BETEL NUT: While visiting Mountain Province — to see the hanging coffins of Sagada — I was baffled by signs reading “no spitting of momma”.
My first thought was to wonder who on earth would spit at their momma? And particularly in such a public place.
It was only later that I discovered that in certain provinces of the Philippines, momma refers to the Betel Nut, or Areca Nut to give its more scientific name.
Betel Nut is one the most widespread traditional narcotics across Asia and the Pacific islands. It is the fruit of the Areca palm that grows throughout the region.
To be more correct, “betel” refers to the leaf in which the Areca nut is wrapped before being chewed.
The advantage for the chewer is that it produces an effect comparable to nicotine or caffeine.
The downside for everyone else is that spitting is a necessary part of the process.
It should also be noted that these juices are bright red and stain the mouth, which is quite an unpleasant sight. It’s also far from pleasant to have to tread your way around blood-like globules glistening on the ground.
In places like the Solomon Islands, Bangladesh, and Kiribati, bettel nut (as it is sometimes spelt) remains hugely popular, and is a nuisance for the non-chewing general population. Indeed there are many places where you are more likely to see a “no chewing/spitting” sign than a “no smoking” notice.
In much of the Philippines, the habit has largely died out since the 1970s, but remains popular in certain provinces. It is in these places where you will see the “no spitting of momma” signs.
So now you know. The signs aren’t there to stop people making “yo momma” jokes, but rather discouraging the use of a drug that — while legal — is antisocial, somewhat nasty and bad for the health.
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