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Betel box, approx. 1900-1970

Betel box, approx. 1900-1970, Brass with silver inlay, Philippines, Mindanao. Gift of Naomi Lindstrom, 2010.556. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Betel box, approx. 1900-1970, Brass with silver inlay, Philippines, Mindanao. Gift of Naomi Lindstrom, 2010.556. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The Maranao people of the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines are particularly renowned for their inlaid brass betel boxes. These containers, sometimes decorated with intricate scrolls of inlaid silver, often contain four compartments for the ingredients involved in rolling a betel quid, a small, chewable bundle that consists of the sliced areca nut (a mild stimulant), betel leaves, lime powder, and sometimes tobacco. Up until the twentieth century and in some places still today, it was considered polite to offer visitors a betel quid as a sign of hospitality. Historical reports from the early twentieth century emphasize the importance of these boxes as status symbols; some wealthy homes contained hundreds of such containers. The technique of inlaid silverwork seen here likely had roots in Syria, yet the pattern on the sides represents the tail feathers of the sarimanok bird, a creature of Maranao legend.