Betel Chewing


Betel Chewing
   What is commonly called "betel chewing" involves mastication of a nut from the areca palm (Areca cathechu), which is sliced or chopped up and wrapped artfully with a bit of liquefied lime in a betel leaf, which comes from a vine (Piper betel) related to pepper. Sometimes other ingredients, such as tobacco or spices, are added. Mildly stimulating, betel chewing, a custom they share with many other peoples in Southeast and South Asia, has been practiced by the peoples of Burma since before the beginning of recorded history. Chewing the betel quid produces copious, redcolored juice mixed with saliva, which is expectorated. Teeth stained red-black by habitual betel chewing were traditionally thought to be a mark of beauty.
   Betel chewing is heavily laden with cultural and religious symbolism. Burmese women customarily offered a betel quid to their lovers; monks used it to increase their concentration; and Burmese kings and high officials possessed beautifully crafted implements for preparing, storing, and offering betel quids, whose design was regulated by strict sumptuary laws. High-quality betel boxes were often made of lacquer or silver.
   In recent years, the chewing of betel quids has declined in popularity, especially in cities. The sidewalks of Rangoon (Yangon) are no longer as heavily streaked with blood-red juice as they were a couple of decades ago. The State Law and Order Restoration Council sought to discourage betel chewing on grounds of health and appearance. Among those people who can afford it, it has been largely supplanted by other, probably less healthy diversions, such as smoking Western-style cigarettes or drinking imported whiskey.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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