David Biggs writes that he hasn’t seen or heard of chew tobacco for many years, and wonders whether anybody still makes it. File picture
David Biggs writes that he hasn’t seen or heard of chew tobacco for many years, and wonders whether anybody still makes it. File picture

Does anybody even remember chewing tobacco?

By David Biggs Time of article published Jun 18, 2021

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When I was growing up in the Karoo, we ran a little unofficial shop on the farm, so our staff members didn’t have to travel all the way to Noupoort to buy essentials. We kept a few items, such as maize meal, Sunlight soap, matches, coffee, tea, salt, sugar and Boxer tobacco. And chew tobacco.

There was always a roll of chew tobacco tucked under the counter: a black, tarry and pungent rope of stuff coiled around a wooden frame and held in place by bamboo pegs. At the end of a hard day, my father would cut off a plug of the evil stuff for each labourer as a reward for the day’s work.

It was considered a treat. It came from a co-op somewhere in Oudtshoorn, if I remember correctly. I haven’t seen or heard of chew tobacco for many years. I wonder whether anybody still makes it.

Does anybody even remember chewing tobacco? It always seemed to me to be a rather disgusting habit.

The user would tuck a plug of the stuff into his (or her) cheek and occasionally eject a stream of yellow spit. It’s hard to imagine anything more revolting, yet there were many people who indulged in the habit, and there must have been a substantial industry of people producing it.

Apparently, cowboys in the Wild West were fond of chewing tobacco, so it did have a slightly macho image, but that wouldn’t have affected our farm staff. They never saw Western films, and there was no TV in those days.

I’m not sure why the idea of chew tobacco popped into my mind. I spend a lot of time raking over old memories these days, and some odd things rise to the surface.

I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but I do have a vivid memory of Ndoyisile Maliti and his wife Jane setting off behind his fine team of mules for a weekend visit to his neighbours. That’s another memory that seems to have been lost.

Mules. Does anybody remember mules?


A man went to the police station and asked if he could have a few words with the prisoner who had been arrested for breaking into his house the previous night.

“Only his lawyer can visit him,” said the sergeant on duty. “You’ll have your chance of speaking to him when he appears in court next week.”

“No, you don’t understand,” said the man. “I want to ask him how he managed to sneak into my house after midnight without waking my wife. I’ve been trying to do that for years.”

* "Tavern of the Seas" is a column written in the Cape Argus by David Biggs. Biggs can be contacted at [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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