Thursday, September 20, 2012

Betel in Boti

It is dusk now. Hibiscus heads hang red. The king sits serenely stoned on the veranda of his wooden house. Villagers whisper and spit. Inside the house we chew psychoactive areca nuts with the king's barefooted niece.
Her name is Sau Sae. She wears hand-woven cloth, silver bangles, and an eye-shaped golden ring. She has ballerina hair. Sau Sae is 36 and unmarried. "The king will decide when I am ready to marry," she says, biting hard into an egg-sized areca nut.
The skin of the areca is green with a ripening autumn blush. The stone inside is white with orange veins. Sau Sae stores a piece of the seed between her teeth and gums. She's been chewing betel since she was five years old.

On the low table is a bundle of mossy green asparagus-shaped betel peppers and a bowl of quicklime. Sau Sae snaps a piece of pepper, frosts it with lime, and pops it in her mouth. "Too much lime turns your mouth red," she says, spitting into a dish. "Like yours," she observes.
The betel quid is lime-rind raw. The effect is swift: a giddy glee. I spit red and chew and chew, smothering mellow giggles on the king's settee.
"People are proud of their red mouths," says twenty-something Yabes, ambling through Soe market in central West Timor. Market tables display tidy pyramids of green areca nuts (pinang), betel leaves (sirih), and bagged lime (kapor). Deep tubs bear thousands of dried areca seeds. They look like old wooden buttons.
"It is part of their culture and they believe it makes their teeth strong," continues Yabes.
"Do you believe that?"
"Well, I don't know. I asked some old men and old women and some said yes and some said no."

University-graduate Yabes chews betel when visiting his family. "I first tried it when I was elementary school age."
"Can you chew betel at school?"
"No. You have to have clean teeth at school or the teacher will fight you."
A betel kit from a roadside stall in Soe costs under a dollar.
Seven ripe areca drupes: Rp 5,000
A handful of dried areca seeds: Rp 2,000
A bundle of betel peppers: Rp 5,000
A knotted bag of slaked lime: Rp 2,000

1 comment:

  1. "The king will decide when I am ready to marry," she says, biting hard into an egg-sized areca nut".

    Simpler times, these are(nt)

    thanks for keeping the here/now so colorful.