The General History of the Hooka
The Hooka was first created to elevate peoples' states of mind. Although born in India, this device spread to the countries of the Near East, Far East, the Arab world, Persia, East Africa, and all the way to the Ottoman Empire. With the discovery of Tobacco, the original form of the hooka evolved, and its uses changed so that it became a device synonymous with pleasurable smoking experiences.
The Hooka’s Indian Roots
The hookah is also known today as the water pipe, the Shisha or the hubbly-bubbly. It was originally used in India to extract the medicinal value contained in plant seeds.
The Hooka in Different Forms
The hooka in its original and simplest of forms was made from a coconut shell base, also known as the narci. This coconut shell was hollowed, and a straw was placed inside it for the purposes of inhaling substances placed in the shell’s core. After some years the device reached Egypt, and it was in Egypt that the Egyptians changed its form further by replacing the coconut shell with a gourd.
Upon reaching the Persian peninsula, the Persians developed the hooka even further,
bringing it closer to its modern form. They substituted the straw originally used by the Indians, with a soft and more flexible hose, making the hooka more practical
and easier to handle.
These changes came in time with the region’s first introduction to Tobacco. Seeing the newly discovered substance in a whole new light due to the more relaxing effects it provides, the Persians experimented with the possibility of inhaling it using the Hooka. With this idea in mind, it was soon discovered that the hooka device needed to evolve from its original form so as to satisfy this purpose. A bronze tray, known at the time as "Ser" was placed above the hooka’s body to hold the tobacco. The type of Tobacco popular amongst the Persians at the time was known as tömbeki. In Syria and Yemen, the Hooka was developed even further so that it took on the form of a long wooden head, an iron stand and a hose sewn from thick cloth.
The first Hooka bar in the Ottoman region was opened in 1554 by a gentleman named Hakem from Aleppo and his partner, a nobleman by the name of Hems from Damascus. This first bar laid the foundations for many others to follow. Hooka bars at the time were places where people of high social standing met.
During the 17th century, the Ottomans changed the hooka into a more practical smoking device. Above the "head" they placed a bowl of baked clay and they also added to it a mouthpiece that connected the hose to the smoker’s mouth. The Hooka at the time had a body of glass, crystal, rock-crystal, porcelain and even silver, a head of brass and silver, and a pipe holder decorated with carvings depicting scenes from nature.
Because the ever so popular Hooka had a base made of glass, it was only natural for the glass making industry to also flourish in popularity. It was in the 19th Century and during the reign of Selim III that a man by the name of Mehmet Dede set up a workshop in Beykoz, a place where the famous Beykoz glassware was made. After setting up a series of workshops in that area, a glass factory was soon established in 1899. The local factory however was unable to compete with the glassware imported from Europe at the time and it soon closed down. The first glass factory in the modern sense was established upon the orders of Atatürk in 1934 during the Republic period, and it was then that the prettiest hookas in history were made.
The Hooka Today
Hookas are still used today, but are seen as the more pleasurable form of smoking only employed as a pass time in coffee houses across the region.
Now, there has been a remarkable revival. If you walk down any street in Amman, Beirut, or Damascus, nargile cafes are proliferating and the success of business will depend on the availability and quality of the smoking experience on offer.