So, you want to buy a hookah and enjoy a centuries old Middle Eastern social activity? Before you spend any money on a hookah, argile, nargileh, shisha, hubbly-bubbly, or whatever name you know it by, make sure that you are getting the real deal.
Know Your Hookah
The hookah may have been born in India and spent its youth in Turkey, but it matured in Egypt. Egypt is the Motherland of the shisha (the Egyptian word for hookah). Artisans still make hookahs the old-fashioned way -- by hand and with a great deal of pride in craftsmanship. Making hookahs is still a family tradition, and the best hookah makers in Egypt have earned their spots through the continuity of traditional techniques. The glass bases are still made from hand blown colored glass; artists still decorate them by hand using paint, glitter, decals, or etching. Hoses are made entirely by hand, from the cutting of the fabric to the turning of the wood that will become the handles to the addition of decorative elements such as braid, fringe, or fur. Shafts may be made of metals like stainless steel, brass, or chrome plated brass, but those metals are formed by the hands of master craftsmen, put together by skilled welders, and sometimes etched or decorated by artisans. Potters still use a potting wheel to make the clay bowls that we call the "head." In short, every part of a genuine Egyptian hookah is crafted by hand using traditional techniques which results in a one-of-a-kind product every time. So respected and admired are Egyptian hookahs that it is nearly impossible to find a hookah in another Middle Eastern country that does not have some part made in Egypt.
As the hookah's popularity began to spread in the United States, it became victim to the assembly line mentality. Factories in China began to mass produce this Middle Eastern cultural icon for an American market. Because the owners of manufacturing plants in China have no cultural stake or identity associated with the product, the hookahs that they produce involve no artistry. The glass bases are molded and then spray painted; the glass itself is not colored. Any designs on the glass are likewise spray painted on by machines. Machine made plastic hoses with plastic or simulated wood ends have no decorative elements on them. Machines mold shafts made from tin, aluminum, or a combination of those metals with stainless steel; sometimes, machines spray paint them in a color to match the glass. Porcelain, a material for which the Chinese are famous, has replaced the traditional clay bowl. Not a single part of the assembly line hookah made in China involves artistry; cold, computerized machines have replaced the intimate touch of the craftsmen whose work is a source of pride.
Authentic Egyptian Hookah:
Because Egyptian hookahs set the industry standard all around the world, some sellers falsely label their Chinese look-alikes as "authentic Egyptian" pipes. Many buyers have been taken in by the misleading title of an auction and think that they are buying a genuine Egyptian hookah when, in reality, they get an imposter. Don't be duped! Look for the identifying characteristics listed below to determine if the hookah you are considering buying is the real deal.
- Handmade using centuries old traditional methods. Every aspect of the authentic Egyptian hookah involves artistry and craftsmanship because they are 100% handmade by people who have a cultural connection to their products.
- The glass is hand blown colored glass in a variety of shapes and colors with hand painted designs; they nearly always have bands of genuine 18K gold paint.
- Hoses are handcrafted using traditional methods and materials; they vary in style, color, and decorative elements.
- Shafts are hand formed stainless steel, brass, or chrome plated brass in various heights, number of hose holders, designs, and decorative elements. Egyptian shafts are never made of aluminum or spray painted in a color to match the glass base!
- Multiple hose hookahs are sold with the same number of hoses that the shaft will hold. If you're buying a 2-hose hookah, you get 2 hoses!
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