28 – 30 July 2010

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.

With

With 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 dry

Freshly 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 hours

With 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 white

With 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 use

Residue 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 bag

For 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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