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This fine Mindanao betel box is notable for two reasons: the relative austerity of its decoration, and it still has its original carrying chain attached.
Betel chewing was prevalent in the southern Philippines as in much of the rest of Southeast Asia. Wealthier Maranao families on Mindanao were able to afford elaborate silver-inlaid brass betel boxes such as this larger-than-usual example. Such boxes were used to show off to household visitors and from which they were offered betel and the other components such as leaves and lime used to make up the betel quid.
The box comprises an outer hinged lid and handles to which a thick carrying chain is attached.
The box is edged all the way around with raised upper and lower borders that are inlaid with silver. The lid has a central raised rectangular section which also is inlaid with silver. The silver inlay comprises the scrolling obid-obid (stylised rope) pattern. Designs such as these are drawn from a local repertoire that has its origins in wood carving.
The middle section has been left plain, providing a pleasing contrast with the surrounding borders. This is unusual – usually the entire outer surfaces of such betel boxes are inlaid with silver.
The box is in fine condition. There is some age-related weakness to the hinge, but in terms of its appearance, the box has a fine, buttery patina, and clear age.
Brownrigg, H., Betel Cutters from the Samuel Eilenberg Collection, Thames & Hudson, 1992.
Fraser-Lu, S., Silverware of South-East Asia, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Henkel, D. et al, Land of the Morning: The Philippines and its People, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2009.
Rooney, D.F., Betel Chewing Traditions in South-East Asia, Oxford University Press, 1993.