Sunday, July 26, 2015

Betel nut chewing - A surviving tradition in Borneo


Betel nut or quid chewing has traditionally played an important role in social customs, religious practices and cultural rituals, not just among the Malays but also other indigenous groups in Borneo.

HE has lost most of his upper front teeth and what is left is either black or deep red in colour — a result of years of chewing potent parcels of betel quid.

He is someone I know personally. He began chewing betel quid about 50 years ago and is still at it today.

He started chewing very small portions and the first experience was terrible — he could feel a striking sensation in his mouth.

As he chewed, he recalled, the flavour filled his mouth and the taste was pretty bad. However, after sometime, he felt something very mild in his mouth and it produced a lot of saliva.

Wanting to be known only as uncle, he said the effects were simply terrible — something like intoxication, dizziness, vomiting, convulsion or diarrhea.

“They lasted about an hour — worse than my first experience of smoking a cigarette or getting drunk. I have quit smoking but I still chew betel quid,” he said through well-worn teeth.

This uncle revealed he became addicted after chewing betel quid — leaves, red saliva and all — several times.

After years of daily use, long-term betel chewers will develop a distinctive deep red stain in their mouths, teeth and gums — as what can be seen in this uncle.

Betel quid chewing has been claimed to produce a sense of well-being, euphoria, warm sensation of the body, sweating, salivation, palpitation, heightened alertness and increased capacity to work.

This, according to the uncle, is quite true.

Upon his suggestion, I tried chewing a small portion.

He helped prepare a simple quid for me, comprising a portion of betel leaf (from the Piper betel vine), ripe areca nut (from the areca catechu tree), slaked lime (predominantly calcium hydroxide) as catalyst and a small portion of dried gambir leaf (a bushy schrub of the family of rubiaceae).

Warming sensation

Once I chewed the quid, the result was a truly warming sensation and it quickly woke me up.

I swallowed a little of it and felt intoxicated, dizzy and wanted to throw up. Truly, the ‘spinning feeling’ was worse than getting drunk.

Other not so nice effects are the mouth, lips and teeth becoming red from the quid juice as well as the frequent spitting.

The whole quid, if chewed over a few minutes, will form a thick, deep red paste between gums and cheeks and sometimes, it stays for hours.

If you suddenly feel like trying it yourself, do not expect too much of a nice test. For a first timer, try a tiny bit of betel nut first. The taste is exotic — ranging from tangy, slightly sour or cheesy, a bit bitter sweet with a hint of caramel.

When you add betel leaf with lime, you will find a refreshing sharpness to it. As you chew, you begin to feel the bitterness and a little bit of hotness in your mouth — until you cannot resist spitting.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Betel nut chewing - A surviving tradition in Borneo
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