Friday, November 6, 2015
Pugua' (betel nut) has been a part of our culture "since ever since," as the Fokkai saying goes.
Pugua' stains appear on the teeth of many (but not all, interestingly enough) skeletal remains in archaeological digs in the Marianas, going back thousands of years.
Our favorite nut has been used in a variety of contexts and for different reasons over the centuries. It has been used when two families meet to discuss marriage plans for their children. In the old days, families did not cook red rice and barbecue meat every night for rosaries for the dead; they passed around pugua' and all the fixins : pupulu (pepper leaf), åfok (lime) and amåska (chewing tobacco).
But pugua' has also been used in political campaigns; at least, in our post-war period.
In the photo above, Ricky Bordallo, and his running mate Pedro (Doc) Sanchez are seen passing the pugua' and pupulu around as they speak to a voter. Whatever your politics, it must be admitted that Ricky was a consummate campaigner and one of the best orators our Chamorro race has ever produced in our modern times.
When I was active in politics in the late 1970s, pugua' was definitely available at most pocket meetings and rallies, whether Democrat or Republican.
Don Parkinson, a Democrat and former Speaker and Senator, was famous in the 1980s and 90s for passing out pugua' to people and, if memory serves, not just during campaign season. Smart move, I'd say, for a stateside politician.
Today, it seems, pugua' has become passé among our people, especially the young. There is bad publicity concerning betel nut and its cancer risks. But I also think that more and more of our younger generations just were never exposed to it, and, if they try chewing it later in life, find pugua' not to their liking.
In a few decades, I think, pugua' will disappear from the Chamorro landscape, except for a small pocket of pugua' fans.