Calumet (pipe)

Calumet (pipe)
A Lakota (Sioux) chanunpa pipestem, without the pipe bowl, displayed at the United States Library of Congress

A Calumet is a ceremonial smoking pipe used by some Native American Nations. Traditionally it has been smoked to seal a covenant or treaty, or to offer prayers in a religious ceremony.



"Calumet" is a Norman word, first recorded in David Ferrand's la Muse normande around 1625 - 1655. Its first meaning was "sort of reeds used to make pipes", with a wrong spelling for calume(l). It corresponds to the French word chalumeau 'reeds' (Modern French also 'straw', 'blowlamp'). Then, it was said by Norman-French settlers in Canada to describe the ceremonial pipes they saw in use among the First Nations people of the region.[1] The name came into English-language usage as a general term for a ceremonial pipe, though in the cultures in question it is more common for a culturally-specific term to be used.


Calumet used by Black Hawk, on display at Black Hawk State Historic Site.

A common material for calumet pipe bowls is red pipestone or catlinite,[2] a fine-grained easily-worked stone of a rich red color of the Coteau des Prairies, west of the Big Stone Lake in South Dakota. The pipestone quarries have traditionally been neutral ground among warring tribes, as people from multiple nations journeyed to the quarry to obtain the sacred pipestone.[2]

A type of herbal tobacco, or a mixture of herbs was usually reserved for special smoking occasions, with each region's people using the plants that were locally considered to have special qualities or a culturally condoned basis for ceremonial use.

Some northern Sioux people used long, stemmed pipes for ceremonies while others such as the Catawbas in the southeast used ceremonial pipes formed as round, footed bowls with a tubular smoke tip projecting from each cardinal direction on the bowl.

Ceremonial use

Harry Behn smoking a pipe with members of the Blackfoot Nation

Calumets and other Native American ceremonial pipes have often been given the misnomer, "peace pipe"; this is a European construct based on only one type of pipe and one way it was used. Various types of ceremonial pipes have been used by multiple Native American cultures, with the style of pipe, materials smoked, and ceremonies being unique to the distinct religions of those Nations.

In ceremonial usage, the smoke is believed to carry prayers to the attention of the Creator or other powerful spirits. Lakota tradition has it that White Buffalo Calf Woman, brought the Chanunpa to the people, and instructed them in its symbolism and ceremonies.

According to oral traditions, and amply illustrated by pre-contact pipes in museums and tribal and private holdings, some ceremonial pipes are adorned with feathers, fur, human or animal hair, beadwork, quills, carvings or other items having significance for the owner. Other pipes are very simple. Many are not kept by an individual, but are instead held collectively by a medicine society or similar ceremonial organization.

Before the development of lighter cigarette tobacco, the smoke was too harsh to be inhaled traditionally by Native Americans in ceremonial use. Today in most peace pipe ceremonies the smoke is not inhaled.[3]

Pipestone varieties

Uncompahgre Ute Salmon Alabaster Ceremonial Pipe. Ute pipe styles are similar to those of the Plains Indians, with notable differences. Ute pipes are thicker and use shorter pipestems than the plains style and more closely resemble the pipe styles of their Northern neighbors, the Shoshone.

Several Native tribes make ceremonial pipes. The types of stones used vary by tribe and locality. Some of the known types of pipe stone and pipe materials are:

Clay - The Cherokee and Chickasaw both fashioned pipes made from fired clay that also employed small reed cane pipestems made from river cane. These pipes were made from aged river clay hardened in a hot fire.

Red Pipestone - Catlinite is an iron-rich, reddish, soft quartzite slate typically excavated from below groundwater level, as the stone erodes rapidly when exposed to the weather and outside air. Red pipestone was used by the Eastern Tribes, Western and Great Basin Tribes, and the Plains Tribes, with sources of the stone in Tennessee (South Central), Minnesota (Pipestone), and Utah (Delta, Uinta). Sacred pipestone comes from Pipestone, Minnesota. The quarry itself is located just north of the town at the Pipestone National Monument. Today only people of Native American ancestry are allowed to quarry the pipestone from this quarry. The pipestone or catlinite from this quarry is softer than any other catlinite.

Mississippian and Eastern Woodlands style "acorn" pipe. These pipes have been found in Mississippian mounds in the Eastern United States. This acorn pipe is made from South Dakota red pipestone.

Blue Pipestone - Also a form of catlinite, blue pipestone was used almost predominantly by the Plains Tribes for ceremonial pipes. Deposits of the stone are also found in South Dakota. The use of blue pipestone coincided with the arrival of the horse among the Plains Tribes.

