The traditional betel and areca chewing culture is at the heart of an exhibition which was launched in the central province of Ninh Thuan on October 21.

Intricate and artistic betel chewing kits are on display, as well as uniquely shaped lime pots made of different materials.

According to Deputy Director of the Southern Women’s Museum Nguyen Hien Linh, the traditional habit of chewing betel dates back to the reign of the Hung Kings when betel and areca became a symbol for love, fraternal feelings and social relations.

The tradition comes from an old folk tale about two brothers. One gets married and neglects his younger brother, who runs away from home, eventually dies of sadness and transforms into a lime stone. His older brother goes searching for him, dies of despair beside the stone, and turns into an areca tree. His wife in turn goes looking for him, and dies beside the stone and the tree, becoming a betel plant and climbing around the tree.

Legend has it that the ruler at the time, King Hung, discovered a temple built by local residents for the three deceased, where he first heard about the story. He ordered his men to grind a leaf of betel, an areca nut and a piece of lime stone. The result was a juice as red as human blood, which the king tasted and greatly enjoyed. He recommended that betel be chewed with an areca nut and lime in every marital ceremony.

Today, betel and areca are still a part of traditional ceremonies and play an important role in Vietnamese people’s lives. However, the habit itself is currently in decline.

The exhibition aims to showcase the daily life of Vietnamese women, encourage the preservation of the traditional custom and protect the nation’s cultural values.

The exhibition is jointly organised by the Southern Women’s Museum and the Provincial Research Centre on Cham Culture, and will run until November 30.-VNA