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OBSERVATIONS ON THE USE OF KIF

              The word kif in Arabic means “what”.  Kif-kif means “the same as”.  Kif also means the preparation of marihuana used in Morocco for smoking.

            Kif is widely smoked by males throughout Morocco, having possibly been introduced by one of the succession of Arab conquerors from the Eastern Mediterranean countries during the 7th century, A.D.  Despite efforts of various Arab, Spanish and French rulers, to suppress kif or at least tax it, its growth and use continue to flourish.

            Prohibitions against kif, according to some of the older kif users, or kiefs, were less during the Spanish-French partitioning of Morocco.  For many years it was taxed with concessions being allotted for growth and sale as well as being prepared as packaged cigarettes by government approved manufacturers as late as 1954.  The efficacy of control by taxation and monopoly was not too effective as seizures of contraband kif amounted to between one fifth to one half of the legal output of kif.  The use of kif was finally made illegal in 1954.(1)

            The fact that kif-smoking is now illegal in Morocco has the effect of preventing the user from ostentatiously selling kif or smoking it in the European sections of the larger coastal cities.  Less respect for this recent law is hardly surprising since the custom of kif use in Morocco has been present for centuries.  The use of kif violates no Muslim holy law, which would provide another possibility of social control.  By contrast, muslims patronizing European bars are liable to summary arrest and incarceration.  There seems to be a rising concern with the growing number of young men that are becoming alcohol users.

            Unfavorable attitudes by the Moroccan government, perhaps, stem not from a general moral concern, but rather from a point of view that kif smoking may create more economic hardship in a people whose existence is marginal.  The use of kif is also a symbol of the traditional order, which must be changed if the goals of industrialization and self-sufficiency of Morocco are to be achieved.  Another factor may be the pressure from Western European and United States narcotics enforcement organizations exerted on the government to stop the growth and use of kif.  It is said that the present king is not as well liked as his father because he is attempting to suppress or discourage the use of kif.

            As in Western Europe, England and the United States, the present incidence of kif smoking is impossible to estimate due to the fact that it is illegal.  Another stumbling block to estimation may be a reluctance to admit to a Westerner that one is at variance with practices of an alcohol culture that has (and economically still does) occupied a position of dominance.  In addition, there are a substantial number of Moroccan men who have tried it at some time in the past but who never became regular users.  A group of users in the small Rif mountain town of Targist claim that twenty percent of the males are currently regular users and that ninety or ninety-five percent of the men have used kif at sometime in their life in that town.  When asked about use among women, the answered that it be forbidden to them and that if they were caught using kif, they would be beaten.

            In Tangier there was little evidence of kif smoking in the European sections of town but within the Arab quarter (Casbah or Medina) there was little to suggest non-use.  Most stores selling handicrafts sold the traditional pipes.  Several small shops sold just pipes and pouches for use with kif.

            As one night expect, contacting Moroccan users is simple compared with a similar task in the U.S., as it is far less dangerous to smoke kif in Morocco than to smoke marihuana in the U.S.  One need only ask about kif in a general way.  If the man is a user, the chances are that he will smilingly proffer the traditional supsi pipe, which is a pipe with a one wooden stem and a small clay bowl, happy to meet a foreigner who shares this common interest.  If he is not a user, his reply carries with it the affect of one who does not use tobacco in the U.S.  He usually will admit to trying it at some time but no finding it to his liking.

            The customs surrounding the use of kif in Morocco appear to be of a secular-social nature in contrast with those of the Hindu holy men of India who reputedly use cannabis as religious sacrament.  In Arab sections of the cities, kif smoking is almost as ubiquitous as the heavily sugared mint-flavored green tea that accompanies all but the most perfunctory of conversations.

            The methods of kif smoking are quite different in Morocco from the way in which marihuana is used in the U.S. in the United States use patterns, described by Becker and Walton, are based on fear of discovery and avoiding waste of this scarce commodity.  Small quantities of “green vegetable material” are brought out form hiding places after the shades are lowered.  Tightly rolled marihuana cigarettes (called joints) or small brass bowled pipes are passed quickly among the participants to prevent any waste.  Some users smoke the “joints” down to butts less than a quarter of an inch long and may even eat this remainder, called a “roach”.  The North American user holds his breath lest he allow any of the precious smoke to escape.  He gulps small “catch” breathes of air and speaks in strained, clipped phrases to prolong holding his breath.  The neophyte that cannot stifle a cough receives unfavorable glances from his fellow smokers.

            By contrast, the Moroccan user is not concerned with waste, because kif is cheaper than tobacco.  It is the custom to have the person who offers a supsi pipe load it, light it and wipe the mouthpiece before handling it to recipient.  The recipient inhales the smoke deeply, but promptly exhales.  He does not pass the half-smoked pipe to another, but continues to smoke leisurely until the first crackle is heard, as the heated ash approaches the bottom of the bow.  He then expels the remaining burning plug by blowing into the pipe.  He either cleans, refills, relights, and passes the pipe to the next person, or passes the cleaned pipe and allows the recipient to use his own supply.  In a group, often more than one pipe is used.

            A similarity between the practices of U.S. marihuana smokers and the Moroccan kif smokers is the physical arrangement of the groups.  Both groups ten to sit in circles, either around a table or else lounging about on the floor on cushions.  This circular configuration may be to facitate the passing on of the pipe from one to another, or speculating wildly, or perhaps is a surviving vestige of the archetypal tribe around on low cushions in a circle is usual practice in the Moroccan household.

