Xhosa pipes, made from wood, adorned with elaborate beadwork and presented in a number of shapes and sizes, are a fixture of the Xhosa culture and Eastern Cape landscape. There’s nothing that says ‘Wild Coast’ as much as a gaggle of senior matrons puffing away at their pipes and sharing the day’s news.

Did you know?

When Xhosa men smoke together, they pass one pipe around – but use their own mouthpieces.

While driving through Pondoland, that wonderfully wild northern tip of the Eastern Cape, you might well encounter what looks like an intense pipe-smoking convention.

There are few places are on Earth where the ritual of pipe smoking is taken more seriously.

You’ll see old men walking alongside their beasts, puffing away, in deep conversation with themselves and the universe at large. You’ll see old grannies sitting in the sun outside their huts, looking out to sea through a billow of blue tobacco smoke, drawn from wooden Xhosa pipes.

Passing through the bustling settlements of places like Dutywa, you’ll find groups of men huddled together in the marketplace, leaning on their fighting sticks, passing a pipe around.

And the variety of Xhosa pipes makes them perfect décor items to take home with you.

There’s the so-called Khoi Khoi pipe, with its green stone bowl and its ox horn, which, when filled with water, acts like a smoke filter. There's also the Xhosa ‘three-wife pipe’; the common hardwood Inqawe pipe; and the calabash-shaped ‘old woman’s pipe’.

Most of the pipes are gloriously adorned with traditional Xhosa beadwork.

You’ll notice mothers all using long-stemmed pipes.

The long stem has practical applications: less of the tobacco smoke is inhaled, and it’s easier to keep smoke away from suckling children. The added length of the stem also ensures that ash does not fall onto their babies.

Young Xhosa girls are forbidden from smoking – this ritual is the preserve of a mother or an older woman. Both men and women carry their pipe, tobacco and pipe tools around in bags that are richly adorned with beads.

So important is the habit of pipe smoking in Xhosa culture that when somebody in the community dies, that person is said to have ‘laid down his pipe’.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Stutterheim Business Centre

Tel: +27 (0)43 683 2024
Email: sbac@eci.co.za

How to get here

You will mostly find Xhosa pipe-smoking traditions followed along the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape and in the southern Drakensberg. Mgwali village outside Stutterheim – near East London – also has original pipe-makers.

Best time to visit

Stutterheim is best visited at the change of seasons (spring in October/November and autumn in March/April); the Wild Coast is an all-year destination; the southern Drakensberg has its winter and summer delights.

Tours to do

See the Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism site for tour details in the Port St Johns/Wild Coast area.

Best buys

Ornately beaded Xhosa pipes are on sale in Port St Johns and other outlets around the Wild Coast, and also in good curio shops.

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