Origins of Smoking Shisha Tobacco and Hookah Bowls

The History of Smoking Shisha Tobacco and Hookah Bowls

Waterpipes, also called ‘hookah,’ ‘gaza,’ ‘Hubble Bubble, or ‘shisha’ have become one of the most popular forms of entertainment today. It is a traditional method of tobacco smoking common in the Middle East, India, and Africa. This form of smoking has its roots in Ancient Persia and India, although it’s now used worldwide.

The traditional pipe consists of a head, body bowl, hose, and mouthpiece. The smoker breathes through the mouthpiece, drawing smoke through the heady, body, water, and then to the mouth.

Many smokers use waterpipes today because they believe it’s cleaner and healthier. However, most are just pulled into the crowd without understanding its origin.

This article will review the history of shisha tobacco and hookah bowls. You can then enjoy smoking with a better understanding of where it all started.


Shisha or hookah has been smoked for over 500 years. The earliest form of this entertainment method can be traced to northwestern provinces of India, along the Pakistan border, close to 1000 years ago. It is a deeply rooted cultural tradition passed through generations in India, Persia, Turkey, Egypt, and the Middle East. Its significance goes beyond social entertainment. It is a way of life in these regions.

The first hookah bowls were simple, primitive, and rugged in design. They were mostly made from coconut shell bases with a tube attached and were used in smoking opium and hashish. 

As it made its way through the ancient Persian Kingdom, hookah acquired tombak, a dark tobacco mostly grown in Iran today. This tobacco is rinsed and then packed in larger, older heads. Hot coal is then used on the wet tombak, giving it a strong flavor. They are called “ghelune” in Persia.

Hookah made its way into Turkey approximately 500 years ago. It received a lot of popularity among the elite and intellectuals, which changed its design. This is where the modern style and sizes started.

Several developments have been witnessed over the years, with brass and glass as the first step to eliminating wood. Attractive paintings and mosaics were included to improve their design.

About two or three centuries ago, hookah grew even more in popularity with coffee shops. A bar waiter serving it was considered in the same standing as a chef because of its preparation procedure and details. It required a special skill to pack and moisture it, and touching the coals was seen as rude.

The spread of this culture extended south to reach the Arab world of Lebanon and Syria. Then entered Egypt and Morocco, where it is called shisha. In Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, they call it Hubble Bubble.

Hookah bars are modern social places found everywhere in the world. People meet in them to discuss different matters in society, including politics and local events.

Smoking a hookah is nothing like smoking a cigarette...cigarettes are for nervous people, competitive people, people on the run...when you smoke a hookah, you have time to think. It teaches you patience and tolerance, and gives you an appreciation of good company.

Ismet Ertep