            Also familiar was the content of conversation during sessions of kif smoking.  As with the U.S. user, his Moroccan counterpart frequently spins stories of legendary types and preparations of kif that he has sampled, seen, or heard about.  There were tales of oral preparations of cannabis combined with other substances purportedly given to children of mountain tribes to assuage the cold of the night and help sedate them for the evening.  A potent substance for eating called Amber was described.  A recipe for a special kif sweetmeat, majoun, described.  Majoun is usually compounded from powdered blossoms, sugar, honey, cinnamon and almonds.  It is baked in the hot sun until it reaches the consistency of moist fudge.  It is then eaten by the “fingers full”.  The use of oral preparations was not observed.

            Hashish, a more concentrated preparation, is much less common, but nevertheless widely known.  Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to observe its manufacture during my short stay.  One man in a village seems to be the local expert in its manufacture.  Such a man exists in Ketama, the town in the middle of the growth area, but he was out of town attending his wife who expected to give birth to a child shortly when I was there.  From descriptions of the local residents, hashish is made form the blossoms and the leaves of the plant and takes at least two days to make with many stages of cooking.  This process, of course, would differ from Norman Taylor’s description of the manufacture of Charas by harvesting pollen and resin by beating the blossoms on leather aprons.(4)

            Terminologies for effects and use of cannabis seemed to be relatively simple considering the high incidence of use and long history of consumption.  Hashashut means to feel the full effects of the cannabis.  This term also appears to mean over-dosage.  Moroccan users recognize both pleasurable and unpleasant effects of cannabis.  Ferhan denotes having a pleasurable result, a good trip in contemporary U.S. terms.  Teirala means an unpleasant result or side effects or bad trip.  Unpleasant effects are described as related to over-dosage.  Nashat is a group of kif smokers.  Few solitary kif users were seen.  Its use appears to be primarily of a social nature, as it is in the United States.  Nashatu refers to such a group lasting about 24 hours.  Dou-ach means to become intoxicated with kif or turn on.

            The complexity of attitudes toward kif were illustrated by the behavior of my host and guide.  This man, of some local importance in the rural province of AL Huceimas, showed quite varying responses to the topic in different circumstances.  When with men who were his social inferiors but no his subordinates he would smile and affably speak of kif as if it were a fine wine, an experience that all should enjoy.  He would refer to himself as a heavy user and the pleasure he derived.  By contrast, when he was with people of like or superior station, he would minimize, though not deny, his use of kif.  He would then portray himself as a light or intermittent user.  One of his friends, a caid (mayor or chief) of a small village, showed a similar “selective” attitude.  During lunch with him and the lesser officials of the town, the lesser officials smilingly admitted to regular smoking of kif, but the caid denied any use at all.  After lunch as we drove over the winding mountain roads to the next town, the caid, who accepted the proffered ride, volunteered that he used it at home regularly.  He said that it would no be proper to speak of such things in front of his employees.  A parallel might be seen in he attitudes in contemporary America toward alcohol.

DISCUSSION:

            The chief differences in the use of cannabis between the U.S. and Morocco are smoking technique, pharmacology and formality.  Although kif is more readily available and cheaper in Morocco, it appeared from “sessions” with the Moroccan users that much more kif is smoked than in the U.S. but that much less is actually ingested.  The practice of inhaling but not holding the breath might decrease significantly the amount of active principle absorbed.  Combination of kif with tobacco would also decrease the amount of cannabis actually ingested.  These differences in techniques makes comparison of dosage difficult.

            Tobacco, itself, seems to play an important role in the smoking of kif.  In several of the kif sessions, I would substitute pure kif blossoms for the standard mixture when the pipe passed my way.  The response was fairly uniform.  The recipient would take a few puffs, wait until he felt that I wasn’t looking, discreetly discard the contents and reload the pipe from his supply.  His responses to my “naïve” query as to why he didn’t like the pure kif were unproductive.  The respondent indicated only that he preferred kif-tobacco.  It is hard to know whether or not it was the taste or the psychic effects that determined his preference more.  It is certainly possible that the kif tobacco mixture has different psychic effects from pure kif, as the pharmacologic effects of nicotine are not without consequence.

            Use of kif in Morocco is certainly much less formal than “pot parties” in contemporary U.S.  In the back of any café or shop, the ubiquitous smoking supsi pipe can be seen.  The Moroccan does not suffer from the fear of discovery and prosecution, as does his American counterpart.  Although commonly confined to non-European settings, the musicians and dancers in an expensive restaurant for tourists on “packaged” tours would pass the supsi pipe between each number.  They made no effort to conceal their activity from the audience.  The audience was oblivious to this performing “nashat”.  The proprietor, when asked about this practice, first acted as if he could not understand the question.  Persistence yielded the reply that the musicians were Berbers, but that “none of the people around here do that.

            Several small cafes were observed that sold only the familiar heavily sugared green mint tea, local cakes and sweets.  The patrons devoted themselves to smoking Kif and participating in instrumental vocal renditions of familiar songs.  The atmosphere was relaxed and congenial, but not lethargic, in contrast with the noisy ebb and surge of an average U.S. neighborhood bar.

 

REFERENCES:

 

  1. Benabud, a. Psycho-patholocigal Aspects of the Cannabis situation in Morocco:

Statistical Data for 1956 Bull. On Narcotics Vol. IX, No. 4, Oct.-Dec. 1957, pp. 1-16.

  1. Becker, H., Ousiders, Studies in Social Deviance, The Free Press of Glencoe,

1963, p. 47-48

  1. Walton, R.P., Marihuana: America’s New Drug Problem, Philadelphia, J.B.

Lippincott 1938, p. 47-48.

  1. Taylor, N., Narcotics: Nature’s Dangerous Gifts, New York, Dell Publishing Co.

1963, p. 14.