‘Momma’ Sans Cigarillo, Vaping

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Betel-nut chewing, which is old as the hills and mountains, has become popular to many Cordilleran males, becoming an alternative to the nationwide no smoking edict of President Rodrigo.

Ah Kong explores the serous and funny social cultural role of the betel nut in the life of betel-chewers, they be highlanders or lowlanders.

In presenting the topic, Ah specifically aimed to:

  1. Determine prevailing reasons influencing use of the betel nut as a “gum” among the (a.) young generation; (b.); the elderly;
  2. Trace extent of scientific knowledge of the users on value and risk of chewing betel nut, commonly known as “momma” or “nga-nga, and;”
  3. Pick up cultural and social imprints of the betel nut based on practices, stories and conversations during momma sessions as observed by Ah’s conduct study.

Ah used a philosophical approach for the study since focus is “on-lived” experiences from perspective of informants, and because less is known about their experiences at a time when there is increased pressure in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Region 1, elsewhere to stop practice of smoking or vaping.

Visit places in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and spot signs regularly placed in strategic areas, signs stating, “No spitting of momma!”

Or a sterner stuff of signs you see explicitly ordering momma-chewers to “Swallow Your Momma!” And if you – the chewer – won’t do it, Local Government Units (LGU) in said area will officially and merrily assist you in swallowing it – without cost to taxpayer.

Many citizens happily voice to Ah their compliment to LGUs gladly assisting momma chewers to “Swallow Your Momma but wonder why LGUs don’t print signs reading, “Swallow Your Cigarette Butt!” or even, “Swallow Your Momma and Cigarette Butt Simultaneously!”

They, particularly housewives and unmarried women ordered Ah to look into the matter, irately complaining their betel-chewing habit of husbands or other men is comparable to competing with women on how to use lipstick.

By having red lips, the women suspect betel-chewing males have the notion to enter beauty competitions, either be female or male beauty competitions.

Second, they assert, these men spend quite a sum of money for buying their momma but are kuripot when giving parabor to the women.

Cost of momma (with all its complete condiments like Areca nut, betel leaf and apog or lime) at Baguio and La Trinidad markets vary, from 80 pesos up and going higher as demand dictates.

But for betel-chewing bachelors trying to woo ladies, this, they happily say, “Mayka ta ag-momma ta, ta nu naulaw ka ket agpudno ka nga kayat mo siyak.”

At the women’s order, Ah investigated. First, Ah found out LGUs were surprised by their finding that swallowing momma is “nutritious,” if compared to swallowing a cigarette butt.

Having found that out, LGUs knowing the National Nutrition Awarding Ceremony is a yearly event to honor local government units and nutrition workers, they won’t reconsider their stand of posting signs saying “Swallow Your Cigarette Butt,” but instead stick to the sign, “Swallow Your Momma,” reason being obvious.

They hope to snag the Regional Outstanding Winner in Nutrition (Crown) Award, Nutrition Honor Award and the National Outstanding Barangay Nutrition Scholar, hence, their being extra careful not recommending swallowing cigarette butt.

Also, LGUs are aware   the Department of Science and Technology- Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI- CAR) is in midst of its Expanded Nutrition Survey and they would not like their areas pinpointed as having malnourished individuals as a result of swallowing cigarette butts.

Last reason but not least, LGUs won’t like to be tagged having a malnourished cigarette swallowing population that a scatterbrain with no Good Manners and Right Conduct (GMRC) will foolishly exploit and go complaining at ipa-Tulfo and LGU sa TV na hindi nila ginagampanan ang trabaho nila. Op kors, LGUs won’t like their licenses to be revoked!

Instead of receding into obscurity as more and more LGUs in Cordillera Administrative Region(CAR) have enacted ordinances against “the Right to Spit,” momma chewers have devised devious means to continue their cherished hobby.

To circumvent spitting momma in public places, chewers tote with them plastic containers or bottles which they use to spit into. Remarkable how expertly they do it with the containers having very wee openings; no spit dribbles down the container sides.

