18 March 2017

How Banaybanay Got Its Name: A Folkloric Story

The corner of the road leading to the San Vicente Church. Image credit:  Google Street View.

If you board a Batangas City bound jeepney from Lipa City and tell the driver you are bound for Banaybanay, if you do not look familiar to him, in most likelihood before he gives you your change he will ask you which Banaybanay is your destination. There are, in the present day, three barangays called Banaybanay, one in Lipa City1 and two in the Municipality of San Jose2.

The one in Lipa is called plain Banaybanay while those in San Jose are called Banaybanay I and Banaybanay II. In the eighties and nineties, I sometimes got into discussions with my students who were from San Jose about the boundaries of these barangays. Typically, these boundaries were never really clear, and they would insist that Banaybanay I and II were in San Jose, as indeed they are recognized in the present day as geopolitical units by the municipality.

This was not how I understood things as they were in the seventies. There were three Banaybanays, yes, and you counted sequentially from San Jose to Lipa. There was Banaybanay San Jose, which I understood then was Banaybanay I. It started somewhere along the road past the poblacion of San Jose going to Lipa and ended somewhere close to the fork which branched out to Batangas City- and Lemery-bound.

The frequent use of “somewhere” is inevitable because, as I already wrote, the boundaries were never really clear.

The Batangas City- and Lemery-bound fork in the road.  Image credit:  Google Street View.

Banaybanay II as I understood it then started from the fork and ended somewhere near the Sunflower Agro-Industrial Corporation facility. The place was alternatively called Banaybanay San Vicente, a parish in itself with the patron San Vicente de Ferrer. In fact, the decorative streamers that people hung over electric wires in the weeks preceding the fiesta ended in that area and the houses past these going to Lipa did not join the celebrations. In the present day, I believe, the fiesta is celebrated all the way to the road the branches out going to Mataas-na-Kahoy.

All but forgotten in the present day is that from somewhere near the Sunflower facility to somewhere near the gate of Baseview Homes Subdivision used to be the third Banaybanay, which was called Concepcion. That is why there is a small chapel along the road close to the one the heads to Mataas-na-Kahoy. I believe but am not a hundred per cent sure now that the place had its own fiesta.

The Sunflower facility.  Image credit:  Google Street View.

At any rate, to get to the point of this article, the name Banaybanay is apparently the name of a plant3 alternatively called papuwa, with scientific name Alpinia haenkei. How the plant came to be the name of a barangay in San Jose is told in a folkloric story narrated by a Juan Q. Quison, part of a 1950s compilation called “History of San Jose” and downloadable from the digital archive of the National Library of the Philippines. This is the story, quoted verbatim4:
“Once there was a rich lady with many maids. She kept her maids with good food, clothing and light labor. However, each one had a definite task to perform every day. She had one laundrywoman, one seamstress, one cook, one waiter, one housekeeper and three gardeners.

“This mistress of the house was very much inclined to make her garden very strong and attractive. During that time, wire and iron fences were unknown. Most of the fences were made of bamboo and stone walls. All these kinds of fences did not suit the taste of this lady. She said, ‘I shall marry the man who could make the fence of my garden suit my taste, however if he fails his head would be cut off.’ No one dared try the task for fear of losing his head. Therefore, the maids gave their suggestion as to the kind of fence which they thought would best suit their mistress’ desire. One maid suggested the aroma trees for fencing, the other suggested the murado plants and the last suggested banaybanay or papuwa as we call it today. The fence made of banaybanay plants suited the lady’s desire so the gardeners planted them around the garden. They trimmed them often as they could so the garden appeared very attractive. The neighbors saw this garden with banaybanay as its hedges. They planted them also as hedges in their gardens. Finally, all the people of the village had banaybanay as hedges of their flower gardens. So the whole barrio was given the name Banaybanay because of the uniformity of the hedges of the people’s gardens.” [Edited in parts for grammar.]
As mentioned, the above story is folkloric. A quick look at the picture of the plant banaybanay below makes it immediately difficult to visualize how it could have been used as garden hedges. Unless, of course, the banaybanay plant mentioned in the story is something else altogether.

Alpinia haenkei C. Presl, a.k.a. banaybanay.  Image credit:  Biolab.cz.

Banaybanay is by no means the name of localities in Batangas alone. A quick Google search immediately yields similarly named localities in Davao and Cabuyao.

Notes and references:
1 “Lipa, Batangas,” Wikipedia.
2 “San Jose, Batangas,” Wikipedia.
3 “Alpinia haenkei C.Presl,” online at the Philippine Traditional Knowledge Digital Library on Health web site.
4 “How Banaybanay Got Its Name,” by Juan Q. Quizon, History of San Jose. Online at the Digital Archive of the National Library of the Philippines.

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