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A Brief History of the Bong

A Brief History of the Bong

Who invented the bong? What was the first bong like? You may have wondered about these realities, but the questions aren’t exactly accurate. What we know as bong today isn’t what it was centuries ago. In fact, bongs have been around for more than two millennia at the least.

Many are aware of the contribution of Bob Snodgrass’ glass making techniques that led to the creation of the modern bong. However, Bob Snodgrass wasn’t the first glassblower and sculptor to create hard glass. Otto Schott made borosilicate glass almost a hundred years prior. Besides, the first bong and many of its subsequent versions were not made of glass. 

Furthermore, Bob Snodgrass only ushered in the contemporary renaissance of the bong in the late 20th century. Bong, as a practice of smoking cannabis, marijuana, or other herbs, is as old as Ancient China, Egypt, India, Iran, and Russia, among other civilizations. Also, there is ample evidence of the use of bongs in the Americas predating Christopher Columbus’ explorations.

The modern history of the bong can be traced back to the Rastafari culture intermingling with the hippie movement in the United States in the 1960s. The ancient history of the bong is much more fascinating. So, is there a specific point of origin in the millennia old history of the bong?

The Primitive Bongs of the World

Frankly, no one knows the precise origin of the bong. The term bong is an English word derived from the Thai ‘baung,’ which refers to a container, pipe, or tube made of bamboo or wood. So, a bong is literally a bamboo tube or wooden pipe used to smoke cannabis, marijuana, or tobacco.

But did the Thai invent the baung or bong? Apparently not because the history of such bongs in Thailand dates back only a few centuries. The earliest bongs predate the birth of Christ. Also, a baung or Thai bong was a dry smoking apparatus. The device didn’t have a water chamber.

Primitive bongs have been found in many countries, but none of them were made of glass. Most of these earliest or first bongs discovered through excavations in Africa and Asia use materials that are readily available in nature and the wild. 

For instance, ancient bongs were made of bamboo, clay, and horns of animals. The Thai buang is made of bamboo, of course. Indian bongs in the ancient times used the horns of bulls, cows, and other animals. Even ivory tusks were used as bongs by the Africans and Asians.

For centuries, the ancient civilizations of Africa and Asia used clay and wood to make bongs. A type of clay bong used in India is known as ‘chillum,’ which continues to be popular even today.

The chillum is a dry bong, without a water chamber for filtration. However, Indians also have a version of this chillum that has a water chamber to filter the smoke. This smoking device is the primitive version of the contemporary hookah or water pipe.

The Precious Bongs of the World

The Qing dynasty of China is credited with introducing the water filtration chamber to the Asian bong, which was until the 17th century a dry smoking device made of bamboo, clay, wood, etc. Some exotic bongs were made of ivory and other ornate ones were made of brass. But none of these bongs in Asia, Africa, or anywhere else were known to be made of any precious material.  

That belief changed when excavations in Russia unearthed a stash of gold bongs buried by the ancient Scythian tribes. These precious bongs were made of solid gold and they predated the bamboo, clay, and wooden bongs in all other parts of the world, including South America. 

Legend has it that these bongs made of gold were used by the chiefs of the Scythian tribes to smoke cannabis, marijuana, opium, etc. These tribal practices date back around 2,500 years, so the bong is at least as old as the first smoking pipe, if not older.

Fast forward to the Ming dynasty of China during the first half of the 2nd millennia as we know it, the bongs were both ornate and practical smoking devices. As the Qing dynasty took the reins of power in China from the Mings, the Empress was reportedly too fond of bongs, so much that it has been reported that she was buried with at least three of her favorites, albeit not of gold. 

The Present Bongs of the World

The bongs of the world today are more sophisticated with diffusers, percolators, etc. Primitive bongs used clay, stone, or wood blocks to prevent the herbal debris from blowing or flowing to the mouthpiece. You don’t have to worry about that. Plus, there are splash guards in bongs now.


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