Archive for culture

of betel chews and bululs

Posted in artifacts, people with tags , , , , , , on May 1, 2008 by mijodo



As I got out of the Florida Bus Liner, right away I saw a plethora of men trying to catch my attention to be travel guides. Oh yes, they did alright.  Well the seemingly bloodied mouths did alright. Almost every other guy (and some ladies) in Banaue, chews “nga-nga” which gave out the reddish spit and tarnished the teeth eventually. This chewing concoction, composed of betel leaves, lime paste and tobacco leaf,  was prevalent in stores of Banaue at five pesos per plastic wrap. The men reasoned that chewing such combined ingredients gave out a warm sensation in their mouths, perhaps a better alternative to cigarettes. It was no wonder that around the market spit receptacles were in strategic places exclusively for their mouthing habit.


As a newcomer, it was disconcerting to see red saliva oozing from one’s mouth.

Tuberculosis came easily to my mind.  It can be irritating and yet I tried to be tolerant, mindful that I was a guest in their area.  Yet one foreign tourist even had the audacity to scorn the native guide for the habit . It turned out the tourist was a dentist.


As I tried to document such custom, I chanced upon a smallish yet rotund guy, sporting a sleeveless leather trenchcoat (straight from the ukay ukay store) and who had the red stuff soaking in his mouth.  The guy gamely posed for the camera, with crimson mouth all over.


Several snapshots after, he was introduced to me by the ladies who were selling native wooden wares. James Humiwat, turned out was supposedly well known in selling a specific native cordillera artifact – the “bulul”.


He explained that bululs were native sculptures which should ensure good harvest.  Old tribesmen of Banaue butchered pigs and chicken and poured blood to the idols to have bountiful rice produce.


“Original reproductions, but not antiques,” he cautioned. He prompted to explain classifications of original reproductions (30 to 40 years old), antiques (older than 40 years old), and replicas (newly carved and for décor purposes) of harvest icons.  He then asked me to check the pieces personally in his home atop a boondock overlooking a splendid sight in this part of Banaue.  He narrated that many times he would go down the mountains and brought some of the pieces to well known antique shops in Ermita, Manila, particularly to a family recognized in selling Filipino artifacts. And the relics were sold to the public from  5 to 15 thousand pesos.


“I hope they were legally taken out of the original homes,” I thought.  

Of course, I was not sure of the market price of the said articles nor the veracity of his claims that such treasures could be categorized as original “repros”. After another round of snapshots with the picturesque mountains behind, he would meticulously put back each “bulul” to his humble hut.


Then without notice, James went back mouthing a betel chew as we descended from his place.