Arabic Medwakh Pipes and Dokha Tobacco


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As you may well know, I enjoy ethnic pipes and tobacco, most prominently Japanese Kiseru and Turkish Meerschaum pipes (and their respective tobaccos).

After my primary retailer of Kiseru informed me that he could no longer sell internationally, the search began for a new recommended source. I eventually found Medwakh.com, which has an excellent selection of Japanese Kiseru and tobacco, but also specializes in Arabic Medwakh pipes and Dokha tobacco.

For those unfamiliar with Dokha, here is a short history/explanation by Bassem Chahine, owner of Medwakh.com:

Dokha is a traditional Arabic tobacco, traditionally mixed with herbs, spices, dried flowers, and/or fruit, which has been smoked in the Middle East for over 500 years. Some dokha blends, especially the more traditional type blends from Iran and Turkey, may also be mixed with the leaves and bark of various indigenous plants. Dokha comes in hundreds of strengths, flavors, and brand names. The main strengths offered by most sellers are cold (barid), warm (daffi), and hot (har). Many vendors also offer moderating strengths in these three ranges, usually designated as an 'over-cold', or an 'extra-hot'. These designations refer to the actual harshness of the tobacco, not necessarily to the amount of 'buzz' a blend may impart. Generally speaking, the harsher a blend, the more 'buzz' it may impart, but there are many warm and over-warm blends that have been specifically developed to give the user maximum laf raas (Arabic for 'head spin').

Unlike hookah tobacco, dokha is not cured with molasses or honey. Dokha tobacco, a type of tobacco found only in the Middle East, is extremely high in nicotine content and is harvested, dried, and processed with that feature in mind. Dokha tobacco is not harvested and cured like western tobaccos, but is usually cut, transported, set to dry in the sun, and processed into various blends all in a span of mere days, or at most weeks. This expedited process is possible, of course, because dokha is cured and processed in areas where the daily temperature can reach 135+ f. Degrees daily with a humidity of less than 8%. No chemicals, preservatives, or enhancers are used in the processing of traditional dokha blends, just natural additives. Flavour additives fall into two general categories, savory and sweet/fruit. The traditional dokha blends are mostly savory, and flavored with a wide variety of spices, herbs, and dried flowers, all used to enhance the very distinct flavours and notes of the different dokha tobaccos. The more modern blends are patterned after hookah tobacco, and are heavily flavoured with fruit, mint, or clove, and often meant to cloak the actual tobacco taste and soften the harshness.

There is some typical cultural confusion as to the genesis of dokha and the small pipes, called medwakh or midwakh, it is traditionally smoked with. Coastal Arabs claim to have invented both the medwakh and the various tobacco mixes smoked in them. The Iranians (Persians then) say that both the pipes and original herbal smoking mix originated in the Gilaki area of northern iran in the 1400's or earlier. The original Iranian smoking mix was a mixture of various fire and sun cured non-tobacco leaf, small dried powdered flowers, bergamot oil, fig leaf, and almond/pistachio oil. This mix can still be found in that area of Iran today. The small pipe used to smoke this mixture was ideal for sailors to use while at sea, and gradually the use of this smoking mix and pipe made its way up and down the Caspian sea. As tobacco was introduced into the Middle East in the 1500's, the Iranian smoking mixture was fortified and eventually replaced with various blends of dokha tobacco. During the next few hundred years in the Ottoman Empire various attempts were made to stop and outlaw the smoking of all tobacco consumption in public and private, which ironically led to the popularization of dokha tobacco and the medwakh with the general Arab public.

The small inexpensive pipe (medwakh) and extremely potent easily cured tobacco became the ideal 'stealth' smoking method. Heavily fortified with spices, the familiar smell of tobacco wasn't as easily recognized. Such a small amount was smoked at a time that very little 'second hand smoke' was produced to attract unwanted attention, or stain ones clothes and fingers. In the worst case scenario, the inexpensive pipe and small amount of tobacco could simply be dropped and walked away from without attracting a large amount of attention, or incurring a large monetary loss. As Arabic cultural views on the use of tobacco gradually relaxed, and hookah smoking became the preferred method for tobacco consumption, the popularity of dokha waned, except with the sailors who had originally introduced it. As it was impractical for those at sea to use a hookah, the medwakh and dokha remained popular with sailors and in the coastal areas they would trade and eventually settle in. This is why today dokha in the Middle East is found almost exclusively in the UAE, home to the Middle Eastern sea trade and sailors for the last 2000 years or more.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have already ordered a camel-bone medwakh pipe and the hot dokha tobacco. I'll report back soon.

2 Comments


I am a US citizen but my father works in Abu Dhabi so I frequently visit (naturally). I was
immediately drawn to and "fell in love" with smoking dokha and the culture surrounding it. Even
though I am a female (and it seems the native women do not partake) I was gladly taken in
and informed (though still learning) by the local, family-owned and operated store near my home
there. I had been smoking menthol cigarettes regularly in the states (kept secret from my
disapproving parents) but found that even with my smoking experience I found it difficult at first
to "properly" inhale even the mildest blend of dokha. I even coughed up a storm during my first
visit to the shop which caused a slight panic by the staff...embarrassing. But the mild mix they sold
me (and I started with just a simple wooden medwakh) really worked for me for quite some time.
I've since acquired better skill (not nearly that of which the Emiratis posses), fancier pipes, and
moved up to higher strengths of dokha. I've even learned great tricks (my secrets for now) for
keeping my pipes' bowls and airways clear of any of that sticky residue that builds up and is
resistant to any other cleaning methods I was taught and essentially elongating the life of my
collection.
With ALL that said, I'd be very interested in hearing about your camel bone pipe (specs, usage, etc.)
and any other personal experience you have with both medwakhs and dokha varieties. And thank
you for putting up the information (however compact) because it is so hard to find articles and
factual info on the subject not only because it is little known outside the region but also because
the usage and international sale of it falls into nasty "gray-area" dilema. Thanks again, and happy
smoking!


Can you tell me how often and when Dokha is smoked in the U.A.E? Is it something that is commonly done at any time of day whilst at work or college/uni - is it widely accepted and approved of?
I work in a language college in the UK and we have many students from the U.A.E and they smoke it as you would cigarettes, before and after class, morning and afternoon. I find it quite fascinating and am really interested on it's place in the U.A.E culture - I know it is legal, but is it used like we would use alcohol or weed, or is it just like having a cigarette??
Any info would be great!!

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