Why Pinoys call Indians 'Bumbay'—and other Indian stereotypes

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2018 05:57 PM | Updated as of Jan 24 2018 07:45 PM

"Sige ka, kukunin ka ng Bumbay!"

Many Filipino children have heard this threat from their parents or guardians at one point in their lives, especially during times when they don't want to sleep in the afternoon or stop playing on the streets.

Clueless children, who most likely do not really understand what or who a "Bumbay" is, would just follow their parents or guardians out of fear.

In the Philippines, the term "Bumbay" is often used to call people of Indian origin. They are also often associated with Indian money lenders, or those who engage in "5-6".

While some may see it as a derogatory term, there are some people of Indian origin in the Philippines who do not really mind being called "Bumbay."

Professor Joefe Santarita, dean of the University of the Philippines Asian Center and an expert on Indian Studies, said scholars believe the term "Bumbay" came from Bombay (or Mumbai), the place of departure of most Punjabis and Sikhs who have migrated to the Philippines.

Why Pinoys call Indians 'Bumbay'—and other Indian stereotypes 1
Filipino-Indian Sikh devotees pray at Khalsa Dwan temple in Manila, 28 November 2004 for the 535th birth anniversary of their religious founder, Guru Nanak Dev celebrated from 26 November. The largely-Christian Philippines is home to a small but active Sikh community. Joel Nito, AFP

He also said Filipinos may have adopted the term from Sikhs themselves who address their fellows as "bhum bhai" or brothers of the earth.

"I personally believe that the early Sikhs did not totally use 'Bombay' based on place of departure but of its etymological link to the term which commands respect from a fellow Sikh who hails from the same place in India. Bhum bhai (brothers of the earth) as the Sikhs’ way of addressing his fellow from the same place)," Santarita told ABS-CBN News.

Despite the positive etymology, some Filipinos use the term "Bumbay" in a derogatory or sarcastic manner. 

For Santarita, using "Bumbay" to scare children may be because of their different appearance and lifestyle.

"This is a form of stereotyping of the Indians. The date/period when it was first used is unknown. I can only assume that because of the ambulant activities, wearing a turban and a long mustache could be used to scare children and force them to have siesta in the afternoon," he said.


Aside from calling people of Indian origin Bumbay, many Filipinos aassociate Indians with informal money lending, commonly known as 5-6.

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Although there are a lot of Indians engaged in other activities, Santarita said Filipinos still associate them with money lending because of the trust they have received from Filipinos in lower-income communities.

"There are a good number who have already ventured in big businesses and working in multinational corporations as engineers and professionals. The Indian population is also diverse with various ethnic affiliations aside from Punjabis and adherents of Sikhism. Despite these, Filipinos still associate Indians with money lending because Pinoys frequently interact with Indians doing micro-financing among the lower income communities," he explained.

This connection between Filipinos and Punjabis usually benefits both parties.

"Punjabis also enjoy the patronage of their Filipino clients, especially in money matters for the following considerations. Small- scale enterprises and informal sector economic activities are not usually the priorities of big banking institutions. If there is, formal lending institutions require a lot of documents for processing and collaterals, such as cars and houses, before releasing the desired loan. To avoid such hassles, Filipinos turn their heads to Punjabi businessmen who grant loans that are less tedious [to process] and to some extent are paperless transactions," Santarita said.

"Furthermore, people are more comfortable in transacting with Punjabis than with their fellow Filipinos who are in the lending business also. Local money lending institutions and pawnshops will even ask their customers for collaterals such as ATM cards and other valuables before releasing the loan. This gives the Punjabis an advantage as being preferred by more clients over local counterparts," he added.

Filipinos also prefer borrowing money from Punjabis because they are mostly male and may have poor fluency in the local language.

"Such preference is also done due to the nature of Punjabi moneylenders who are mostly males. Clients believe that being males and their poor fluency of dialects will ensure discreet transaction and confidentiality. Such perception gives the Punjabis a competitive advantage over local [Filipino] lenders," Santarita said.

Punjabis, however, sometimes suffer because of the image of being money lenders.

"It is quite disturbing only that what the Punjabis think to be their strongest point also appears to be their weakest link in the country. They eventually become prey of crime syndicates due to their perceived excessive wealth accumulated from their businesses," Santarita said.

Cultural connection

Why Pinoys call Indians 'Bumbay'—and other Indian stereotypes 2
This photo from June 1997 shows archaeologists from the Philippine National Museum cleaning ancient Indian granite slabs and canon balls recovered from the underwater wreck site of the British vessel Earl Temple at Thitu Reef in the disputed South China Sea. The British vessel belonging to the English East India Company sunk in 1763, carrying passengers and cargo en route from Britain to the Philippines. The specialized company Underwater Archaeology and the Philippine National Museum are leading the recovery of the sunken treasures. Gilbert Fournier, AFP

Various pieces of evidence suggest that India and the Philippines have long been connected. Archeological artifacts and linguistic evidence show the two countries were able to transmit ideas, cultures and traditions with one another through trade.

"These cultural links between India and the Philippines include the presence of Ramayana in various variances, Darangen, Singkil, hundreds of Sanskrit words in Filipino languages and the discoveries of various Hindu-Buddhist artifacts, among others. These include the Buddhist Tara of Agusan, votive stamp of Calatagan, Golden Garuda of Palawan and other glass beads," Santarita said.

He also believes that people of Indian origin currently residing in the Philippines can further improve the connection between the two countries.

Why Pinoys call Indians 'Bumbay'—and other Indian stereotypes 3
Filipino-Indian Sikh devotees pray at Khalsa Dwan temple in Manila, 28 November 2004 for the 535th birth anniversary of their religious founder, Guru Nanak Dev celebrated from 26 November. The largely-Christian Philippines is home to a small but active Sikh community. Joel Nito, AFP

"The use of Bumbay to refer to Indians in the Philippines is not really seen as negative. In fact, money lenders, to some extent, help small businesses by providing capital in an affordable payment scheme. Many people also recognize the contribution of these people in the development of our economy especially in ICT and business," Santarita said.

"The presence of at least majority of those people of Indian origin who are currently residing in the Philippines can contribute in enhancing Indian influences in the archipelago. They are good economic and cultural gatekeepers. With the current development, Filipinos have appreciated further the presence of Indians in their workplace and neighborhood," he added.


Here are other examples of Filipino stereotypes about Indians:

• Filipinos use the term "nang-Indian" to refer to those who leave their friends hanging (iniwan sa ere).

• Indians are known for having a unique scent (amoy Bumbay), which has been traced to their diet, which includes spicy food like curry.

• Indians in the Philippines are also known for their unique accent, which some Filipinos imitate for fun. Watch, for example, comedian Michael V's DJ Bumbay

• Indians are also stereotyped as turban-wearing, motorcycle-riding, bearded men who go from one house to another to sell wares or collect money (also partly depicted in Michael V's DJ Bumbay video).