Cannabis in Africa

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Globally, cannabis has many associations with Africa, one notable example being in the lyrics of Bob Marley. In another blog (‘How cannabis became illegal’), it was explained how cannabis culture was introduced into the USA mainly by Mexicans and immigrants from the Caribbean in the early 20th century. In this article we will see how cannabis culture originally arrived in Mexico and the Caribbean: from Africa. Earliest evidence of cannabis in Africa The earliest traces of cannabis in Africa have been found in pollen samples in Egypt and Botswana, dating from around 1800 BCE (Burney et al. 1994; Duvall 2015:72), from Kenya in 650 BCE (Rucina et al. 2010:8), and from Madagascar in 300 BCE, which became more abundant around 800 CE (Duvall 2019:74). Cannabis culture arrives in Africa Even though these early traces of cannabis have been found in Africa, it was the wild, lawless Qalandar Sūfīs who were one of the groups who had a significant influence in first introducing recreational cannabis culture to Africa, to Egypt in the 13th century (see my blog ‘Changing Cannabis Laws in the Middle-East’). Qalandars famously ate bhāṅg in various kinds of preparations, particularly in sweets. The earliest evidence of cannabis smoking in Africa has been found further south, in Ethiopia, where traces have been found in the ceramic bowls of pipes dating to around 1320 CE (van der Merwe 1975). Clarke and Merlin (2013:126) propose that sailors probably brought cannabis culture from India to the east coast of Africa, between 2,000 and 500 years ago. This seems plausible, because thousands of Africans from what was Abyssinia (which became Ethiopia) came to India, originally as slaves, perhaps as early as the 4th century CE, from the Horn of Africa. Indians also sailed to and settled in Ethiopia. In India, these Ethiopians were…

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