Calle Natong: Naga City’s populist way of naming a street

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In earlier days, ill-descript Bagumbayan Interior, in Naga City, Philippines could barely be regarded as a street. It was a short and dusty alley close to Ateneo de Naga University (AdenU) campus. The name gave a hint of a semi-wild location where planks of rickety wood served as elevated platforms—like toy bridges over muddy ditches behind the main road leading to Canaman, Bombon, Quipayo, Magarao, and Calabanga, not far from Universidad de Sta Isabel University (USI) and Camarines Sur National High (CSNHS.)

The unpaved alley’s name stuck for years. No one raised any objection or asked for a law or ordinance to change the village path’s name where zacate grass and snakeheads (talusog) in muddy pools grew wild. Maybe, it’s because Bagumbayan Interior is secluded. The alley with very confusing boundaries had a neutral reputation. There was no major historical meaning in the street unlike the old great Calle Via Gainza, named after Bishop Francisco Gainza, but later renamed as Penafrancia Avenue.

In the 1970’s, ordinary people started calling Bagumbayan Interior “Calle Natong,” a populist reference to the wild taro plants (dasheen bush) which grew aplenty in that marshy locale. We, the few low-brow barangay residents, didn’t object. Calle Natong was just the right name to keep us reminded of our favorite, Bicolano dish, the spicy ginota’an na natong (laing, sinilihan na katnga) when the proverbial green leaves of the dasheen bush got burning hot with bedeviled red peppers (lada,siling labuyo.)

The informal appellation took root and tricycle drivers who rode the peaceful place knew where Calle Natong was. The building of homes much later altered the course of the street and the landscape. It didn’t take long when more people settled in the place, Calle Natong gave way to a more urbane, but unfamiliar name: Seminary Road then later becoming the Mother Francisca Street, perhaps because a convent was there in the area.

These were confusing changes we didn’t understand. Natong which we held dear being our celebrated Bicol regional plant—the source of nourishment of Handiong‘s children, was waylaid on the side. After our street was renamed, Calle Natong, was never the same.=0=

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