lowkey percolator bong

The History Of The Bong

You might not give much thought to the multitude of bongs lining the shelves of your local dispensary, but the tradition of smoking cannabis out of a bong dates back thousands of years. Throughout the history of the bong, it’s been the go-to device for people across the globe—spanning seemingly every social class—and continues to adapt to the changing needs of cannabis consumers.

What is a Bong?

A bong is a device used to smoke marijuana flower. Bongs use water as a filter (which is why they’re often called water pipes) to cool weed smoke and allow for deep, smooth inhalations. Bongs come in all shapes and sizes and range from simple devices made of soda bottles to handblown glass works of art.

Bongs consist of five separate parts:

1 Bowl: This is where the cannabis is loaded and combusted. Bongs are often designed with a removable bowl that allows them to function as a pull- or slide-carburetor.
2 Base: The base is found at the bottom of the bong and is the chamber that holds the water.
3 Downstem: This connector is the link between the bowl and the base.
4 Tube: Also called the chamber, the tube is where the smoke goes after being filtered through the water in the base. The tube is fitted with a mouthpiece and is the part you smoke out of.
5 Carburetor: This piece is what allows you to clear smoke from the bong tube. The carburetor is also commonly known as simply the “carb.”

Early History of Bongs

There is extensive evidence of the use of bongs dating back thousands of years and new discoveries are still being made. It was just 2013 when archeologists discovered what are thought to be the world’s oldest bongs in what is now southern Russia.

Early Russian Bongs

The bongs discovered in southern Russia are believed to date back 2,400 years and are sculpted from gold. The gold bongs were discovered in Scythian grave mounds, called kurgans. The Scythians were a nomadic people who controlled large parts of Europe and Asia from the 9th century BC to the 4th century AD. Before the discovery of the two gold bongs, Scythians were already known for their connection to cannabis—Herodotus, the ancient Greek writer known as “the Father of History,” reported that the Scythians used a plant to produce smoke “that no Grecian vapour-bath can surpass…transported by the vapor, [they] shout aloud.”

In fact, the word “cannabis” comes from the Scythians and was first adapted into Persian as “kanab,” then Greek as “kánnavis,” and ultimately Latin as “cannabis,” the term we still use today.

Early African Bongs

Prior to the discovery of the Scythian bongs in Russia, the oldest known bongs were thought to come from Ethiopia. Two ceramic bongs were excavated in the Lalibela Cave, dating back to the 13th/14th century. No matter the exact age of the bongs, they predate the introduction of tobacco to Africa.

Early Chinese Bongs

Cannabis has a long history in China; recently, pot-smoking paraphernalia that dates back 2,500 years was discovered in the country. That said, it wasn’t until the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries that the region embraced the bong. It’s believed that bongs were introduced during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) and gained popularity in the following Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911/12) It’s even rumored that Dowager Empress Cixi—who ruled China for almost five decades—was buried with her prize bongs.

The Glass Bong

The father of the modern bong is commonly thought to be a glassblower—also called a lampworker—named Bob Snodgrass. Snodgrass, known as the “godfather of glass” and the “the godfather of the bong renaissance” gained notoriety in the 1970s while traveling around the country blowing glass pipes in a mobile studio and often following the Grateful Dead.

Snodgrass is best known for his aesthetically pleasing water pipes and is widely credited for making the first color-changing bongs and being the originator of borosilicate glass bongs. Borosilicate glass allows for a very low coefficient of thermal expansion, meaning it will not crack under extreme temperature changes like regular glass. It’s in part thanks to Snodgrass’s artistic flair and innovation that bongs remain a staple of smoking weed today.

The Modern Bong

Glass remains the standard for bongs today, but other materials are making inroads. Silicon is one material in particular that is gaining favor. It offers properties similar to glass but is far more durable and commonly considerably more affordable. Other bong makers are turning to traditional materials—such as wood and metal—when making water pipes.

The Etymology of the Word Bong

Bongs have been on the tip of the tongue from their early origins in southern Russia and Africa to their more recent popularity in China and the U.S. However, we have the Thai language to thank for the word “bong”—it comes from the Thai word “bɔ̂ɔŋ,” meaning “a hollow piece of bamboo or wood.”

There are a number of theories as to how it entered into the U.S. lexicon. Two of the most prevalent are that the word was brought back to the states by soldiers returning from Asia—either from the Pacific Theater of World War II or Vietnam, depending on your source.

Lowkey Dispensary

Whether you’re looking for a bong that’s a piece of art or an everyday workhorse water pipe, Lowkey has an option for you. From mild to wild, we can help pair you with a water pipe that meets the needs of you and your favorite flower. Check us out in Dorchester’s Codman Square.

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