RECENTLY, I saw moma being destroyed in Baguio City. I can just imagine the deep sigh of the betel nut chewers. When in the village, I also chew moma especially when talking with people. Aside from its usual purpose to make one’s ears warm, moma is like a social lubricant to ease awkwardness, tension or to start a conversation.
Moma palms are one of the flora that can be found in any of the Ifugao villages, especially in the highlands. There is a joke that one can hide behind a moma and be spared from someone’s anger. There are three main ingredients in chewing of moma, which include the hapid (gawed) and apul (lime). There are two kinds of moma in the village, the white and the red one. The white one is softer.
In the past, to produce apul, one needed to collect aggudung, a rice field edible and elongated mollusk. Once collected, these are cooked as food. The remaining outside coverings are cleaned and dried under the sun. When done, dried bilau, which are plants with slender-leaves usually used as trellis for beans, are cut into short pieces then carefully layered. The dried aggudung are placed in each layer. Once done, a fire is made under the layered bilau. Once the aggudung turns white, it is ready to be removed from the fire and to separate it from the bilau. A small mortar and pestle is used to crush the aggudung until it becomes fine and smooth. According to some chewers now, the apul sold in the market are not produced this way and therefore can cause gum and tongue irritations.
Hapid are abundant in the village. The most sought color is the bright yellow hapid which usually grows on rocks and some specific trees. Aside from moma, hapid and apul, most chewers in the village add tobacco. Again, in the past, tobacco was traditionally grown in the backyard. Today, tobaccos are bought at the market. Old moma trunks are used to siphon water and connect irrigation canals. The falling leaves are used by children for playing some traditional games.
But in the village, moma also means a pre-wedding engagement between two individuals. Usually, one or two pigs are delivered by the soon-to-be husband to the residence of the future wife. As usual, neighbors and the like partake of the occasion. Of course, aside from the pigs, freshly harvested moma in its golden state and the best hapid are a must to be included in the occasion. The moma and hapid are placed strategically in a corner so that everybody can share it.
Like Baguio, there have been ordinances passed in Ifugao in recent years against chewing and spitting of moma in public places. I agree with the issue on hygiene and in maintaining cleanliness. Some establishments have even provided drums for spitting. Some have even joked about it, saying that freedom of spit is guaranteed in the constitution.
Jokingly aside, moma can be a cultural identity. But at the same, it is also painting the sidewalks red, public urinals are spitted with moma, and causing clogging. Plastic bottles filled with moma spit being left and thrown on roads and bins are really nauseating and unhygienic.
Like any change, prohibiting chewing of moma in public will take some time. Change can also start in the villages. When locals appreciate the value of discipline in chewing moma, it would be easier when they go out of their communities. The point is to engage betel nut chewers in coming up with policies concerning them.