- Museum number
Betel-nut box and lid, embossed with rich scroll-work, made of silver.
- Production date
Diameter: 11 centimetres
Height: 8 centimetres
Weight: 115 grammes
- Curator's comments
In his book, Temples and Elephants (1884), recounting his journey through Siam and 'Laos' (today's northern Thailand), the collector of this object, Carl Bock, records that he stayed in Lampang, which he calls 'Lakhon', presumably referring to Nakhon Lampang, between 27 Dec. 1881 and 7 Jan. 1882. See Carl Bock, Temples and Elephants (Bangkok: White Orchid Press, 1985).
The collector of this object was Carl Bock, a Norwegian naturalist who visited Siam and areas to the north of it from June or July 1881 until August 1882. His account of his travels was published in London in 1884 as Temples and Elephants: The Narrative of a Journey of Exploration Through Upper Siam and Lao (Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington).
Bock spent time in what is now central Thailand, including in Bangkok, the capital of Siam, and the towns of Paknam, Ayutthaya, Petchaburi, Ratchaburi, Kanchanaburi, Kamphaeng Phet and Tak (Raheng). He also travelled in today’s northern Thailand, visiting places along the Ping and Kok rivers including Lampang, Lamphun, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen and Fang.
In Bock’s book, he used the term “Lao” to refer to northern Thailand. This use of “Lao” differs from the contemporary understanding of “Lao.” In the late 19th century, Thailand, or Siam as it was then known, did not have the national borders which it has today. The so-called “Lao” area visited by Bock along the Ping and Kok rivers was the kingdom of Lanna, then a tributary of the kingdom of Siam. The Siamese in Bangkok referred to the land and people of Lanna as Lao even though the people of Lanna did not regard themselves as Lao. The dominant group in Lanna was the Tai Yuan. There were also various Shan, Karen and mountain peoples as well as Burmese and Chinese. The Siamese and Lanna languages were not mutually comprehensible. The Siamese government at Bangkok began to extend greater administrative control over Lanna beginning in about 1870, and Lanna was not fully absorbed into Siam until the turn of the century.
Although Bock’s publication as well as the British Museum records of the late 19th century refer to many of Bock’s items as Lao, they are unlikely to signify the Lao people and country as understood today. The items he describes as “Lao” are most likely to be from the Tai Yuan culture. Some also came from other groups living in the areas visited by Bock such as Shan, Karen and Lahu.
Items from the Bock collection include those produced by these groups as well as by the Siamese (Thai).
Betel-chewing is a leisure pastime practiced since ancient times in many parts of south and southeast Asia. It involves wrapping areca nut, slaked lime and other ingredients in a betel leaf to make a quid or small package which is chewed to create a mild stimulant effect. Betel-chewing was common in Thailand through the early 20th century but is now a disappearing tradition.
The ingredients for the betel quid were kept in sets of containers of various materials and forms. The wealthiest had sets of silver or gold crafted with elaborate designs to delight the eye; during the 19th century and earlier, sets were also markers of rank and status. Bronze was much more commonly owned. Lacquer-ware containers for betel were also made in northern Thailand and neighboring Burma.
See P. A. Reichert and H. P. Philipsen, Betel and Miang: Vanishing Thai Habits (Bangkok and Cheney: White Lotus, 1996).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2010 11 Nov-2011 27 Feb, London, Wellcome Trust, High Society
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
CDMS number: As1883C9.78a:a (old CDMS no.)