Published on December 2, 2012 by Casey
Tobacco is one of several plants with a name that comes from a Native American language– “tobacco” comes from tabaco, a Taino/Arawak name for the plant that was picked up by the Spanish in the 1500′s. Tobacco is one of the most important Native American ceremonial plants, used by nearly every indigenous tribe of North America (the Inuit are the only exception we know of) and most tribes of Central and South America as well. Even cultures that did no other farming usually raised tobacco, and tribes that couldn’t grow tobacco for themselves often traded with other groups to acquire it. Tobacco was considered a gift from the Creator in many Native American cultures; according to some of them, tobacco smoke is a means of carrying the smoker’s prayers to God. Many tribes have important myths about the origin of the first tobacco. In some North American tribes, tobacco was exclusively farmed by men, and women were forbidden from touching the growing plants. Once it had been harvested, however, Native American men and women both smoked. Tobacco leaves were smoked at rituals, ceremonies, and important social events, and also as medicine for any number of ailments. Tobacco is associated with relaxation, healing, and peace. In some tribes, particularly in North America, the pipes used for smoking tobacco are themselves considered highly sacred. In others, tobacco pipes are purely utilitarian or decorative objects. Tobacco is one of the herbs frequently included in medicine bundles, and is still popularly used as an offering or gift today.
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Tobacco is also used as a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Tobacco Clans include the Hopi tribe (whose Tobacco Clan is called Pipngyam or Bif-wungwa), the Zuni tribe (whose Tobacco plan is named Ana-kwe), the Navajo, the Mohave, and the Pueblo tribes.