Chewing buai (betel nut) with lime and mustard is a coastal Melanesian tradition and can be in some ways equated to the social lubricant alcohol. The combination is used for ceremonial as well as social purposes and thus holds a special place in traditional ceremonial practices. This means that there are etiquette that must be abided by when consuming it. Unfortunately, many Melanesians have forgotten or are simply ignorant of these netiquettes.
The etiquette I am about to list are from observing old folks in father’s (Korojih) and neighboring villages in the West Coast of Manus. I will also draw from my mother’s village of Divari in the Wedau area of Milne Bay and other villages within Papua New Guinea (PNG) that I have visited.
The first thing I have noticed village elders do when chewing betel nut is how they tend to make sure their rubbish is put in the appropriate place. They do not throw buai husks all over the place; instead they keep them and then dispose them properly when they have done chewing.
The elders understood that spitting out into the open was unhygienic and rude especially when you are surrounded by people. If they needed to spit it would be done into a disposable container (coconut shell etc) or the ground or sand beside them and immediately covered. They did not just spit onto any surface.
The bulging mouth
Believe it or not, I have hardly seen any elders chewing with their mouths stuffed. Nowadays, you will find chewers having bulging mouths filled with buai and walking around. Buai was usually consumed when there was a gathering and thus there had to be space in peoples’ mouths to talk. It was and still is disrespectful if you talked with a full mouth.
BYOK (Bring your own kambang (lime))
It was shameful to chew off someone else’s lime or kambang as known in Tok Pisin. Everyone had their own lime container and only shared the nut and mustard (daka in Tok Pisin) – every decent chewer did this. There are of course several reasons for doing this; fear of sorcery, hygiene, shame, etc, to name a few.
The list can be summarised with the word respect. The elders showed that they had respect for those around them and themselves when they chew. Respect is the cornerstone for etiquettes.
The list is just a few of the etiquettes in Papua New Guinea. Our country has a large diversity of cultures with their own set of etiquettes and rules. Each one has etiquettes for almost every social event. However, as we assimilate Western culture and traditions, much of these become lost or simply ignored. It is my hope that by putting up this list, we can tell our society, children, visitors and friends that what they see in our streets today is not part of our traditional culture but a mutation.