Betel Nut and Leaf Accessories – Exhibition

The Asia Pacific Region is the home of ancient civilisations in a vast geographical area with a staggering diversity of flora and fauna, races, languages and cultural expressions. From time immemorial, the people of this region have lived with nature and a vast variety of trees, plants and herbs have been venerated for their therapeutic and medicinal properties. Amongst these plants and herbs, Naga Vallari or Tambool is special and distinctive. The leaf of this creeper is known in most parts of South Asia and South East Asia. It has generated a whole culture of social behavior at different levels of society from the humblest to the most powerful, the rich and the poor, the unsophisticated and the sophisticated. It has permeated the lifestyle of practically all groups. In turn, it has inspired a variety of craft traditions in different materials. The leaf and its condiments and serving methods constitute an important aspect of the distinctive artistic traditions of the countries of the Asia Pacific Region. The betel leaf or the paan has been responsible for the beautiful innovative crafting of functional objects of great beauty.

The custom of “Tambool” exchange and chewing betel nuts and leaves is practised all over the Asia Pacific Region. Hence the theme of “Tambool” was chosen for the exhibition of “Betal Nut and Leaf Accessories” that was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the National Museum from 24th January to 2nd February, 2000. This exhibition was held jointly by the Crafts Council of Malaysia and the Crafts Council of India under the aegis of the Indian High Commission in Malaysia to celebrate 50 years of the Indian Republic.

The exhibition covered six aspects of crafts from India and displayed typical products under each of the categories, which included the art of marble inlay stonework, metal products in silver, copper and brass, wood and wood inlay, embroidery work and floor covering. The displayed products were all with specific relevance to “sirih pinang” or the “tambool” tradition.

As an extension of the exhibition, an insight into the beliefs and practices associated with the “Sirih Pinang” tradition, a Curator’s Forum was held on 29th January 2000. In the sharing of experiences, the important role of this tradition and its significance in India as well as in Malaysia was discussed.