BetelNut / Buai


Buai or betel-nut (Areca catechu) - is a palm tree cultivated in the warmer parts of PNG for its fruit.

The tree itself is a very attractive palm that grows to 15 meters in some parts of PNG and it has dark green leaves, a ringed trunk and has fragrant, scented white flowers.

The fruit is the size of a hen's egg measuring about 50mm (2 inches) long and contains a seed about the size of an acorn. The fruit is usually green in colour, then as it matures it turns orange in colour.

The seed is conical in shape with a flattened base and brownish in colour externally. Internally it is mottled like a nutmeg. The husk is peeled away and the seeds are chewed with mustard (daka) and lime. The end result is red stained lips and teeth. Some people will chew and swallow and others will spit the resultant red mess out often indiscriminately on the footpath.

betel nut is often worn as a decoration or bilas

It constitutes an important and popular cultural activity in nearly all of PNG. Chewing is addictive and is enjoyed by all age groups although traditionally it was reserved for the older generation. Just as smoking tobacco is very difficult to stop many people have problems trying to stop chewing betelnut. The ingredients for a good chew are betel nut (buai), mustard (daka) and lime (kambang). I doubt whether there is any event (ceremony, feast, ritual or public gathering) that can take place in the country without someone chewing betel nut.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regards the chewing of betelnut to be a known human carcinogen.

For those who are addicted and living in Australia it is possible to import betel nut and mustard from PNG provided quarantine measures are followed. Basically the nuts must be peeled and have no sign of any husk. Mustard can be imported but an import certificate must be obtained.

A parody of Waltzing Matilda called Kai Kai the Buai can be found at --

Poetry about buai - With apologies to Banjo Patterson --

Video Hands Up! Your Betel Nut or Your Life!
Uploaded by portablefilmfestival

It is claimed by the PNG Medical Society that chewing betelnut kills over 2000 people in PNG a year. The medical society has called for the chewing and selling of betelnut to be regulated. Medical Society president Dr Mathias Sapuri says every year many Papua New Guineans die from diseases such as mouth cancer, poor oral hygiene, cancer of the throat, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), peptic ulcers (sores in the stomach) and inflammation of the gums. He said these were diseases caused by betelnut chewing while rubbish from betelnut dumped around urban centres such as Port Moresby was contributing to diseases such as tuberculosis.

It's estimated that 400 million people regularly chew betel nut throughout the world, putting it well ahead of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and marijuana as the drug of choice for the masses. Betel Nut is the fourth most widely used drug in the world after nicotine, alcohol and caffeine. It is a psychoactive drug chewed by millions of people living between East Africa and the Western Pacific.

Buai can be used as "bilas" / decoration - Modelled by Miss PNG 1985


Betel Nut
Betel Nut has been restricted and banned many times yet it keeps coming back. (Post Courier 3rd Aug 1983) - cartoon by Bob Browne



Bilum by Meri Nalik
Bilum and Buai picture provided by Meri Nalik © 2014 - Meri Nalik


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This site is about Trevor Michie's family. Trevor has family mainly in Victoria with a son and daughter (and  their families) in Perth, West Australia. He has in-laws in Papua New Guinea - Australia's closest neighbour.

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