Betel nut chewing is a traditional and special custom in Asian culture. This custom is quite popular in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sumatra, Malacca and Taiwan...
Along with this custom, there is a story about the utensils for serving the betel chewing. Popular ones may include the betel containers and trays, lime paste pots, betel nut mortar, spittoons... made of various materials depending on different social classes and levels.
Legend has it that the custom of chewing betel in Vietnam has existed since the reign of the Hung Kings. It is associated with the “Legend of Betel and Areca” about the faithfulness of a wife for her husband and the love between two siblings. Betel and areca are used to start talking and help people become closer and more open with each other. They serve as offerings in the important traditional ceremonies, such as the offering rituals, engagements and weddings, funerals and burials. They are a symbol of love, brotherhood, family and happiness.
The Vietnam National Museum of History preserves a collection of betel chewing utensils of the Nguyen royal family, which are mainly made of gold, silver and jade. The below is some main information about this collection:
1. Betel container: for holding areca nuts, betel leaves and miscellaneous additives... The betel containers of the Nguyen royal family were made of gold, silver and jade, and with lid, similar to a box.
For example, a container made of gold and silver, in the shape of a lotus flower with layers of leaf, diameter of around 10cm, height 14-16cm.
Another is a golden container in the shape of a round tray, carving lotus decoration and tiny circles, height of 4,7cm, diameter of 10,8cm.
Big amount of the Nguyen betel containers are what made of gold and in the shape of cylinder, with lid, with drawer, embossed carving decoration on the lids and outside in the motif of dragon, phoenix, cloud, wave...
The silver containers in the shape of cylinder with lids and middle drawers, decorated with motif of dragon-cloud-fern or phoenix-cloud-fern. Some silver containers have carving decorations in the motif of the 4 sacred creatures and some in the motif of the 4 flowers of the 4 seasons.
2. Betel box: made of silver or gold, with inside drawers for keeping the betel making tools such as mortar, slicer, pestle...
3. Betel trays: square, for holding betel and areca nuts, or for holding tea sets or wine sets, made of gold or jade.
For example, a square tray made of gold, with dragon carving and pearl decoration. Another one made of jade, carving phoenix and 3 bats. The mouth is gold plated with phoenix flaking a moon.
4. Spittoon: container to spit remaining betel nut fiber. Gold, silver, jade, vase shape.
A spittoon made of gold, height 11cm, mouth diameter 12,9cm, buddhi leaf band decoration on the neck, dragon-cloud carving on the body. Inscription said the name of the maker Nguyen Tan and the year 1824.
A jade spittoon with the golden base, sophisticated buddhi leaf and dragon-cloud decoration, a design of the utensil used by the King (?).
Other golden spittoons with phoenix and cloud decoration could be used by empress dowagers?
Depending on the designs, materials and decorative subjects, those utensils could be guessed the utensils serving for the King or the Queen.
At present, the custom of betel nut chewing is not as popular as in the past but it still can be found in the ceremonies, worshipping, wedding and festival and a nice cultural ritual of Vietnamese people as well as in the literature.
Betel chewing utensils of the Nguyen royal family represented not only a tradition but also the craftsmanship of the workers in the Nguyen dynasty.
Some pictures of the betel chewing utensils collection of the Vietnam National Museum of History:
Nguyen Dinh Chien - Dinh Ngoc Trien
EN: Tran Trang