Choa is the Hiaki word for the cholla plant. Choam will sometimes produce a sticky, sap-like substance that builds up under the plant’s skin and then slowly leaks and drips out of what look like sores after a few weeks. This is called choa voram, and it was once a source of food for the Hiaki. Choa voram is completely clear when it first comes out, but eventually it will turn brown or black from sun exposure, harden, and fall to the ground. The ideal time to collect choa voram is when it’s fresh and clear. You can still use it while it’s brown if you must, but once it turns black it’s inedible. After collecting choa voram, you would dry it and grind it into a rough, grainy flour which would then be cooked in water to yield a porridge-like beverage. This beverage has a fragrance that closely resembles the earthy, refreshing smell of rain in the desert.

However, there is more to choa than just choa voram. For example, the phrase choa taakam refers to cholla buds, which were not typically eaten by the Hiaki, but were eaten by certain animals like desert tortoises and deer if they fell to the ground. Choa wicham are the infamously difficult to remove stickers of the plant, and choa seewam are the plant’s flowers.

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