November 13, 2012

Hari Ragat: a Nutty Tradition

preparing betel, Little India, Malacca

Chewing buyo, betel, is a universal custom in the islands. Areca nuts, lime and spices, sometimes including tobacco, are rolled in betel leaves (betel nut is a misnomer) and chewed for their mild euphoric effect, which the Vijadesans say makes hard labor easier and induces feelings of amiability and good cheer. A whole culture of etiquette has grown around buyo use:

  • Ingredients for making buyo are kept in finely carved containers: the fancier the container, the higher the status of the owner;
  • Offering buyo is the first, expected gesture of hospitality due to a guest;
  • Sharing buyo is a sign of friendship and goodwill, or if between man and woman, of romantic attachment;
  • For a woman to send buyo to a man not of her own family is a sign that she accepts his courtship; for a man to ask buyo of a woman is a sign that he desires her;
  • A man may send a woman not of his own family buyo as a sign that he desires her; when a woman sends buyo to a man not of her own family, it is a sign that she accepts his courtship, or wants a favor and is willing to have a romantic liaison to get it.

[Note: Please do not take this as an encouragement to chew betel. Recent studies have linked typical ingredients of betel chew, specially areca nut and tobacco, to oral cancer.]

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