The legend of Olongapo

Posted 4 months ago

Legends and folk tales abound in most towns in the Philippines and Olongapo is no different. There are a number of stories of how the city got its name.

According to one version, there lived in these parts a long, long time ago, an old rich man. Olongapo was described then a vast rice field and this old man was said to own every square inch of the land.  He was gentle and generous, and was respected and loved by all.

Olongapo City Ulo ng Apo Intersection
One day, the people found out that the old man was missing, which was a bit odd since it was his practice to be up and around, especially during the harvest season. Three days after, there was evident apprehension among the people and the fate of the old man became the talk of the town. His disappearance remained unexplained, but the greater mystery was the appearance of his body without a head; the old man’s head was never recovered.

From then on, residents of the village referred to the place as “Ulo ng Apo,” which in Tagalog means “old man’s head.”

Another version maintains that Olongapo is but a corrupt pronunciation by the Spaniards of the Tagalog phrase, “Hulo na Apo.” The story goes that a Spanish officer asked a native for the name of the place and the native, apparently misunderstanding the Spaniard, replied:  “Hulo, na Apo,” which meant, “There is nothing beyond, Sir,” referring to the fact that Olongapo was the first place there is at this point of the province.

Other people, on the other hand, tend to believe that Olongapo means “Hulo ng Apo” or the chief’s home.  They insisted that in ancient times Olongapo was the home of a powerful tribal chieftain.

The most popularly accepted version of these folk tales, however, says that there was once a tribe whose people were disunited. A wise old man seeing the evils that disunity has sown among his people, exerted great efforts and united the tribe. A group of villains did not seem to appreciate the fruits of the old man’s efforts and they disliked the idea of the tribe having a true and good leader.

One day, the wise, old man just disappeared. After a long and exhaustive search, the old man’s body was found but with the head missing. The natives launched a search to locate the severed head of their leader but their efforts proved futile.

A boy in the village, who made a vow not to stop until he could find the old man’s head, continued to search without let up.

Then one day, the boy finally found the old man’s head resting on the tip of a bamboo pole. The villains apparently wanted to disgrace the wise old man so that disunity and its evils would again prevail among the natives. Upon seeing the head, the boy ran back to the village shouting, “Ulo ng Apo,”  “Ulo ng Apo.”

The phrase somehow stuck and the place was known, as it is today – Olongapo.

The legend also adds that the old man’s head became a symbol of the natives’ unity.