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Native American Tobacco Mythology
Tobacco is one of several plants with a name that comes from a Native American language--
"tobacco" comes from tabaco, a Taino/Arawak name for the plant that was picked up
by the Spanish in the 1500's. Tobacco is one of the most important Native American ceremonial
plants, used by nearly every indigenous tribe of North America (the Inuit are the only exception
we know of) and most tribes of Central and South America as well. Even cultures that did no other
farming usually raised tobacco, and tribes that couldn't grow tobacco for themselves often
traded with other groups to acquire it.
Tobacco was considered a gift from the Creator in many
Native American cultures; according to some of them, tobacco smoke is a means of carrying the
smoker's prayers to God. Many tribes have important myths about the origin of the first tobacco.
In some North American tribes, tobacco was exclusively farmed by men, and women were
forbidden from touching the growing plants. Once it had been harvested, however,
Native American men and women both smoked. Tobacco leaves were smoked at rituals, ceremonies,
and important social events, and also as medicine for any number of ailments. Tobacco is associated
with relaxation, healing, and peace. In some tribes, particularly in
North America, the pipes used for smoking tobacco are themselves considered highly sacred. In others,
tobacco pipes are purely utilitarian or decorative objects. Tobacco is one of the herbs frequently
included in medicine bundles, and is still popularly used as an offering or gift today.
Tobacco is also used as a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with
Tobacco Clans include the Hopi tribe (whose Tobacco Clan is called Pipngyam or Bif-wungwa),
the Zuni tribe (whose Tobacco plan is named Ana-kwe), the Navajo, the Mohave, and the Pueblo tribes.
Native American Tobacco Gods and Spirits
Native American Legends About Tobacco
Abenaki Indian Tobacco Story:
Abenaki story about the culture hero Gluskabe bringing tobacco to the people.
Grasshopper and the Origin of Tobacco:
A similar story from the Menominee tribe, in which Manabush steals tobacco from the stingy Grasshopper.
The Sacred Weed A Tobacco Legend:
Blackfoot legends about nawak'osis, the tobacco spirit.
Corn Mother How First Mother Saved the Penobscot The First Corn:
Penobscot legends telling how First Mother created corn and tobacco.
Hummingbird Brings Back Tobacco:
Cherokee legend about Hummingbird retrieving tobacco from the geese.
The Origin of Indian Tobacco:
Potawatomi story about a man who learned the secrets of tobacco in a sacred dream.
The Coming of Corn Spirit:
Sauk legend about the origin of corn, beans, and tobacco.
Recommended Books of Tobacco Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
Picture book for kids retelling a Chippewa Indian legend about the origin of tobacco.
Tobacco Use by Native North Americans: Sacred Smoke and Silent Killer:
Anthropology book about tobacco myths and history in Native North America.
Plants of Power: Native American Ceremony and the Use of Sacred Plants:
Interesting book about the meaning of tobacco and other herbs to traditional Native American spirituality.
Native Plant Stories:
Excellent collection of Native American stories about plants, by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Native American Medicinal Plants:
Comprehensive book on the names and traditional uses of herbs throughout Native North America.
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