Sunday, May 26, 2019

Chris S. Duvall's "The African Roots of Marijuana"

Chris S. Duvall is Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of New Mexico and author of Cannabis.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The African Roots of Marijuana, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of a textbox about the cultural history of cannabis in Morocco. Page 99 specifically discusses a group of Islamic mystics (the Ḥeddawa) who smoked psychoactive cannabis (or kif) as part of their spiritual practices. From page 99:
The brethren smoked enormous amounts of kif and influenced people outside the order to try the drug. Consequently, they shaped Moroccan agriculture. Cannabis became an acceptable crop as Ḥeddi and other marabouts made it an acceptable drug. The Ḥeddawa preferred cannabis from Ketama, a small town in the Rif Mountains. ‘Our brothers in Ketama are intelligent people,’ they said. ‘They clear the forest to plant kif and tobacco for [us] devotees.’ As consumption increased nationwide over the 1800s—due mostly to secular use—the Ḥeddawa’s Rif homeland became the preeminent kif-farming area. In the late 1800s, Rifian towns supported the Ḥeddawa by donating several hundred kilograms of kif to the monastery annually, even though it sold for high prices in cities. The patron saint of kif growers, Sidi Moḥamed Jamhoun, is celebrated near Ketama.

Moroccan Muslims more commonly discouraged cannabis use or condemned it outright. Kif’s place in religious life was fraught: cannabis was sold in markets not with medicinal herbs or spices, but with the checkered substances brandy, wine, tobacco, coffee, tea, and sugar. Sultan Hassan I (r. 1873–94) was particularly concerned about kif, although his government profited from its monopoly control of the market. In 1888, he narrowed kif’s legality by allowing farming only in the Rif, which helped him build political support there. Subsequent elites accepted kif grudgingly, for convenience. In the 1920s, the French resident-general expanded the farming privilege only to prevent a religious order—the Ouazzanie brotherhood—from joining an anticolonial rebellion in the Rif. In the following decades, kif farmers continued to defend the crop as authorities tried to prohibit it, which finally happened in 1954. The conflict of opinions about kif pushed the Rif into Morocco’s political-economic periphery, a status expressed and accentuated by the postcolonial government’s violent repression of revolt there in 1958–59.
Would a browser get a good idea of the book from page 99? Partly no, partly yes.

No, because Morocco and Islam are peripheral topics. I take a continent-scale view of cannabis history, yet I look at North Africa really just to understand the broad context of events in Central Africa, where the people-plant relationship we call ‘marijuana’ originated. Since the literature on cannabis history is pretty bad—there are exceptions—I had to research many places that were peripheral to my focus on how the plant crossed Africa and the Atlantic. Islam has a very minor role. I mostly write about it to tear apart myths that hashish was somehow special to Muslims. There’s been a lot of bigoted nonsense written about people and cannabis.

Indeed, in this respect page 99 provides a good sample of the book’s content, which includes a lot of myth-busting. The body of nonsense I challenge centers on race, not religion. I wrote about the Ḥeddawa because they deeply shaped cannabis culture in Morocco. Yet cannabis histories make no mention of them. Ponder this: prior to my book, the Ḥeddawa had not been documented in English, either in historical sources or recent histories. I write about other similarly forgotten episodes. The general neglect of Africa in cannabis histories has enabled racist nonsense to persist about who uses cannabis, and why.
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You have to be a stoner to read or write about cannabis, right?

I wrote the book for thoughtful people, whether or not they care about marijuana.

I wrote the book because I wanted to know why Africa is neglected in cannabis histories, and what consequences that omission has had. Most histories of cannabis have been written by people who wanted to advance a political agenda about cannabis in current societies. I want to build knowledge. Like it or not, cannabis is exiting prohibition. Better knowledge of its past is needed to manage it more fairly, safely, and effectively than under prohibition.
Learn more about The African Roots of Marijuana at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue