November 5, 2019 / Ifugao

MOMA 101: Learning About “NgaNga” (Betel Nut) from a Young Ifugao

MOMA 101: Learning About “NgaNga” (Betel Nut) from a Young Ifugao

If you have been to Ifugao or other places in the Cordilleras, you may have seen signs that say “No Spitting of Moma”.

Some visitors would have no idea what a moma is, and why in the world would you spit your mom?…errrr uhmm… to be clear, we’re talking about a different moma here.

No Spitting of Moma
No Spitting of Moma

Despite the signs not to spit moma, you would see reddish canals around Banaue town.

They have installed spitting areas which are drums filled with sand but this initiative failed. I saw one tricycle driver who chose to abide by this rule and he spit his moma in a recycled plastic bottle.

Sweater, the dog

Watch out for that bloody nganga spit, Sweater!

Moma aka Nganga

Locals also call this nganga because you chew these like bubble gum, imitating a nganga sound or motion in your mouth. The combination of all these ingredients form a red color which they spit. It would look like they are spitting blood.

ngangaPronunciationIPA(key): /ŋa.ˈŋa/

Noun1. an act of opening the mouth

source Wiktionary

Watch this short video to see how common nganga is in Banaue market


Nganga for all ages

However, this isn’t like cigarette. You do not need to add tobacco to complete your nganga session.

While this is common among working adults, I also found some teenagers doing this.

While in Batad, one of the staff at Ramon’s homestay took out a seed. I asked what it was and she said it was a betel nut. I got the opportunity to interview her as she does her regular nganga session.

She is fairly young, in her early 20’s and she said that she started chewing moma when she was still a teenager. She personally knows some who even start as early as 7 years old, but they do this without the tobacco.

Older people and some adults combine this with tobacco and can be more addicting.

Betel Nut
Betel Nut
Hapid (local peppermint)
Hapid (local peppermint)
calcium powder from snail
calcium powder from snail

One chewing session would consist of the following: a betel nut which she broke in half, a leaf called hapid or peppermint, a white powder which is from shell of a snail.

The shell contains calcium, hence, they also say that this makes their teeth strong.

She chewed and spat a reddish liquid. She said it was bitter but it was addicting. It was like bubble gum, like cigar, or simply something to do on their free time.

Benefits of Nganga

For someone like me who didn’t grow up in this region, moma would really look intriguing. Why would people want to have their teeth red? I don’t mean any disrespect in asking this but just out of curiousity. So I asked her and some other locals on why they have.

Note that I gathered the below information from locals who have been using this for a long time. This post is not backed by scientific research, however, this was a way for me to get to know the local and the culture in the Ifugao province.

1. Strengthens Teeth and Freshens breath

The white powder is made of snail shell and is rich in calcium which is an essential mineral for strong teeth. They also add hapid (local peppermint) not just for taste but to also freshen the breath.

However, it will not make your teeth whiter. It will make it reddish which for some locals are attractive. Not everyone would agree but understand that this from a traditional perspective.

2. Keeps the Body Warm

Nganga is popular not only in Ifugao but in other parts of the Cordilleras, the Mountain Province, and nearby provinces. One thing these areas have in common is a cool temperature.

Chewing moma keeps the body warm in this cool climate on the mountains. They would have moma when it is about to rain before working on the rice fields to warm up. Some say that most workers like drivers have this on hand to keep them awake on their job.

3. Alternative to Cigarette

Clear plastics with betel nuts, green leaves and a white powder are a common sight at the Banaue public market. These are being sold by vendors like cigarettes and that’s because that’s their alternative to cigar, in some cases.

But while some parts of the world are addicted to cigarette, the Ifugao people found a better alternative. They say it’s addicting and even more so when they add dried tobacco leaves, but without the second hand smoke effect.

Addiction – the negative

I have not heard of any bad side effect, except the addiction part. Any addiction isn’t good. However, it seems to be better than cigarette and other drugs which can have an adverse impact not only to the person but the people around them, eg. second hand smoke from cigarette.

sold like cigarrette packs
sold like cigarrette packs

I met some locals who seem to be addicted to it but it isn’t the kind of addiction that disrupts normal living. They still go on with their normal daily lives and are able to do their work with as much focus as those who don’t use moma.

Moma is Life souvenir shirt sold at the Middle Ground Cafe in Banaue
Moma is Life souvenir shirt sold at the Middle Ground Cafe in Banaue

The young Ifugao girl said that she isn’t addicted though there are times that she wants some, especially on her free time.

Some locals like her take this occasionally, like bubblegum, but there are other locals who are really addicted to it. Just a quick walk on the streets of the Banaue public market and you’ll see how common and even addicting this is in this part of the world.

Are you a regular nganga user? If yes, please share your thoughts and experience in the comments section below.

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