calumet [Fr., = reed], name given by the French to the peace pipe used by the indigenous people of North America for smoking tobacco; it consisted of a long, feathered stem, with or without a pipe bowl. Such pipes were considered sacred, offering communion with the animate powers of the universe and embodying the honor and the source of power of Native Americans who possessed them. Every aspect of their fashioning and decoration was symbolic, and they varied from tribe to tribe. Calumets were particularly used at the conclusion of peace treaties and in ceremonies of adoption. They served as ambassadors' credentials and were passports of safe-conduct wherever recognized. To refuse to smoke the calumet when invited was considered an extreme insult. The pipes were principally used by the Dakotan (Siouan) and Algonquian peoples of the Great Plains and in the SE United States. However, pipes were used throughout most of North America, and communal smoking, wherever found, usually carried the guarantees of amity granted with food sharing. In the Middle West pipestone was much used in making them.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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