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Making Lime for Betelnut Chewing in M’Buke, Manus, PNG

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28 – 30 July 2010

S2 22.915 E146 49.513 – M’Buke Island

Green betel nut (buai), a jar or bag of lime powder (kambang) and a bean-like green called mustard (daka)A jar of lime powder (kambang); a bean-like green stick called mustard (daka) and green betel nuts (buai)

Betel nut chewing is a custom or ritual that dates back thousands of years from Asia to the Pacific, a tradition very much a part of modern life in many parts of the Coral Triangle. This custom is very much alive that it is hard to ignore betel nut chewing if you visit a country such as Papua New Guinea when the first thing you notice while talking to a local is the bright red-stained teeth and lips of the men and women. The chewing of three items betel nut, mustard stick dipped in lime powder acts as a mild stimulant which help locals suppress their hunger, reduce stress and heighten their senses. Almost all locals we’ve met chew it and when visiting public markets, lime powder and betel nut dominates the market scene – so much so it is hard to find fruits and vegetables normally associated with markets.

You can easily buy lime power in any public market in Papua New Guinea. Sometimes, the market is just full of white, a newcomer would wonder what that is . . .You can easily buy lime power in any public market in Papua New Guinea. Sometimes, the market is just full of white powder, a wide-eyed tourist would wonder what this is . . .

As almost every family in rural PNG cultivates their own “food gardens”, the betel nut and mustard stick (a pepper plant) can be grown in people’s backyards. But the lime is something that needs buying as this is processed from corals – mainly acropora, these branching stag-horn corals are amongst the fastest growing corals – about 10 cm/year.

But harvesting of corals can become a problem if unregulated and unmanaged. In M’Buke, the elders, environmental conservation core group and the women coral collectors in the community have collaborated with the village chief on the regulations and laws when and where corals can be harvested. Coral harvesting can be done four times a year. The harvest season is closed for three months and on the last 2 days of the third month, women can go out to selected areas to harvest a limit of one basket per collector.

WithWith the help of WWF's Selarn Karluwin, we photographed the process of lime powder production in M'Buke Freshly harvested corals are left to dry for a couple of weeks until it turns white and dryFreshly harvested corals are left outdoors to dry for a couple of weeks until it turns white and dry With corrugated iron as the base, the women make a pyre out of very dry drift wood for the dry corals to burn for three long hoursWith corrugated iron as the base, these women (L-R Christine, Talawan & Lomot) make a pyre out of very dry drift wood for the dry corals to burn for three long hours The dry wood all turn into ashes and no black coal like particles remain, leaving the burned corals whiteWith hours of burning, the dry wood turn into ashes with no black coal like particles remaining, leaving the burned corals white Talawan and Lomot pick out the burned corals. When cooled down, corals are stored in a leaf lined basket for two weeks to crumble Talawan and Lomot pick out the cooked corals. When cooled down, the corals are stored in a leaf lined basket for two weeks. It is left alone to crumble into powder The ladies have a basket of lime ready for sieving  The ladies have a basket of lime ready for sieving Residue pieces of burned corals are thrown, leaving the whitest powder ready for useResidue pieces of burned corals are thrown away, leaving the whitest powder ready for use For their own consumption or to sell in far away Lorengau, lime powder will be sold from 50 toea to one Kina per plastic bagFor their own consumption or to sell in far away Lorengau, lime powder will be sold from 50 Toea to one Kina per plastic bag Every adult in Papua New Guinea walks around with some sort of container or bag carrying their precious betel nut, mustard and lime powder. Many adults in Papua New Guinea walk around with some sort of container or bilum bag, carrying their precious betel nut, mustard and lime powder

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Comments


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  • http://yahoo Cephas Kanawi

    Keep up the the Good job Selan as I am part of the Island as well !!!
    Thanks Preservation and Conservation, Wian N’dre best,
    Pwai E-OI,
    Parkop Kanawi

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  • mohammad kamran

    i would like to know about the lime that what can we use it with betelnut

  • http://yahoo ANNETTEBOB

    Betel nut causes mouth & stomach cancer.
    when young ones start chewing a lot by the
    time they are teenager they already have small
    legion growing in their mouth, it causes damage
    to our beautiful teeth that God has given us.
    very bad headache and is a unclean habit.
    our older generation may have used it, but
    we are more educated them them and should
    really try to do what is healthy for our children.
    I have notice…some educated locals do not
    allow their children to chew betal nut. And they
    only chew at social, or party events…..Why?
    because they know the truth and want to
    preserve their family longer on the earth.

  • Krys

    Could we use your picture of Betel product in a pamphlet?

  • ecosteve

    The lime powder is the ingredient that makes betel chewing such a health risk.

    It is a very strong alkaline and will burn your mouth very badly if you were to try it alone. The lime creates a very high (basic) pH level in the mouth which allows the ‘drug’ to become more soluble in water (saliva). Some people like myself prefer not to use lime at all (it is great remedy for travel sickness). But the effects are only 40-50% as strong without the lime.

    Many people laugh when you don’t use lime but it’s not really necessary. Especially when you see how it dissolves teeth and causes cancer. Also, I think adding tobacco causes mouth cancer even more readily than lime powder.

    Moral to the story… Don’t use lime when chewing Betelnut. It would be a good focus of a health and conservation campaign.

  • Mike Smith

    ANNETTEBOB , well and good but what sort of dental programme can take its place? What do you suggest?