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Just like any other culture, our tribal friends have folk tales and ways to keep their kids to stop crying and screaming. Mostly they use threats such as "I'm going to take you to the clinic where you'll get a shot" or "I'll give you a smack," but the most famous is "If you don't stop crying, the nonggon will get you." This next sentence you’re about to read I personally witnessed being said to a little girl:
The nonggon is a huge black creature that lurks in the dark waiting to grab any naughty unsuspecting child that ventures into its realm. It makes a horrible, high-pitched whistle when it calls to its companions. It will eat you if you go out into the jungle by yourself, so go back to your home.
Really, though, the nonggon is just a cactus-like plant that grows off the sides of trees. It is black in color and covered in very sharp thorns.
It is my observation that the nonggon thorns are slightly poisonous because whenever I or one of my tribal friends gets pricked, the skin will swell slightly where the thorn broke the skin. That in itself is enough to ward most people off, but it also has a secret weapon in case someone dares disturb it. Once the outer casing of the nonggon is punctured, hundreds of ants pour out to defend their home. Inside the nonggon is a maze of tunnels that make a perfect home for any type of ant. (For more information, you can look up Myrmecodia).
Unfortunately for the nonggon, it is a popular target for spears, bows, sling-shots, and bands of ruthless children who seek revenge upon the beast that they have been told so many horrible stories about. I have seen these little groups of four- to five-year-olds tear the poor nonggons off by the roots and then continuously beat them with clubs until they are reduced to a pulp.
The nonggon is actually harvested to make tea with in some parts of Asia Pacific, so, being a tea lover, I tried to do it myself. First, I went and chopped off two nonggons from a tree, and then I carefully shaved off the spikes and sliced it into rings, just like I have seen at the open-air markets. After I finished, I had to take a minute to flick all the ants off and pull out a few nonggon thorns. Back at the house, I rinsed off the remaining ants that were clinging to the nonggon rings. After that I chopped the nonggon rings into smaller chunks and placed them in the sun to dry. I also collected some tart but edible flowers and mixed them with the nonggon chunks so that they would add some extra flavor. After about two weeks, my original three cups of greenish colored nonggon had reduced to about four tablespoons worth of shriveled brown nonggon. I then quickly boiled some water and let simmer a tablespoon of nonggon tea. After about five minutes I added some sugar and took a sip. Let me just say it wasn't how I had expected, and I ended up not finishing the cup.
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