Papuan People and the Areca Story – It was just in the last year Max learned to eat betel nut. At first he felt nauseous and dizzy. Over time it became normal. Fortunately, it didn’t become an addiction.

“I eat betel nut once in a while, when I gather with friends, to make a mood,” he told recently.

Even though he was born in Papua, Max is not used to chewing betel nut. In his hometown, South Miyah District, Tambraw Regency, West Papua, consuming the areca nut is no longer strange. Miyah is a mountainous region. Eating Pinang is indeed closely related to the culture of the coastal Papuans.

He himself gets amused, because learning to eat areca nut is not in Papua, but in the Special Region of Yogyakarta, a student city in which he studied at one of the universities. “So I first ate betel nut in Yogyakarta, when I was 23 years old,” he chuckled.

For him, eating areca nut is useful to be tool for socializing among fellow Papuan students. He had time to ask where was the origin of the pinang from which brother and sister used to sell in the Babarsari area, Sleman, Yogyakarta.

“Some say from the Merapi or Turi area.” Although a beginner in the world of areca nut chewing, the man whose full name is Maximus Sendik, can distinguish the taste and quality of the Yogyakarta – Papua Pinang. Areca nuts from the foot of Merapi, as stated by him, are bigger and tend to be watery. He also admitted that he quickly felt nauseous after chewing it.

 Meanwhile, Pinang Papua, which generally come from Jayapura and Sentani, are smaller and have a stronger taste. He knows the difference, because he often tastes Papuan Pinang if a friend brings him. Many believe that eating areca nut which has the Latin name Areca catech is relaxing. The seeds are bitter, spicy and warm, contain alkaloids 0.3 to 0.6 percent. This substance can be used as a sedative.

Hence, chewing areca nut can make you drunk. The fresher, the higher the alkaloid content. Areca nut has long been a medicine. For example, for menstruation with excessive blood, nosebleeds, tinea, scabies, intestinal worms, dysentery and loose teeth. Areca nut is identical with the culture of the coastal people. As is the case in Papua. Actually, areca nut can grow on any type of soil.

But it is more suitable if it grows in nutrient-rich soil, not rocky and calcareous. Areca nut can grow at an altitude of 1 – 1,400 meters above sea level. Its growth will be even better in a tropical climate with the influence of sea conditions with an altitude of 900 meters above sea level.

The book “Areca Cultivation and Postharvest Technology” published by the Plantation Research and Development Center (2015) states that the origin of the Areca plant is not yet known for sure. Strong suspicion that this plant is native to South Asia. Its distribution includes South Asia, Southeast Asia, and several islands in the Pacific Ocean. The largest species of this plant are found in the Malay Peninsula (Malay-Archipelago), the Philippines and the East Indies Archipelago which is now known as the Indonesian nation. This is where, the center of the greatest diversity of areca nut. Pinang has many names in other parts of the archipelago. The Toba Batak people call it Pining.

The Acehnese call it Pineung, the Javanese call it Jambe. The people of Gorontalo know it as Luhuto. Consuming areca nut is an old culture. Areca nut is enshrined in the reliefs of Sukuh Temple in Berjo Village, Karanganyar, Central Java, which is supposed to have been built around 1359 Saka (1437 AD). In the relief, areca nut trees appear as the background and buildings and houses.

The betel nut appears in the story of the meeting of a couple known as Sadewa and Ni Padapa. Agustinus Riwi Nugroho in his thesis, “Cultural Dynamics of Areca Consumption in the Establishment of Manokwari City Public Space” (a Master Program in Religious and Cultural Sciences, University of Sanata Dharma Yogyakarta, 2016) wrote, in the traditions and daily lives of the people of Numfor (Biak), Windesi and Wamesa ( Wondama Gulf) in Manokwari, West Papua, the Sirih Pinang banquet is always present at traditional processions and other togetherness moments.

Kakes, which consists of betel, areca nut and lime, is always present at traditional meetings for various purposes; building a house, solving a problem (case), preparing a wedding party (promising) or other life cycle events together. Areca nut is a means of generating spirit, an ethos of life that has been entrenched with various functions; for example for maintenance and dental health, Yakyaker (between dowry), Kinsor (magical).

Papuans inhabiting the north coast such as Biak Numfor, Serui, and the Teluk Wondama community, recognize the habit of chewing areca nut as Panonberen (Windesi) or Sauw (Wamesa) and Anropum in the Biak Numfor ethnic community in Manokwari. Areca nut and betel nut are the bridge to start the consultation together. Not participating in consuming areca nut can be said ‘ not know tradition’.

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