Betel Boxes

Betel Boxes


These lacquer betel boxes from Burma are incised in an intricate pattern and contain several nested containers (see additional photos).  Originally designed to hold betel leaves, a mild stimulant popular in Asia.


Referred to in Burmese as kun-it, this lacquer box is from Bagan, Burma.  Kun-it means betel box, an indispensable item of hospitality in a Burmese household. For at least the last three centuries, lacquer has been one of the show industries of Burma and its importance to the Burmese is probably equivalent to the modern uses of porcelain and glass. Lacquer was a popular gift to foreign envoys from member of the Burmese court. Lacquer boxes were used to store royal jewels, letters, and sacred Buddhist manuscripts.


This kin-it from is from Bagan, the centre of lacquer ware making in Burma where the tradition is centuries old.  This kun-it is constructed of coils of bamboo (tin-wa) slivers that have been applied with several layers of lacquer and decorated with a sharp iron stylus. The substance used to make lacquer in Burma is called thit-si, a sap from the Melanorrhoea usitata, a tree that grows wild in Burma, mostly in the Shan States. Cinnabar from China was added to achieve the red colour and green from a combination of orpiment and indigo. The art of achieving certain tonal qualities of colour is a closely guarded secret and it has been said that a master will not impart this secret even to his wife and only to the most trusted of his sons.

  • Dimensions:

    9" Diameter × 7" H

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