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An Introduction to Betel Nut
 

Betel nut use was widespread in historical times throughout South Asia.   The practice is in decline throughout the region and in Indonesia it is now considered an old fashioned habit of the grandparents and common only in rural areas.  It is a mild narcotic but not a severe one.   It does have an addictive component to it - like smoking cigarettes - and betel nut is often followed up by a wad of chewing tobacco.

The physical effects are: numbing of the gums - takes away the pain of bad teeth, appetite suppression -eases hunger pangs and a pleasant energy boost.  Like three good cappuccinos in a row without the shake.  Chemically it speeds up oxygen uptake.

You can chew a nut on it's own and feel an effect but when combined with either the fruit (preferable) or leaf of the sirih vine and the lime powder - made from specially baked coral, the effect is much more pronounced.  The lime is the catalyst that activates the narcotic and changes the color of the mixture from a pale pink to a deep bright orange.

Betel nut is chewed but it is not swallowed.  The lining of the mouth quickly absorbs the narcotic into the bloodstream and the residual is spit out.  Swallowing betel nut juice will result in a very, very sore tummy.

Betel nut paraphernalia is intensely personal and a nice kit of accessories is a tribal fashion statement to be admired and envied.

Betel is not all about the narcotic.  If we meet on the jungle path and I offer you betel, by accepting my offering we are associates.  When you go to a house, you will be invited to sit and a betel offering basket will be brought to you.  You make your offering and then out comes the village coffee and you can begin to discuss the matter at hand or the reason for your visit.  Any ceremony or meeting is also opened with a round of betel offerings.  Chickens are sacrificed next to a basket containing the sirih leaf, betel nut, lime powder and chewing tobacco.

When you offer betel nut it is a blessing, a gift, an offering that indicates that you are a polite person with respect for "adat" - tribal traditions.

a betelnut smile
a betel nut smile!


betel nut basics
click here to see betel nut bags

Unique Lime and Tobacco Containers
These containers are made from a variety of materials. Bamboo is the most common followed by wood, buffalo horn and bone, gourds and even seed pods! Each piece is as individual as the person who made it.
x x x bamboo lime container
scrimshaw on bone
buffalo horn lime containers bamboo lime containers
Betel nut chewing is still enthusiastically practiced in rural Timor at a rate of over 100 tonnes of dried betel nut per annum for 400,000 people. This figure is for dry betel imported from neighboring islands and does not include the fresh garden grown treat available seasonally.
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