Respect We All Learn From Betel Leaf & Areca Nut in Sumba

When we came to Sumba, we are always welcomed with their warm Sumbanese smile, showing off their iconic red lips & teeth caused by their habit to munch Sirih (betel leaf) Pinang (areca nut) with Kapur (lime). This is a very common phenomenon across East Nusa Tenggara.

According to their believes (Marapu), Sirih & Pinang is the nose and the eyes of their god. Both become the primary means for everything from small to big ceremonies to basically just as one of the most important daily needs for them after food.

The younger generations continue this tradition as they see Sirih Pinang as their source of physical fitness and even to some extend, their addiction.

Here are some medicinal properties of Sirih Pinang :

  1. Help in weight-loss by reducing body fat and increases our metabolic rate
  2. Accelerate healing process of wound
  3. Prevents carcinogens which can lead to cancer, chewing it is known to prevent oral cancer
  4. Helps in treating diabetes
  5. Cures headache

Unfortunately chewing it excessively can cause infection in the gum. It is important to keep the tooth cavity clean either from the rest of the betel leaf or the lime to avoid this.

Behind all these benefits, this tradition to munch Sirih Pinang is also considered as a social norm in Sumba. Like for example, there’s a saying in Sumba inspired by that,


“Kuta angu lulu, winu angu helu” meaning all humans are equal before God.


This is reflected in Sumbanese’s tradition to always serve Sirih Pinang to their guest regardless of their background.

Just like saying thank you when you receive something, or sorry when you make a mistake, accepting Sirih Pinang is expected and considered polite in Sumba even though we might not want to eat it. It can be taken home or left for the host later. They appreciate it when we accept what they give or eat their home cooked meals.

In a land that whispers culture & so much local wisdom like Sumba, it is where we should open our eyes & soften our heart to observe and learn with humility. From such a simple gesture like receiving or accepting what is given, we are reminded to always humbly adjust and respect local traditions, for we know behind every tradition lies wisdom & values that has been passed down through generations, something that most of us often take for granted.

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