Thursday, October 20, 2005

Betel in Khmer Society

Paper presented in:
Southeast Asian International Conference on Southeast Asian Cultural Values: Preservation and Promotion October 12-13, 2005 Angkor Century Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambdodia


Many researches demonstrate that areca fruit, betel leaf and tobacco originated in India. Many centuries later, the use of these plants spread from country to country. Presently, ten percent of the world’s population regularly uses betel. Most of these users are located in the countries of South and South-east Asia.
In Cambodia, the phrase “mlu sla”, sometimes shortened to simply “mlu” or “sla,” refers to the basic ingredients of the betel quid, the betel leaf, areca fruit, slaked lime, tobacco and other additional items. Betel is part of daily life for many older people. Many use it daily to relieve boredom and, according to some, to clear the mind. Besides this, it is also used in treating illnesses. More importantly, betel holds an important place in various ceremonies relating to beliefs, traditional customs and religion in Khmer society. From insignificant ceremonies to major ones, one type of ritual object called “sla thoa baysey” is rarely left out. As for marriage ceremonies, from the proposal to the end of the wedding ceremony, betel is used at almost every stage of the process; the pocket betel chewing ceremony, the engagement betel chewing ceremony, the areca flower parade, the kat khan sla, etc.
Habitual and ceremonial use of betel as mentioned, over a long period of time, resulted in betel entering a level of Khmer thought a little at a time. It is difficult to say when this began. It is thought that the presence of betel in these ceremonies didn’t simply occur by accident or from desire without cause. According to close examination, betel appears to have a kind of hidden meaning. It can be assumed for now that betel is a symbol of harmony in society and a rite of life events. Furthermore, these two items play an important purpose as part of Khmer society and culture.

Key word: Areca, Betel, Culture. (Read Full Paper in Khmer Version)

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