Betel—In connection with a diet so largely composed of vegetable food, arose the custom, which to the present day is universal in Ceylon,—of chewing the leaves of the betel vine, accompanied with lime and the sliced nut of the areca palm. The betel (piper betel), which is now universally cultivated for this purpose, is presumed to have been introduced from some tropical island, as it has nowhere been found indigenous in continental India. In Ceylon, its use is mentioned as early as the fifth century before Christ, when “betel leaves” formed the present sent by a princess to her lover. In a conflict of Dutugaimunu with the Malabars, B.C. 161, the enemy seeing on his lips the red stain of the betel, mistook it for blood, and spread the false cry that the king had been slain.
[Footnote 1: For an account of the medicinal influence of betel-chewing, see Part I. c. iii. § ii. p. 112.]
[Footnote 2: ROYLE’S Essay on the Antiquity of Hindoo Medicine, p. 85.]
[Footnote 3: B. C. 504. Mahawanso, ch. ix. p. 57. Dutugaimunu, when building the Ruanwelle dagoba, provided for the labourers amongst other articles “the five condiments used in mastication.” This probably refers to the chewing of betel and its accompaniments (Mahawanso, ch. xxx. p. 175). A story is told of the wife of a Singhalese minister, about A. D. 56, who to warn him of a conspiracy, sent him his “betel, &c., for mastication, omitting the chunam,” hoping that coming in search of it, he might escape his “impending fate.” Mahawanso, ch. xxxv. p. 219.]
[Footnote 4: Rajavali, p. 221.]
Intoxicating liquors are of sufficient antiquity to be denounced in the moral system of Buddhism. The use of toddy and drinks obtained from the fermentation of “bread and flour” is condemned in the laity, and strictly prohibited to the priesthood; but the Arabian geographers mention that in the twelfth century, wine, in defiance of the prohibition, was imported from Persia, and drank by the Singhalese after being flavoured with cardamoms.
[Footnote 1: HARDY’S Buddhism, e., ch. x. p. 474.]
[Footnote 2: EDRISI, Geographle, &c., Trad. JAUBERT, tom. i. p. 73.]
EARLY COMMERCE, SHIPPING, AND PRODUCTIONS.
TRADE.—At a very early period the mass of the people of Ceylon were essentially agricultural, and the proportion of the population addicted to other pursuits consisted of the small number of handicraftsmen required in a community amongst whom civilisation and refinement were so slightly developed, that the bulk of the inhabitants may be said to have had few wants beyond the daily provision of food.