The History of the Hookah Pipe
Hookah pipes, like many traditional curios shared amongst different cultures, are devices with many names. In the West, the name "hookah" is generally accepted as the term for the water pipe while the word "shisha" is applied to the flavored tobacco one would smoke out of it. In the Middle East, Eurasia, and South Asia (the birthplace of the modern hookah as we know it), the pipe itself is referred to as the "shisha," while the hookah tobacco is called "Mu'assal," "Moassal," or "Tombak," amongst others. Different names for this fascinating pastime vary depending on one's geographical location and cultural history.
In Turkey, for example, one smokes from a "Nargile," while across the border in Syria one would walk into a tea house and order a "Narguileh" to relax and enjoy the company one is with. Travel further east in a tea house in Iran and you'll be served a "Ghalyn," which is enjoyed in the exact same fashion as it is in neighboring countries. In India, the birthplace of the modern day hookah (the term "hookah" comes from the ancient India word "hukkah," or "coconut," which is what the first hookahs were made of), you'll find that the country is seeing a resurgence of Indian youth partaking in hookah smoking, a prestigious activity once reserved only for the noble class.
Recently, the United States and Canada have seen a surge in popularity of hookah smoking, especially amongst young adults in college towns. While the origins of the hookah can be traced back all the way to the Ottoman Empire, it is a relatively new phenomenon in North America. As little as 10 years ago, hookah tobacco could only be found in Arabic grocery stores and specialty smoke shops, and the selection was limited to only a few brands with a handful of traditional flavors. Today, thanks to the growing population of people of Eastern descent carrying this time-honored tradition over to the US in the form of hookah lounges and cafes, hookah smoking is reaching a wider audience and gaining popularity. Today's hookah smoker has dozens of brands of hookah tobacco to choose from, in hundreds of different flavors, as well as a large selection of hookah charcoal to fit anyone's particular tastes. Modern technologies such as online vendors specializing in hookah and shisha products, discussion forums focusing on hookah culture, hookah-related blogs, and YouTube have spread the art of hookah smoking even further.
So what is it about a hookah that is so appealing to people of such diversity? At first glance, a group of friends sitting around a tall water pipe puffing away may not seem that extraordinary. However, any regular partaker of the hookah will tell you that no hookah smoking session is the same - the art of preparing the hookah bowl, the sharing of personal and traditional techniques, the careful and delicate maintenance of the hookah coals one must observe, the miracle of physics that come together to make the perfect hookah smoke, the company - all elements that make hookah smoking more than just a novelty but in fact a traditional pastime that bridges cultural differences in peaceful harmony. To some, hookahs and shisha tobacco can be admired and respected in the same way one would admire a fine wine. To many, there is no better expression of style and festivity than one experiences with friends, family, and hookah.