A Brief Overview of Hookah History

A 2011 study found that 40% of college students reported having smoked tobacco out of a hookah. This amount has probably increased over the last decade as more hookah lounges have opened in major cities.

Hookahs have been popular for hundreds of years but many people don’t know the fascinating history behind them. What cultures used hookah? Where does hookah history begin? How do they work?

This article will provide a comprehensive history of when hookahs were invented and how they became so popular in modern culture. Keep reading below to learn what hookahs are exactly, their early history in India, smoking etiquette, and tips on picking out your own.

What Is a Hookah?

Before we go any further with sharing the history of the hookah, let’s describe what it is. If you’ve never seen one in person before, a hookah is an instrument used for vaporizing and smoking flavored tobacco. Shisha is the name of the tobacco put in a hookah.

Historically, hookahs have also been used to smoke more illicit substances like cannabis, hashish, and opium. More people are now using hookahs to smoke cannabis today. States are making it easier to do by legalizing recreational marijuana.

There are multiple parts to a hookah, made of glass, metal, or plastic. Here are the basic parts for you to know:

  1. Base: a detachable bottom section that is filled with water
  2. Shaft: the main body of the hookah that sits in the base water
  3. Gasket: small silicone or rubber “donuts” that make airtight connections between sections
  4. Valves: a hole in the shaft where a smoking hose is attached
  5. Bowl: a container at the top holding the tobacco or shisha

Hookahs may sound familiar if you’ve had any experience with bongs or water pipes. But, it’s important to note that hookahs are far more complex. The tobacco packing process is more intricate and you need to use hot coals. If you’ve never used one before, it’s best to speak with an experienced user first.

There is a tremendous social component to smoking hookahs as well as a rich history. Let’s take a look at how these instruments were used in the ancient world.

The Ancient Hookah History

The very first hookahs were used in India nearly half a millennia ago. They were originally used in the court of Emperor Akbar in the late 16th Century. He started using this device—from the Arabic word “huqqa”— to purify tobacco smoke.

Tobacco was being shipped to India and the Middle East by Portuguese and other European traders. Physicians at the time didn’t know much about tobacco so they recommended that he find an alternative way to smoke.

They designed a device where the smoke passed through a tube and a jar of water before being inhaled. They also flavored this tobacco with molasses.

It didn’t take long for the hookah to become wildly popular across India and having one became a social symbol. Gorgeous pipes made of silver, copper, and semiprecious stones were manufactured for Indian noblemen.

Hookah usage spread throughout the Persian Empire and the Middle East. Later, it reached Egypt and other regions of Northern Africa. The mechanism as we know it today was finalized by the Ottomans.

The British Empire also helped spread hookah throughout the western world using the East India Trading Company. It became very popular in Europe and the Americas. It has remained that way through modern times.

The tradition of smoking hookah is a significant part of these different cultures today, especially in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

When Did Hookah First Appear as We Know It?

British dignitaries began writing about the hookah in the late 1700s and 1800s. They used hookahs while living and working in India. They wrote letters to their friends or family about it. Some even described the device in books.

Hookahs became a symbol of British integration and social status. People with money were able to afford the best hookahs and tobacco, while others worked as hookahburder or hookah bearers.

For the British residents of India, hookahs became synonymous with imperial policies like tiger hunting.

While the original Indian hookahs were described as having a “coconut-and-straw look,” the design evolved over the years as other materials were used. Arab countries were responsible for adding a range of flavored tobaccos to choose from (strawberry, melon, or rose, for example).

Hookah smoking really took off in places like Turkey where the design was perfected. Coffeehouses were set up across the country as valuable meeting spaces. The devices were also nicknamed “hubble-bubbles.” Many business deals and treaties have been agreed upon in Turkish coffeehouses.

You can now find hookahs all over the world and the social practice of smoking is more popular than ever.

In the middle of the 20th century, smoking hookahs was considered a subdued, middle-aged affair. It was something that men did as they played cards.

That trend completely shifted upside down. Today, hookah lounges in cities across the world host young men and women of all nationalities and backgrounds.

And, as we mentioned earlier, hookahs are more popular with cannabis smokers. Some hookah bars are even allowing guests to bring their own marijuana.

Hookah Culture: Are There Any Rules for Smoking?

As with any group activity, there are certain rules and etiquette that need to be followed. Many of these rules have developed over hundreds of years.

It’s important to know these rules if you’ve never been to a hookah lounge or had any experience with one before. The last thing you want to do is look foolish or offend someone.

When you show up at a lounge, you’ll get a menu of all the flavored tobacco available. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are typically served as well.

Smokers can choose more traditional flavors like mango or strawberry, or combinations like “Pina Colada.”

The lounge staff will bring you whatever flavor you order and enough mouthpieces for everyone. In most cases, you’ll have a separate smoking area for your group. This makes the experience private and intimate.

Once the tobacco is inserted and the coals are lit, here are some hookah rules to follow:

  1. Use the individual plastic mouthpiece given to you when smoking at the lounge
  2. If you’re passing the hose to another person, do it with your right hand and make sure the tip is facing you
  3. Hoses should be passed in a clockwise motion
  4. Wrap the hose around the hookah base to signal that you’re done smoking
  5. Never blow smoke in someone’s face
  6. Plug your hose when not in use

Traditionally, hookahs are kept on the floor rather than a table. This is because the device is in service of you and your guests. Don’t forget that the act of smoking a hookah is social. Select a tobacco flavor that everyone will like and always defer to the hookah owner on what should happen next.

These last points are especially important if you’re smoking in a foreign country.

Tips on Buying the Right Hookah

Does all of this information sound exciting? Are you ready to buy your own hookah?

First, consider your hookah materials. While you can choose glass, stainless steel, ceramic, or brass, experts recommend solid brass. They’re more durable and resistant to corrosion.

Choose a hookah that is between 28 inches to 32 inches. Any taller or shorter and you may have a hard time operating it. And order yourself a multistem hookah with stoppers on each of the hoses. It’s easy to lose suction if you have too many hoses open at the same time.

And here’s an important point about cost. Don’t assume that just because you spend a lot of money that your hookah will be that much better. It’s possible to purchase a moderately priced hookah that performs just as well. Do your research ahead of time to make sure you’re not wasting money.

Selecting a good hookah pipe is the most important decision you can make. It can make or break all of your future smoking sessions.

Start browsing for hookahs among the most well-respected brands like Khalil Mamoon, Shika Hookahs, Mya Saray, or Starbuzz. You may also be interested in accessories like extra hoses, stems, foils, or hookah bowls.

Buy Your First or Next Hookah!

You should feel like an expert after reading all of this hookah history. Even after hundreds of years, people still love to get together and find comfort in smoking a hookah.

Are you ready to buy one? Follow some of the tips we provided above to get your money’s worth.

Do your research ahead of time and buy a hookah that you know will be easy to handle. It’s also important to shop the most well-respected brands so you get a high-quality hookah that’ll last for a long time.

Check out the rest of our website if you enjoy reading about the latest gadgets and technology. Hookahs are an old technology still used today, but we also discuss tips and tricks for your smartphone, business software, and setting up the cloud.