28 – 30 July 2010
S2 22.915 E146 49.513 – M’Buke Island
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.
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.
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