Cigarettes, New Year, love, celebration, fate, new year's resolutions, smoking, Karen, Thailand, moesgaard museum, momu, ethnography, anthropology

Love, cigarettes, and new beginnings: Happy New Year!

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Asia

Ah, New Year’s Eve. A night of celebration with friends. Of looking back at the ups and downs of the past year, and with hope and good wishes for the year to come. It is also a night of good food, copious amounts of champagne, celebratory cigars, and perhaps of a long awaited kiss at the stroke of midnight.

As I scoured through our database in search for a fitting artefact for the last night of the year, I came across the 50 cigarettes you see in the photograph above; 49 hand-rolled cigarettes, and one store bought. Now, you might find it strange that I chose this collection to represent New Year’s Eve (and if you know me, you know that I have never smoked, so it is not because of some personal association). Bear with me.

The cigarettes were collected in Thailand among the Karen people in 1972 by anthropologist Mikael Gravers. And they come with a rather charming story:

When a young man sits and talks to a young woman at night, she will, if she is interested in him, roll a cigarette, tie a ribbon around it, and offer it to him. He will say “No, I am not interested in smoking right now”, and she will answer “But I have rolled it especially for you”. He will continue to decline the cigarette, and she will continue to offer it. If he accepts the cigarette, he accepts to take her for his wife. If he does not smoke it, they have both saved face.

Aside from the obvious connection between the alcohol drunk at New Year’s and the apparently insatiable desire for nicotine it awakens in anyone who have ever been addicted to the stuff, I find that the story of these cigarettes shares an essence of something very akin to the essence of New Year’s Eve. The fragile hope for the future, for love. The wish that you might actually get what you desire. Taking a chance and acting upon it, not knowing whether it will pan out or not.

So, cheers and a happy New Year from us here at ethnographica! Let’s all roll a metaphorical cigarette (the real thing is lethal, after all), and offer it up to Fate with a wish for a happy 2019, and hope that she accepts our gift.

//Sophie Seebach

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putting thought to things

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