Then without much ado, they stash the containers in their bags and bring it later to spit onto again – and again.  For the squeamish, beware! Never stare intently at the red-filled container for it might cause you to upheave out whatever are contained in your stomach.

Now, you always hear innocent children blurt, “Yucky!” when the see something dirty. Looking at the container with the red liquid in it will instantly cause you to hiss, “Ay asis, dogyot!”

Where do momma spitters   put the containers after they have spat in it full? In the trash, we presume. But Ah wondered with queasy feeling if employees of the General Services Office (GSO) of LGUs who gather trash, and after picking up containers filled with red spit, the get the feeling they want to punch somebody’s nose.

Ah studied further and discovered to his delight that there are also GSO-assigned employees who chew momma. Makes no difference at all, eh?

Ah, who thought he had a strong stomach for anything, once stared at a container filled with the red spit and felt his intestines wanted to crawl out from his stomach.

One momma chewer, Leandro Tacub, 44, from Benguet crisply says, “Isu met ti Cordilleran indigenous chewing gum.”

Benjamin Kigis, 48, a half-blood Cordilleran and half-blood of Nueva Viscaya, says, “Dagiti apong tayo ket usaren da pay pang-atang, kanayon ti arak ken dadduma nga kaugalian a nayon ti atang.” (Our grandparents use momma as offering, with wine and others offered to those who have gone before us.

If you think it’s only highlanders who chew momma, no it isn’t. Many lowlanders are also addicted to the habit. Use of momma is a social practice that expresses boundaries between ethnic groups.

Choice to chew momma arises from socially constructed nature of chewing appetites not necessarily to deaden hunger pangs to smoke, but rather to show a traditional habit of antiquity can still be in use in this modern times, for betel nut chewing is, to the users, a social and symbolic life.

Listen to what one informant to the study says, “Ti bua ket usaren mi nga agas ti bannog ken bissin. Usaren mi nga aphrodisiac. Usaren mi nga atang  nu tiemp ti minatay.” (We use the momma to still hunger pangs and ease tiredness from work. We use momma as an aphrodisiac and we offer it to the dead during wakes.)

Such simple explanation of the informant to the study who happens to be a lowlander shows the anthropological perspective where culture is inclusive and descriptive in the belief that, “Mamati kami nga maysa ti momma nga kayat dagiti espiritu nga mai-atang.”

Offering of momma for somebody to chew is also a sign of respect, best emulated by the highlander Ifugaos, the A-payaos, the Nueva Viscayans and other tribes, as well. A picture of closeness is highlighted when somebody shares the idea of chewing momma and deeply rooted in the right conduct of non-selfishness.

Another source of the study told, “Nabayagen ag-ususar nak ti momma. Past time ko nu awan ti ubrak. Nu mabisinak, agngalngal nak ti momma. Ibaga da makapabangsit ngiwet ken makamansa ti ngipen ngem isu usarek mangpabara ti bagi nu tiempo ti lami-is.” Or simply a therapeutic agent.

Another study source said, “Dakami nga managpuyat ti trabaho, ag-ngalngal kami momma ta isu mangpamurmuray kenyami ken mangriing ti dara nga mat-maturog.”

The above and many anecdotes of sources of the study brought out three analyses. These are: momma used for cultural and social ties; means for economic alternative within survival boundary, and; factor in health-related problems and medicinal approach.

A value system is one important element in Filipino culture and the ecology is always there. It’s an opportunity for Filipinos to one day discover and reflect on real value of the Areca nut and the betel leaf, not merely used as momma.

For sure, Betel nut is a plant which has many uses, like it is considered a part of the lives of users. In the quest for cultural identity, respondents to the study believed the plant is a source of every individual’s satisfaction.

Betel chewing is a practice of great antiquity. Origins of betel chewing are unknown but scientific findings date its use as far back as 2000 BC (Before Christ), although scientists are still determining the exact period when the areca nut and the betel leaf were first combined into a tripping or psychedelic concoction.

In 2600 BC, a human skeleton was unearthed in the Philippines with blackened teeth, or evident traces of the momma which that human regularly chewed when he was still alive. – Bony A. Bengwayan

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