Brian Cassey: Betel Nut Ban Hard to Chew
© Brian Cassey 2013
The use of the mild natural narcotic ‘betel nut’ is endemic and a tradition throughout the South Pacific and Asia. In Papua New Guinea - where it is called ‘Buai’ - it has historically been used in ceremonies and family gatherings and is chewed along with mustard fruit and lime made from sea shells. The combination produces the bright red spittle that has been synonymous with the landscape of PNG and the capitol Port Moresby - until now.
The City of Port Moresby Governor Powes Parkop has imposed a ban on betel nut sale and consumption in an attempt to clean up the streets and improve the city’s image in the International community.
However, the ban decision is polarising the community like no other. A large percentage of PNG citizens rely on betel nut sales to provide the income to feed their families. Women sell ‘groups’ of betel nut, which they call ‘Green Gold’, for between 50 toea (20 cents) and 2 kina (80 cents) each at tiny stalls on the streets on a daily basis. For many this is the only income to feed their oft times extended family.
Many farmers in the Gulf and Central provinces grow the Areca Palm from which the nut derives and a network of traders is also used to transport it to markets and customers in the city. It is a large and lucrative trade.
Tensions are running high and locals are predicting social unrest, an increase in crime (already at frightening levels), more women turning to prostitution and a resulting further increase in AIDS victims and a breakdown in law and order.
Some bans are already in place and massive fines will come into effect from the 1st of November.
These images of the trade in Port Moresby were made in October 2013. A full story - text, audio and a larger selection of images - is also available.
Images/Text © Brian Cassey 2013