Betel nut is a natural stimulant and chewing betel was a wide spread past-time in Southeast Asia that developed a ceremonious mode of consumption and its own set of accoutrements. In Sumatra such sets were usually made in Aceh or Western Sumatra. This example has similarities with those made by the ‘Gayo Alas’ people who shared some cultural characteristics with the ‘Batak’ and lived on their northern borders closer to Aceh. They preferred silver jewellery sometimes combined with ‘suasa’, a copper or gold alloy. However the floral decoration of the rounded container which emulates the form of the mangosteen fruit indicates that this piece was most likely made by ‘Minang’ people of West Sumatra who were highly regarded for their filigree metal work.
The round container would have contained pinang nuts, tobacco or betel leaves and the other peaked, stupa-like container would have held slaked lime. The owner would use the array of accessories to cut, chop and prepare a combination taken from the two containers which would then rolled into a betel leaf and placed in the mouth. This set was highly portable and could be attached to a belt or piece of cloth using the chain mail that connects the set together.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, April 2015