An online search for historical information about cannabis will yield lots of information about ancient origins in Asia, the Middle East, India and Europe. But very few on Africa. Why is a mystery considering that the “Cradle of Mankind” is where the earliest humans walked the earth and, with so many pre-historic sites unearthed throughout the continent, you’d think that archeologists would have reported at least some trace evidence of cannabis amid human remains had they found any. Right?
But then again, maybe not. Of all of the decomposed organic material found at ancient burial sites, cannabis wouldn’t be something most archaeologists would think to test for unless they were specifically looking for it, so it wouldn’t be surprising.
What may surprise you is that the origins of cannabis smoking, as well as the first recorded iteration of the term “Marijuana,” can be traced to Africa. You might also be surprised to know that the derogatory stigma of cannabis use correlation with racism didn’t begin with the Reefer Madness campaign, contrary to popular belief. It actually began centuries ago. In Europe, its association with race and class began when explorers first reported the prevalence of cannabis use in Africa. In the U.S., racial bias associated with cannabis may have originated prior to the Civil War when it was prevalent among African slave laborers. When the sinister Reefer Madness campaign set out to convince an unwitting public about the virtues of prohibition by demonizing “marihuana” prevalent among Mexican farm workers in the south only compounded the problem. The racial injustice of prohibition has ensued relentlessly ever since, as evidenced by the fact that it has disproportionately victimized people of color.
But if the systemic racism associated with cannabis originated long before prohibition began, then one has to wonder whether an understanding of the history of cannabis use in Africa could help to dispel the stigma associated with its use and end the racial bias engrained in our criminal justice system that scarred minority communities for decades.
Those are questions that are best posed to our guest, Dr. Chris Duvall, author of the new book on the subject titledThe African Roots of Marijuana. If you haven’t already ordered the book, we highly recommend you do. If that recommendation hasn’t convinced you, this interview might. Dr. Duvall’s scholarly presentation of history is as entertaining as it is educational and his book reads with the same conversational ease as this compelling interview.
Dr. Chris Duvall is Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of New Mexico, where he also teaches African Studies and History. He is also the author of a scholarly book called Cannabis and his new book titled the African Roots of Marijuana, which was recently published by Duke University Press, is the culmination of years of research about the little-known history of cannabis use in ancient Africa.
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