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Dokha tobacco and cultural adoption

February 20, 2024

Dokha Tobacco and Cultural Adoption

Dokha tobacco and cultural adoption is a very interesting topic of conversation since Dokha (Arabic tobacco) has only recently entered the consciousness of the general smoking population in the West.  Smokers are intrigued by the uniqueness of the product, especially the ‘quirky’ delivery method of the nicotine hit.

Dokha tobacco has always been an important part of UAE culture and heritage for example, with a rich history dating back centuries.  Initially, when Dokha was acknowledged by the wealthiest in society as a relaxing leisure-time pursuit,  its use proliferated quickly and nowadays it is enjoyed by peoples of all backgrounds and considered a symbol of hospitality and generosity.  It is often shared among friends and family during social gatherings across the UAE.

The alure of smoking Dokha has been built on the premise that the pleasure one gets out of the preparation of the tobacco is just as important to the smoker as the flavour of the blend.  It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the smoking of Dokha originates – some people say as it was first found growing wild it was consumed by Sheep and Goat Herders in Iran centuries ago.  Suffice to say that tobacco plants are known to have grown in the wild for centuries, and over time have been cultivated and standardised, using more modern farming methods in the West, however not much has changed in terms of how tobacco is grown and tended to in the Middle East.  It is the cultural adoption of this plant that is so intriguing, as virtually all cultures around the world have taken this humble plant and manipulated or adapted it to their own cultures and lifestyles.

Centuries ago, what is now termed ‘Western pipe tobacco’, was used for religious and medicinal purposes.  Thousands of years ago the peoples of the Americas used the leaves like bandages for skin sores and sprains as they thought there was ‘magic’ in the leaves.  Teas made from the leaves were drunk to cure all manner of ailments, however, nowadays it is more widely used for pleasure and leisure smoking with little mention of any medicinal properties.

Sailors and traders helped to spread the use of tobacco in various forms around the world and eventually smoking shops appeared and the rest is history!  Governments around the world are now clamping down on smoking tobacco, particularly cigarettes, due in part to the clear scientific evidence which has emerged and the collation of data from all corners of the globe into the consequent dangers of smoking to human health.

This natural air-dried Arabic tobacco, is subtly different from Western pipe tobaccos in that it is cultivated and harvested at high altitude in the mountainous regions of the UAE, with manually maintained irrigation systems running between the plants.  These irrigation channels, which only use fresh water, are tended by local farmers whose knowledge of the growing and harvesting process of their tobacco plants is passed down from generation to generation.  There are absolutely no additives or chemicals added to the tobacco during either the growing, harvesting or eventual bottling processes – nothing added and nothing taken away, except the stalks!

The way that the plants are grown gives Dokha its distinctive taste – the cool night air and hot sunny days also means that the farmers are guaranteed more than one crop rotation per season. Once harvested, the plants are cut and hung up to dry on battens in barn like structures to ensure that the nicotine gravitates to the tips of the leaves.  The leaves are then graded between top leaves, middle leaves and bottom leaves and shredded into various cuts – some finer than others.  The farmers themselves are master blenders, creating a myriad of strengths and flavours by just adding a pinch of this leaf and a pinch of that leaf to create Light, Medium and Hot Dokha blends.  The shredded leaves, of whatever strength, are quickly stored in air-tight bottles to help preserve the strength and natural colouration of the tobacco plant.

At this point in the process the products are disseminated around the world when different cultures come together to enjoy the fruits of the farmers’ labour. One interesting fact about smoking Dokha is that there is no residual smell left on soft furnishings or clothing – unlike western pipe tobaccos, particularly cigarette smoke… so it is considered to be less offensive to non-smokers…

Just like the origins of Dokha, the Medwakh pipe, sometimes spelled Midwakh or Midwah in some regions, dates back centuries.  Commonly used in Middle Eastern and North African cultures, the Medwakh can be traced back to the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.  Bedouin tribes are said to be the Arab culture’s perfect image of desert lifestyle.  They are generally Arabic speaking and are a nomadic people, first identified in the Syrian desert and spread across the Arab world with the spread of Islam.

This slender Medwakh pipe was often crafted using natural materials readily available in the region, such as wood and animal bone.  It served as a portable and practical tool for smoking various substances, including herbs and tobacco.  The general rule of thumb is that the optimum length of the Medwakh should be 6 inches, with a small bowl to hold the dried shredded tobacco.

Cultural adoption is encapsulated when we see Middle Eastern peoples eating Western food and vice versa for example, and nowadays virtually every country on the planet has a cultural mix that is both exciting and educational for people travelling to exotic places.



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