the pipe smoked in contemplation.
Tobacco is a sacred plant in tribal ways, and is believed to carry the prayers of the people. These ceremonies bring comfort and a sense of one-ness with their Creator. Gifting tobacco is a way of showing respect and giving thanks. Above all, tobacco is medicine – not just for communing individually, but for social interaction, personal development, and maintaining a peace.
Modern Day Use and Commonalities
I can see some common themes when it comes to cigar smoking. Usually we have our own lodges associated with cigars and smoking as well – the cigar lounge. Think about it. Where else can you go and comfortably sit with others, and share a smoke?
Most of the time, when we go to a lounge, we are respectful, honorable, and have “council” with people we have business with, or friends we have not seen in a while and discuss our work or lives. Sometimes we meet there with new people, sharing the smoke and speaking of cigars and new things – displaying our peaceful intentions.
Or perhaps we gather out around the fire pit with a few friends, all light up cigars and discuss everything from the upcoming draft, to politics, to stupid things we did in our twenties. I guess what I am saying here is that there is a strong draw to fellowship, all based around the practice of smoke. This is a base tribal instinct of ours, and a healthy peaceful process.
All of this leads back to the tribal undercurrent that exists behind the ceremony that we keep alive, but in a modern way: sharing the smoke.