Tepak sirih or betel leaf container is a traditional household item for Malays in the olden days and a must in all Malay traditional ceremonies. The function of tepak sirih is just to store betel leaves and other ingredients for chewing sirih. The tepak sirih is offered during makan sirih, a malay custom of betel chewing. I still remember when I was little, my grandmother had one made of brass. The first thing my grandmother would offer to her friends or guest who came was the tepak sirih. It was basically a simple sign of hospitality. Besides that, chewing betel leaf was something people do before starting any conversation and it was also done to past time.
In general, there are six items to complete the set which are betel nut, lime, gambier, betel leaves, tobacco and kacip (nutcracker). All items except kacip and betel leaves are kept in small containers known as cembul. The betel leaves are arranged in odd numbers of five to seven and folded together. A betel quid contains three main ingredients that is lime, gambier and areca nut folded in a betel leaf. Additional ingredients such as tobacco and spices may be added depending on availability and preference.
Betel chewing is an old tradition popular in the South East Asia region and said to be at least 2000 years old. It has medicinal, symbolic and magical purposes. Betel leaf is used as remedies for many illnesses such as headaches, fever etcetera. It is also believed to have powerful link to supernatural forces thus often used in ritual animistic worship.
If you have heard stories of the legendary malay warrior, Hang Tuah, you might remember one of his mission was to escort Tun Teja from Pahang to Melaka to marry Sultan Mahmud Syah. During the journey, Tun Teja fell in love with Hang Tuah. In order to complete his mission without further complication, Hang Tuah gave Tun Teja a betel quid, which he had cast a spell, to eat. With that she forgot all about...