Asia is forever a land full of mysteries and wonderful rituals. Throughout the Asian regions, we can find many cool traditional rituals, not to say weird. These rituals reflect not only the habits but also the religious belief of these people. An interesting but often misunderstood ritual is the Vietnamese ritual of black teeth.
In the ritual, the Vietnamese blacken their teeth. Many tour guides tell that the Vietnamese had the black teeth because they chewed betel nut. This is a belief that many people misunderstand. It is true that the Vietnamese chewed betel nut wrapped in a leaf with lime paste. They chewed it with tobacco and it somehow stuck in the teeth.
But it is easy to differentiate the sign of betel nut and the deliberate blackening teeth. The betel nut will make the teeth dark or brown, not black. While betel nut can be found in many places in Asia, only the Vietnamese blackened their teeth as a tradition.
The Vietnamese girls often blackened their teeth during their late teens. 17 was the most common age. An older family member or relative would help the girls to “paint” the teeth. Other people in the family could witness the ritual. And often, they would make funny comments about how the girls’ teeth got the color.
They needed three times of application. Because the natural saliva would wash off the chemicals. During the period of blackening teeth, the girls could not eat anything solid. Instead, what they could eat was liquid through a straw.
When the ritual was complete, it marked a milestone for the girls stating that she was ready to get married.
Compared with other traditions like the elongated heads, the black teeth was no where painful. But many Vietnamese women still recalled the feeling of burning and swelling inside their mouth, especially their gums.
The reason why the Vietnamese had their teeth blackened was that of their religious belief. They believed that only the savage and terrible beings like ghosts had the long and white teeth. Therefore, they dyed their teeth to keep themselves safe from any evil forces. It was not a byproduct of diet or chewing betel nut.
However, when the French came to Vietnam, they did not appreciate this ritual. And from that moment on, the ritual was discouraged. In the modern times, no Vietnamese girls dye their teeth. It is safe to say that this tradition is no longer popular and it is falling into oblivion.