HOW RAW OPIUM IS MADE INTO BALLS
The traffic in opium has been an important factor in the commercial life of British Columbia. Fortunes have been made in smuggling alone, and yet how little is known about the preparation of the raw article. In North India the process is as follows: In February, as a rule, the juice is gathered, the poppy plant being then in full flower, and of a height of three or four feet, each stem having from two to five capsules of the size of a duck’s egg. Before the capsules are pierced, the fallen petals of the flowers are carefully gathered and sorted according to condition, in three grades, and then are heated over a slow fire and formed into thin cakes, to be used for the covering of the drug when collected.
The piercing of the pods requires great skill, and upon it largely depends the yield. The opium farmer and his assistants each carry a small lancelike tool, which has three or four short, sharp prongs, and with this a half dozen perpendicular cuts are made in each capsule or seed pod of the poppy. The juice begins to flow at once, but quickly congeals. The day after, the thickened juice is carefully gathered, being scraped off with a small iron trowel, and the mass thus gathered is put into an earthen vessel and kept carefully stirred for a month or more, great care being taken to have it well aired, but not exposed to the sun.
The material is now examined by expert testers, who determine its grade or quality, and then the whole is put into a large box, where it is worked very much in the same fashion as baker’s dough, to give it the required consistency. The opium is now made into balls for export. The natives wade around in the large vats containing the paste-like drug and hand it out to hundreds of ballmakers sitting around the room. Every man has a spherical brass cup, lined with poppy flower petals, before him. Into this is pressed the regulation quantity of opium. From this brass cup, when properly pressed, the opium ball is transferred to another man, who gives it a coating of clay. This gives the drug, when ready for shipment, the appearance of a fair-sized cannon ball.
When well prepared in this manner, opium will keep its properties for fifteen years or more. Before it can be used, the opium balls have to be broken up and further treated.