Bluestone - a hard, greenish-blue quartzite stone from the southern Appalachian Mountains. After being worked, it takes on a decidedly greenish cast. This stone was used by several Eastern Woodlands tribes for pipemaking. Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw made pipes from bluestone. Several ancient Mississippian bluestone pipes have been discovered.

Salmon Alabaster - the Uncompahgre Ute made beautiful ceremonial pipes from salmon alabaster mined in central Colorado.

Uncompahgre Ute Salmon Alabaster Ceremonial Pipe with Pipestem.

Green Pipestone - A white on green marbled cupric pipestone found in Wyoming and South Dakota and used by the Shoshone, Ute, and Plains Tribes for personal and ceremonial pipes. This stone was also used to carve sacred effigies and religious items.

Black Pipestone (South Dakota) - a soft, brittle, white on black marbled pipestone found in South Dakota and used by the Plains Tribes for ceremonial pipes.

Black Pipestone (Uinta) - an extremely hard black quartzite slate which has undergone metamorphic compression and is found in the southeastern drainage of the Uinta Mountains in Utah and Colorado. This stone was used by the Great Basin Tribes for war clubs and beautiful pipes that are jet black with a high gloss when polished. Stones which had tumbled down creeks and drainages were always selected, since these stones typically contained no cracks or defects.

Traditional pipemaking tools

Both raw and cut and slabbed high grade Red Pipestone from Delta, Utah.

Historically, Native Americans who used the bow and arrow also employed bow drills that used hard white quartz points which, when combined with water, could bore out even the hardest of pipestones.

Early Native Americans employed moistened rawhide strips rolled in crushed white quartz and stretched with a bow handle to shape and rough the pipes. The efficiency of such bow stone saws in cutting and slabbing a large piece of red pipestone is quite surprising given their seeming simplicity. Pipes were also shaped and roughed with hard sandstones, afterward polished with water, then sanded with progressively finer and finer abrasive grit and animal hide, finally being rubbed with fat or facial oils to complete polishing.

See also



External links


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • pipe — [ pip ] n. f. • déb. XIIIe; de piper 1 ♦ Vx Pipeau. Chalumeau, tuyau. 2 ♦ Ancienne mesure de capacité. ♢ Région. Grande futaille, de capacité variable. 3 ♦ (XVe; par anal. pop.) Vx …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • calumet — 1660s, from Canadian Fr. calumet, from Norman Fr. calumet pipe (O.Fr. chalemel, 12c., Mod.Fr. chalumeau), from L. calamellus, dim. of L. calamus reed; something made of reed or shaped like a reed …   Etymology dictionary

  • Pipe — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Pipe (homonymie). La pipe est un objet servant principalement à fumer le tabac mais aussi d autres substances comme le cannabis, l opium, le crack …   Wikipédia en Français

  • pipe tomahawk — noun : a tomahawk with a bowl in the head for use as a pipe (as in formal peace ceremonies) compare calumet * * * pipe tomahawk, a tomahawk used by North American Indians especially as a tobacco pipe, containing a tobacco bowl on the blunt side… …   Useful english dictionary

  • calumet — [ kalymɛ ] n. m. • 1609 « roseau pour fabriquer des pipes »; forme normanno picarde de chalumeau ♦ Pipe à long tuyau que les Indiens fumaient officiellement pendant les délibérations graves. « Le calumet de paix, dont le fourneau était fait d une …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Calumet de la paix — Calumet Un « Calumet de la paix » Lakota (Sioux) sans le fourneau conservé à la Bibliothèque du Congrès des Etats Unis Un calumet est une pipe utilisée par les Amérindiens pour décréter la paix entre deux tribus ou deux puissances ou… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Pipe, Wisconsin — is an unincorporated community in the Town of Calumet in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. Pipe is located approximately 1 mile east of Lake Winnebago, 2⅓ miles northwest of Johnsburg, and 5 miles west of Marytown.TransportationThe community is… …   Wikipedia

  • Calumet, Michigan —   Village   Location of …   Wikipedia

  • Calumet — Cal u*met, n. [F. calumet, fr. L. calamus reed. See {Halm}, and cf. {Shawm}.] A kind of pipe, used by the North American Indians for smoking tobacco. The bowl is usually made of soft red stone, and the tube is a long reed often ornamented with… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Calumet Baking Powder Company — was an American food company established in 1889 in Chicago, Illinois by baking powder salesman, William Monroe Wright. His newly formulated double acting baking powder took its name from the Native American name for a peace pipe given to the… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.