Betel nut: a strange variety of lipstick

Woman chewing betel nut in Indonesia

If you spend enough time in the smaller villages around South East Asia (or you sail to some amazing places with us), you’ll notice that many older people – women, especially – seem to wear a bright, curious shade of lipstick. If you look a little closer, you’ll see it’s on their teeth too… and then when begin to chat with them, you might notice that they seem to be chewing on something. That something is betel nut.

Betel nut is the seed of the areca palm that’s been sliced and wrapped in a betel leaf, and around South East Asia it’s been custom to chew on betel nut for thousands of years (some scholars say 4000). Chewing betel nut is a mild stimulant; it warms the body and heightens alertness.

Researchers these days say it’s no good for your health. Chewing regularly on betel nut increases a person’s risk of developing cancers, hypertension and developing diabetes. It’s probably because of new awareness – and because it stains your teeth – that younger generations are no longer interested in imbibing.

The photograph above was shot by our cruise director Chris Hamilton in a village called Wera in Sumbawa,  a village known for its weaving tradition. (And yes, Dunia Baru takes guests there.)


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