About Nganga/Moma, Chewing Areca Palm Nut, Betel Leaf and Slaked Lime Mixture

Grandma used to have an extremely long chewing habit. She was chewing in the morning, lunch, afternoon and even evening. It seemed a non-stop chewing. I think she was stopping only to sleep and take the three regular meals. Her teeth had a red tint. Her saliva was reddish. She was not chewing bubble gum. She was chewing a “nganga” instead. It is called “nganga” in my home province – Cavite, and “moma” in Mountain Province. According to Jessica Soho, the tradition of moma is still prominent in this region, from childhood to elderly.

Nganga consist of:

1) The nganga or bunga. I know this as ornamental tree, the Areca Palm. Planted in garden for aesthetic purposes. It bears a nut larger than golf ball and has a shape similar to american football. The immature fruit is green and has a soft flesh. As the fruit ripens, the husk becomes yellow orange, the flesh hardens and follows the same shade. The fruit can be harvested and chewed at both stages.

2) The guyo/ikmo. The betel leaf. As far as I know, this creeping vine with a heart shape leaves is grown for the sole purpose of nganga. Nothing else. Sometimes albularyo are using it for treatment. Chewed nganga is placed on leaf and applied to affected body part. Its taste is slightly hot and slightly bitter.

3) The apog or slaked lime. Certain amount of apog in clean water can make fruits and vegetables firmer. Kamias prunes and tomato candy are dipped in lime solution. It can be bought from commercial markets or be made from burnt sea shells. I cannot comprehend why they are including it in nganga mixture.

4) Tobacco. The popular cigarette ingredients which releases nicotine and other harmful substances. Its addition is optional.

How nganga is prepared? A slice of bunga and a pinch of slaked lime are placed on betel leaf. The leaf is neatly folded then chewed. Ingredient amounts depends on chewer preference. Excess saliva during chewing is spitted out.

Bad Effects

1) According to my grandpa, it causes bath breath. He never wanted to got near to lola whenever she had it.

2) The very noticeable effect. Stained teeth, mouth and saliva. I finally saw grandma’s clean teeth when she stopped having nganga.

3) It may cause cancer according to study of IARC, (International Agency for Research on Cancer). Moma ingredients contains chemical irritants and addictive substances. Grandma stopped having it for health reasons.

4) Too much of everything is bad. Too much alkaloids is likely to have harmful effects. Too much chewing may cause jaw pain.

5) Eyesore. Seeing numerous red spots on walks, patio and streets is not pleasing.

update as of June 2016

Study of Demetrio L. Valle et. al.(2015) entitled “Antibacterial activities of ethanol extracts of Philippine medicinal plants against multidrug-resistant bacteria”, showed leaf extracts of Psidium guajava (bayabas), Phyllanthus niruri, Ehretia microphylla (tsaang gubat) and Piper betle (ikmo) has antibacterial activity against the Gram-positive methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus.

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