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June 19, 2020

The Amusing Folkloric Tale of How Lipa City Got its Name

Many of the folkloric stories about how the cities, towns and barrios of Batangas got their names had something to do with amusing supposed interactions between natives and the early Spanish settlers or soldiers in the province. Frequently, these poked fun at the Spaniards for having misheard or misinterpreted something that the natives were supposed to have said in their own language.

For instance, the name Nasugbu was supposed to have been given by some Spaniards who misheard a native woman refer to the simmering rice as “nasubo1.”

Bauan, meanwhile, was supposed to have been given by Spaniards who encountered natives planting garlic (bawang or bauang in Tagalog) and stopped to ask what the name of the village was. Predictably, the natives were supposed to have thought that they were being asked what they were planting2.

Among the most amusing stories, however, was that about how Lipa was supposed to have gotten its name, a story handed down from generation to generation even to the present day:

Early in the Spanish colonial era, a company of Spanish soldiers were passing through what to them was an unknown place. Two of them suddenly felt the need to defecate, so they broke off momentarily from their company and, out of modesty, found themselves each a shrub beneath which to relieve themselves.

Done, each soldier reached for a leaf with which to wipe himself. Before long, however, both soldiers began to scream because of the rashes that began to sprout as well as the itch they began to feel in their behinds.

A native who happened to have witnessed what happened started to shout, “Lipa! Lipa!” He was actually attempting to tell the Spaniards that the leaves with which they wiped themselves were from the lipa plant. Typically, however, the Spaniards thought that they were being told the name of the place they were in.

The “lipa” referred to in the story is from a family of plants called the nettle, with scientific name urticaceae3. A genus of this family, the urtica4, is characterized by stinging hairs in their green parts. Hence, plants of this genus are also commonly referred to as stinging nettles.

The lipa shrub referred to in the folkloric story, if indeed it was true, was probably the fleurya interrupta, otherwise known as the “lipang-aso (dog-lipa)” or the “lipang-kastila (Spanish lipa)5.”

There is, however, also a lipa tree, the dendrocnide meyeniana6, commonly known as “puno ng lipa” or the “lipang kalabaw (carabao lipa).” The names “lipang-aso” and “lipang-kalabaw,” apparently, have been given to distinguish one from the other in terms of size.

For all we know, however, the name “lipang-kastila” is, in fact, a direct reference to the folkloric story about how Lipa got its name.

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Notes and references:
1 “Historical Data of the Municipality of Nasugbu,” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2 “Historical Data of the Municipality of Bauan,” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
3Urticaceae,” Wikipedia.
4 Urtica, Wikipedia.
5Lipang-aso,” online at Philippine Medicinal Plants.
6Dendrocnide meyeniana,” Wikipedia.

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