Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Betel Lady

The betel lady
Found her in the tamu leisurely preparing the betel nut (aka areca nut) for the timeless and ever popular habit of many natives ...betel chewing (aka sireh).

A very popular cultural activity among the natives, it is very social orientated and the time for eating betel is also gossip time, munching and chewing as they exchange the daily happenings in the household, neighbourhood news etc.

This betel seed comes from the betel palm. Removing the orange fibrous layer reveals the much sought after hard inner nut...

A special tool is needed to slice the hard nut into small pieces for chewing. Only a small amount is needed for a chew.

The four essentials for betel chewing

From the top; tobacco, the lime (calcium oxide), betel nuts, and betel leaves (a plant from the pepper family).

Brief description on the assembling of the chew: take half (or quarter) piece of leaf, smear a dash of lime in the centre, add a small piece of nut and a few strands of tobacco. Wrap all these tightly into a small bundle with the leaf. Now nudge the small bundle between the teeth to one side of the cheek and chew. Sound like a :p (Yeh, okay, I did it once and that was once too much. Couldn't bear the bitter concoction and the texture, spat out after the first bite before it had a chance to turn red!).

After a few minutes of chewing, the whole mass turns crimson red. When the user is done with the chewing, the fibrous residue of the nut is spat out onto the street, where it remains visibly bright red. The Tamu grounds, streets and five foot ways sprayed with these crimson red evidence are a sure indication of betel chewing popularity in the area.

The tamu venue in Tamparuli was (and still is) famous for its red spotted whatchamcallit grounds and that was our main playground too. OMG!!! I Remember running around there BAREFOOTED (we could run faster, without the hindrance of some slippery footwear) playing 'mata chook chet' (policeman catches thieves)....yaks!!yaks!!yaks!! No wonder mum was always yelling at us to wash up for meals.

Warning: Betel chewing is addictive. It also gives the user a bloody red grin!! :D


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Betelnut & betel leaf chewing is seen so little in the cities these days, but still a time honoured tradition and evident in the smaller towns.

I wonder if the stories of vampires or pontianaks were derived from the overactive imagination of someone who was faced by the crimson grin of the betelnut imbiber.

In some countries in Europe, they have this thing called 'snoos', which is a small packet of ground treated tobacco & salt - they put a packet under their upper lip and feel happy for a few hours. It's also highly addictive.