Tausug betel chew

Betel chewing Tausug in Basilan

Betel leaf, a quarter of areca nut and tobacco.

Tausug man showing off his tongue reddened by the betel leaf+areca nut+tobacco concotion

I was rushing along a narrow alley beside the passenger port terminal of Isabela City in Basilan, on my way to the small platform serving as a wharf where one can take a motorized pumpboat for Malamawi Island and its beautiful white sand beach.

But just when I was to arrive at that place, I came into a mini store where some men were talking. I would’ve passed by quickly but seeing that one was rolling a leaf with something in it, I got curious. And asked if it was nga-nga (for betel nut chewing). And he answered yes, smiling, and glancing at my camera.

Betel nut chewing is Asia wide and in the Philippines, its found from north to south and in many tribes. In Banaue, I tried this one with lime but no tobacco and children even start chewing. In areas where betel chewing is a habit and a tradition, it is common to see some areas in the ground colored red with spit reddened by the concoction.

A purse specifically for the chewing paraphernalia

The usual ingredients in betel chewing are the betel leaf, a kind of piper vine; areca nut, from the areca palm but usually called the betel nut, and, traditionally, lime derived from burning shells. This is what I saw in Banaue and in other parts of Northern Luzon. But the one in Isabela City, the Tausug man didn’t add any lime (apog) but just a piece of tobacco.

Rolling the betel leaf for chewing

Once crushed and combined in the mouth, these ingredients produces some chemicals that has addictive properties. With the addition of tobacco, the chewer will get the nicotine effect which is a heightened narcotic effect than just chewing without the tobacco.

The Tausug man offered me some but due to time constraint, I had to decline but offered to photograph him. He obliged.

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Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

3 Comments

  1. Adelle
    October 8, 2012 @ 18:02

    guess this is a good alternative when one needs a nicotine fix…no harm done to the lungs. ingenious Filipinos!

  2. estancabigas
    October 8, 2012 @ 18:05

    Betel chewing is Asia wide. Unfortunately, there are chemicals in the mixture that are carcinogens and betel chewing can be a source of oral cancer.

  3. » Beautiful white beach in Basilan | Langyaw: Sojourns and Off-the-Beaten Path Travels
    October 21, 2012 @ 23:28

    […] I was, giddy with excitement as I entered the small alley beside Isabela City port, way past the betel chewing Tausug and finally to the cement pedestal that led to the waiting pumpboat below. Small boats to take one […]

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