Many Papua New Guineans just love chewing betelnut. It has become part and parcel of PNG life and is often celebrated in art, storytelling, celebrations, 'custom wok' and many other events. I, for one, love chewing betelnut for its mild naracotic effect. It has a similar effect to caffeine but doesnt cost that much as compared to a cup of coffee or a can of coke. For the uninitiated, betelnut chewing refers to the chewing of three ingredients - the nut of the Betel Palm, a fruit of the Piper betel vine known to many Papua New Guineans as 'daka' and also lime powder made from coral. Betel nut, known scietifically as Areca Catechu is chewed among people who live in he Pacific, Aisia and even to the coastline of East Africa. In the late 1980s, It was commonly known as the fourth mostly widely used drug worldwide after caffeine, nicotine and alcohol (Marshall 1987)*
Knowing Australia and its strict quarantine laws, I knew I wouldnt be able to get some betelnut over to Perth so I sort of made up mind and resigned myself to a 'betelnutless' life for the next few months. However, my fears were laid to rest on the first night i arrived in Perth from Brisbane:The first time I landed at Perth domestic airport, a Papua New Guinean gave me a betelnut to chew! The betelnut was soft and squishy but chewable (if there is such a word), the lime was a white paste and very strong. I had to chew this with a dry 'daka' leaf, it was so dry that it was brittle. But hey this was Australia so i had to make do with what i had. They told me that there were a couple of Chinese shops around the city that were selling betelnuts, with lime and 'daka' but ran out quickly.
Well last month (February), after numerous phone calls and searches on the internet, i was able to locate a Chinese Store in Leederville, just a few minutes of Perth City. The Chinese store was located right a the corner of Tennyson street and Oxford Road, Leaderville. The asian lady just saw the bilum I was carrying and already knew what I had come for. I just had to ask if there was betelnut in the shop and she was away, leading me down the aisle and headed for the frezzer. Out came the betelnut and daka which i bought for AUD$35.50 (around K80) for 12 large betelnuts and 5 packets of 'daka'. Man, they were just so expensive!
So, for all those Papua New Guineans living in Perth or those intending to come here as students or to work here, dont be 'buailess' when you are here.
* Marshall, M: Anoverview of drugs in Oceania, in Drugs in Western Pacific Societies: Relations of substance: ASAO monograph Number 11, Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania Monograph Series, Edited by Lindstrom L Lanham, md, University Press of America, 1987, pg 13-49