This Sensi Seeds article is looking for the answer on the following questions: where does the word ‘ganja’ come from and why is it a nickname for cannabis?
The word ganja in the title of this blog post refers not to one of the many nicknames for cannabis, but to a large city in the northwest of Azerbaijan. This raises the interesting question of where the word ‘ganja’ comes from, and why it is used to refer to cannabis.
Weed, marihuana, pot, Mary Jane and ganja; a small selection from a long list of nicknames give to the dried flowers of the plant Cannabis Sativa L. There are various reasons for this. Some are made up as pseudonyms to fool the police; if two people are walking down the street and talking about Mary Jane, they could just as easily be talking about a friend. Other nicknames are thanks to the friendly nature of cannabis. Its recreational use is frequently a social occasion and as friends give each other nicknames, why not also the substance of enjoyment that they use together? A further reason is that the nicknames differ according to country and region, and are frequently influenced by both centuries-old cultures or modern street talk.
The River Ganges
Cannabis has been used in various areas of the world for thousands of years, frequently for medicinal and spiritual purposes. The history of cannabis as ‘ganja’ leads to India, where Hinduism has a great influence on the history and culture of the land. One of the most important deities in this religion is Lord Shiva, who is thought to play a large role in the origin of ganja.
According to common legend, an area of the Himalayas is seen as the sleeping body of Shiva. From the ‘head’, long locks of hair flow across the vast country. It is said that every lock of hair is a great Indian river. The most important river, the place where all the dreadlocks come together and are, as it were, gathered into a ponytail, is the sacred River Ganges, also named the Ganga. It is a 2.525 kilometre long river that flows through India and Bangladesh. Cannabis Indica grows naturally along the banks of this river, and as the plant is a sacrament there, the Indians gave her the holy name ganja.
So, ganja as a common nickname for cannabis comes from India. But how has the word travelled around the world, and does it have anything to do with the city of Ganja? For the Rastafari movement in Jamaica, at any rate, ganja is as much a part of life as eating and drinking. The word is so entrenched in this culture that many people think that it originated there. History shows that actually ganja did not enter the land until halfway through the 19th century. In this time, Jamaica was still a British colony. The British profited from the large sugar industry there and to ensure production, brought workers from another colony: British India. Together with the Indian workers, ganja was introduced to Jamaica. Interestingly, the hairstyles of many Rastafaris – including Bob Marley – is characteristically dreadlocks, often worn in a ponytail.
Back to Azerbaijan
So the question now is whether the puzzle piece of the Azerbaijan city of Ganja fits into the history of cannabis name ‘ganja’ as described above. Historians believe that the name of the city originates from the New Persian ‘ganj’, meaning ‘treasure’ or ‘treasury’. This suggests that the city already existed in pre-Islamic history, and most probably dates from the 5th century BCE. According to other sources, the city was founded around 860 AD by an Arabian governor who dreamed one night of a treasure which lay buried under one of the hills where Ganja now lies. In the dream he was given the mission of finding the treasure and using it to build a new city. History shows no direct link with cannabis; the only common factor is that both the inhabitants of the city and the Hindus of India see Ganja as a valuable treasure.
For Sensi Seeds, all forms of cannabis and hemp are valuable treasure. The medicinal qualities of cannabis are incredibly broad. Almost weekly, new studies prove that there are yet more disorders that it can alleviate or even cure. Sensi Seeds reports on these on this blog, but also presents the rich history and potential of the plant in the Hash, Marihuana en Hemp Museum in Amsterdam and Barcelona, the Hemp Gallery and the Cannabis College (both in Amsterdam).