A peace pipe, or calumet, is a traditional Native American tool used for ceremonies and tribal rituals. Typically, they are highly decorated and only used for special occasions. The peace pipe has spiritual and legendary significance to many Native American tribes, and is associated with the White Buffalo Calf Woman.
Most peace pipes consist of a long wooden stem decorated with feathers and beads, and a stone pipe bowl. The materials used for the pipe bowl vary from tribe to tribe, but common materials include catlinite or red pipestone, clay, antlers, and salmon alabaster. The bowl is often decoratively carved and polished using oils. Catlinite was particularly valued, and mined from extensive deposits in Minnesota.
Although the wood and stone combination described above is the most common form of peace pipe, the term can be used to describe any ceremonial pipe used by any tribes. Some may be short and carved entirely from stone, others may have a bone stem and bowl carved from antlers. The Lakota legends correspond to the wooden and stone construction, so it is most often used as an example of the ceremonial device.
Peace pipes are common throughout the tribes of the Central United States, including the Lakota Sioux, native to North and South Dakota. According to Lakota legends, the first peace pipe was brought to the tribe by a mysterious woman who turned out to be the legendary White Buffalo Calf Woman, a great spiritual figure in traditional history. According to one story of the pipe’s origin, the White Buffalo Calf Woman told tribal leaders to smoke the pipe before treaties and ceremonies as it will bring the mind to thoughts of peace.
The construction of peace pipes is important to their symbolism to the Native American tribes. The wooden stem is meant to represent female power and the plant world. The stone bowl, which is sometimes wrapped in fur or carved with buffalo, is a symbol of male power and the animal world. When joined, the two halves of the peace pipe represent all of creation in harmony.
“Peace pipe” is actually a European term for the ceremonial pipe, based on its use in preparations for treaties. Films and television have long promoted a false impression of the use of the pipe, showing it as a tool of the chief and even forced on foreigners as a way of making them cough and look silly. In truth, the ceremonial pipe is of great spiritual importance to traditional tribal practices, and used in many forms of prayer and tribal rites.