CIGARS AND THE AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY OF UBUNTU
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF AN AFRICAN
I first smoked a cigar out of interest with some friends in high school. I don’t remember much about my feelings, but it was fantastic. However, I didn’t get into smoking cigars, not because I opposed it. First, cigars were not a part of my community. I didn’t know anybody who smoked cigars regularly.
Furthermore, my father is an African pastor. I recently told him about my interest in cigars, and he said nothing, but I knew from his silence that he did not like that I was smoking cigars. However, he graciously accompanied me to an event with my cigar-smoking friends. Despite the cigars, he did have a good time. I only mention the adjective African because though the West has taken a liberal direction on many behaviors, Africa is still very conservative when it comes to certain behaviors, i.e., cigars. Finally, I was an athlete and enjoyed being in shape; therefore, I didn’t want anything to hinder my ability to compete. Smoking cigars was so rare in my life that I’m sure I didn’t smoke more than two dozen cigars in 45 years. This changed seven months ago.
Seven months ago, I started an exciting and unexpected journey. It is a journey that has been a shelter and a refuge in a turbulent season of my life. It is a journey in which I adopted cigars to join my new interests and pleasures of coffee, guns, cowboy boots, and hats. Since that journey began, I have averaged about six cigars a week. Therefore, every month, I smoke more cigars than I have had in all my life. I have enjoyed this journey so far and have discovered that to enjoy any cigar truly, you will need an hour at a minimum of available time. Therefore, this community comprises people who find the time or are willing to spend time with others. In this journey, I have heard cigars referred to as the great equalizer. This equalizer has allowed me to smoke cigars in multiple cigar lounges, join different cigar groups on social media, be invited to numerous homes, and even visit random places, like a parking lot, to enjoy a cigar.
Furthermore, it has allowed me to meet many people from different walks of life socially, economically, and culturally. The cigar community is a dynamic and robust culture. It is a culture of hospitality, camaraderie, networking, and discovery. This discovery has been a phenomenal learning curve about pairing cigars with bourbons (also wines), choosing the best cigar cut (V-cut, straight cut, hole punch), or the proper method for lighting a cigar. Furthermore, in my discovery journey, I have found that I am learning more about cigars in Africa and within the African diaspora.
Tobacco is taboo in Africa. It is a taboo heavily frowned upon as much or even more so than disrespecting your parents or your elders. However, Africa produces a substantial quantity of tobacco leaves. The World Health Organization (WHO) 2021 report states, “Most of the top tobacco growers export tobacco leaf to other countries. Top tobacco leaf exporters include Zimbabwe (US $851 million), Malawi (US $529 million), Mozambique (US $236 million), the United Republic of Tanzania (US $208 million), and Zambia (US $123 million). Just five countries – South Africa (US $134 million), Kenya (US $87 million), Nigeria (US $55 million), Senegal (US $49 million), and Tunisia (US $39 million) – accounted for 81.8% of African cigarette exports in 2018 (Status of Tobacco Production and Trade in Africa – World Health Organization, February 2021). While the tobacco leaf used in cigarettes differs from what is used in cigars, reports from the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, and Federal Drug Administration fail to distinguish the differences between cigarettes and cigars. I would speculate that because of this, the African community does not differentiate either.
In my journey, the African country that is mentioned repeatedly for its notable cigar leaf is Cameroon. Cameroon is directly the western neighbor of my home country of Chad. I lived in Chad for many years and visited Cameroon on many occasions. Was tobacco ever mentioned in all my discussions with my Cameroon friends about their country’s resources? The answer is No. In conversations with my Cameroonian friends in the United States, they were surprised when I shared that Cameroon tobacco leaf is used to roll some of the best cigars in the industry. This was a complete shock to them as it was to me! This ignorance has prompted me to delve deeper into the cigar culture and be an ambassador to my fellow Africans.
Cigars are now a significant part of my life. It is a substantial part of my life because cigars have brought me into a community, a culture of people who enjoy building long-lasting relationships and friendships. I like how C.S Lewis speaks about friendship. He says, “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.” This is precisely the sentiment I found with my fellow cigar smokers.
Much of what I have observed about the cigar culture resonates because it reflects so much of my African culture. African culture is about friendships, hospitality, networking, community, and Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the African philosophy that says, “I am because we are.” And for me, Ubuntu is the reason I entered this cigar journey, the reason I continue this journey, and the reason I desire to invite others to join me on this journey enthusiastically.
Reouhidi Reuben Ndjerareou
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