“Kwah Kwai Tympew?” Meghalaya and the betel nut.

When you enter the house of any local-born resident of Meghalaya, you are always greeted with a helping of kwai tympew. But what is it? And why does it hold significant cultural value in our society?

But before we get into this, how about you check out more equally interesting articles from us like our piece on Electric cars or why Shillong traffic can’t be beaten.

What is Kwai tympew?

“Kwai tympew” as it is regionally known in Meghalaya is simply a combination of paan, betel-nut, and some lime. It is a common pastime for all living in the state to consume this be it Khasi or Jaintia. According to Khasi folklore, it is said to be the equalizer of different sections of society. Both the rich and the poor can equally enjoy a serving. It is also believed that when one passes away, they enter heaven and have it together with god or “Bam kwai ha dwar u Blei” in Khasi.

Khasi Kwai
Photo (c): Larympeicom.wordpress

Why is it so important?

Despite the fact that it is seen as common courtesy to offer kwai tympew to guests, it is also an important part of the identity of Shillong culture. For the longest period of time kwai has existed alongside the Khasis and the Jaintias and holds significance to them due to its relation to death. In other cultures like the Assamese, it is also used during important religious rituals. It is also grown in Assam but of different quality. This is one of the main reasons that Shillong kwai tends to be more expensive due to it being of superior quality and taste compared to any other variants of it.

Betel Nut
Photo (c): Remotelands.com

Dangers of addiction

Chewing betel nut is known to have nicotine-like effects and can be as bad as chewing tobacco. Here’s why addiction to the ever so loved nut can be extremely harmful :


Excessive use of the betel nut can cause diarrhea, vomiting, low blood pressure, heart attack, and even death. Long-term use can also cause cancer due to some of the chemicals in kwai. It also causes decay of the teeth and mouth and causes it to look extremely red.


For those suffering pre-existing health conditions like asthma or slow heart rate, betel nut is known to worsen these conditions. For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, kwai tympew is not recommended. It is also known to worsen ulcers and pre-existing lung conditions.


For those taking medication for Alzheimer’s or glaucoma, it is advised to stay away from the consumption of kwai tympew. Whilst taking any other types of medication one should consult his/her doctor before consuming any amount of betel nut.


Other than the obvious reddening of the teeth and mouth, chewing kwai can also cause rotting of gums, mouth ulcers, and even altered speech.


One of the most dangerous effects of continuous consumption of kwai is the dependence that one can form on it. Over-reliance can come about due to the short burst of energy and nicotine-like effects that it produces.

What standing does kwai tympew hold today?

Even to this day, kwai tympew still holds a special place in our society and in the hearts of everyone in it. In most households, guests are still greeted with it and offered a helping after a hearty meal. Although times certainly have changed kwai did not change with it. It is an everlasting piece of our culture and forever will be for the times to come. The only aspect of it which seems to have changed with the times is price and some would even argue on quality. Along with every other natural commodity, the betel nut cannot escape the tide of inflation. Neither can it avoid the ever-changing mechanics of farming and agriculture, although the system of growing and areas of growth almost remain the same. The raw fruit is plucked from a betel nut tree and dried for about 7-10 days to produce betel nuts.


Even though the Khasi people associate kwai with the coming of death, kwai itself will never die from our culture. Although excessive consumption can lead to harmful side effects on our body. One must learn to keep everything in moderation. Too much of anything is never a good thing and we must keep the same attitude with kwai. With the way things are today, our personal health and fitness have never been more important and even though abstaining from bad habits like consuming the betel nut would be beneficial, we must not forget what it represents and how our society has been formed around it.

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