It is not easy to find the tradition known as “Nginang”, or chewing betel nut leaves, lately in Bali. Nginang is a popular after-meal activity for village elders, not only in Bali, but throughout Indonesia and even amongst Asian people in general. Chewing betel nut leaves can be a prestige in a way for some people in the past, which consists of betel leaves stuffed with limestone paste, areca nut and gambir. When combined, these ingredients can be an addictive stimulant that creates a feeling of strength and awareness, as eyes become wider awake and for some reason saliva glands open wider, producing more saliva (which turns red due to chemical reactions) and gives a cleansing sensation. The aroma is pleasant, a bit like menthol, and some remember when they notice the smell it instantly reminds them of their grandparents, and sometimes recall spending their days collecting the ingredients in the garden on their grandparent’s request. Nginang is set with the “Mesigsigan” or the cleansing of the entire teeth using dried tobacco. It is more like having a cigarette after a meal nowadays, but with a more positive side effect.
Just like smoking, they started off with trial and errors before really getting used to it, and which eventually became a lifelong addiction. The Balinese believe that nginang is good for stimulating insipidity, for stronger teeth in the long run, besides aforementioned effects. But one has to be more careful and routinely clean their teeth since the combination of the chemicals contained in the blend is responsible for tartar and can cause permanent stains on teeth, which will effect your smile. It is customary for every household to have a “Pabwan” or a typically designed square box for keeping all the ingredients for nginang in one place. The sizes and shapes of pabwan vary very much depending on the artistic sense of each wooden pabwan maker. And a “Penglocokan” or package crusher is normally provided for the elderly who have with weak teeth or no teeth at all.
In social life, nginang has its own purposes and meaning. The set is prestigiously presented upon welcoming a special guest or VIPs at home, in an event or a ceremony, as a media in healing rituals, and it can also be a part of certain offerings which in this case the wrap is called “Lekesan”. Nginang addicts won’t be able to stay away from the package, which forces them to always equip themselves with the set wherever they go, especially to places with no warung (local street-side food stalls) available. All materials are neatly wrapped around their waist, traditionally called a “Buntilan”, so it won’t interfere with their daily activities. For some, they intentionally produce traditionally woven bags for such purposes, called “Kompeks”. *BB-RM*