History of the Bong

History of the Bong

History of the Bong


Believe it or not, the practice of bong smoking goes back thousands of years ago. They’ve been an iconic staple in the 1960s and 1970s and have now evolved to what we see in bong shops and of bongs online, but the practice is something that’s been passed down by the primitive tribes and the great civilizations from the past.

Nomadic tribes

Medicinal herbs as a substance and bongs as vessels have a long history of human use. Although the first uses of medicinal herbs were not recreational and hemp plants were used for herbal medicine and textiles, the usage eventually spread towards the cultural areas of societal life, such as rituals and religious celebrations.

The nomadic Iranian-Eurasian Scythian tribes of Central Asia and Africa have the strongest historical ties to medicinal herbs, so much so that the word draws its roots from what they called the substance: “Kanab.” According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Scythian tribes consumed medicinal herbs to reach the spirit world and commune with spirits. It was also a popular way for marauders to alter their state of mind before battle or to relax and celebrate.

The earliest known bongs were the recent excavations in Russia, which unearthed golden bongs that were 2,400 years old. The artifacts were not shaped like modern bongs and had intricate decorations that depicted images of what seemed to represent the Scythian underworld. These were likely used by tribal chieftains for smoking medicinal herbs and opium because earlier excavations discovered much simpler bongs made from animal horns altered by primitive pottery.

14th to 16th Asian Civilizations

Before these excavations proved the existence of bongs much earlier in human history, all we had were written records that described bong usage in 1500s Central Asia. By this time, the Silk Road allowed contact between several civilizations in nearby continents and made the exchange of physical goods, knowledge, and practices possible. Bongs were already quite common by this time, considering the trade records from Thailand that listed bamboo bongs as ‘buang/baung.’

The Silk Road brought the bong to the Ming dynasty in China in the same century, adding the water aspect to the device. Smoking through a water pipe became the most popular form of tobacco consumption in the Qing dynasty. These water pipes also became indicators of social class: country people used homemade bamboo bongs, and Chinese nobility and urbanites used more elegant bongs made from metal bronze or brass.

Western Post-War Drug Use

The earliest use of the word “bong” in the English language was in 1944 in a Thai-English dictionary written by George Bradley McFarland, so it’s safe to assume that the term, along with bong usage itself, was brought home by soldiers returning from the Pacific after World War 2. The use of bongs flourished hand in hand with the glass industry.

The 60s and 70s and its spirit of peace and hippie aesthetic encouraged the popularization of the glass bong. Bob Snodgras, a glass artist, is credited for being the first glass artist to apply fuming to bongs, a process that involved applying metal fumes such as gold and silver to the surface of glassworks. The glass revival during the decade was then led by the glass bong renaissance. In the 90s, Tommy Chong, one half of a popular American pot-smoking duo in the 70s and a leading medicinal herbs legalization activist of his time, founded Chong Glass and worked with a glassblowing luminary to brand and sell bongs across the United States. Thus began the golden era of the bong industry.

Contemporary War on Drugs

The 20th and 21st centuries are witnesses to the dawn of the war on drugs. By 1937, the Prohibition Era and the Great Depression stoked public resentment towards immigrants and their use of recreational drugs or the “evil substance.” Medicinal herbs were outlawed and criminalized, with governments imposing excise taxes on all sales, possession, and transfer of hemp products. This crackdown on the substance itself would later spread towards the apparatus involved.

In 2003, the U.S. government-funded a campaign to ban bongs and other drug paraphernalia. According to a 2017 Global Drug Survey, Australia has the highest number of bong users per capita.

Recent studies on the beneficial medical effects of medicinal herbs have encouraged a positive shift in the public attitude towards recreational drugs and fuelled the advocacies of activists supporting the decriminalization of medicinal herbs. Bong use is also promoted as a healthier way of consuming the substance, as water filtration minimizes the throat-drying effects. The glass bong industry has managed to power through the prohibition, continuously innovating and coming up with new designs that explore materials other than glass.

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