The Origins of Bumbay and Baon

Something new today, entirely unrelated to art but still quite interesting to me and possibly useful in the fictional world I’m building.  While waiting for a friend to join me and watch Tekken (so bad it’s good) I plopped down in one of Fully Booked’s comfy chairs and looked through some Filipiniana books.  I stumbled across some interesting trivia that I think might be of interest to the casual historian, or at least anyone who’s ever been threatened by his mother that “ipapahuli kita sa bumbay!” (I’ll make the Indian catch you!).


Bumbay is a pejorative many Filipinos use to call Indians that have migrated to the Philippines, used in conjuction with other terms like 5-6 (coined for Indian moneylenders who loan you 500 pesos and ask for 600 in return).  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the term Bumbay came from the city of Bombay, but what led to the term being used as our own personal boogeymen?  It turns out at the start of the 20th century there was a big influx of Indian immigrants into Manila, which at the time was a thriving international port city.  While there was much more faith in the police at the time, businessmen in Escolta took extra measures by hiring nightwatchmen to keep unscrupulous people away.  The favored nightwatchman happened to be the bumbay because of their famed ability to never sleep on the job, courtesy of a litcigarette between their fingers that would burn them and keep them awake in the dead of the night.  Now this is purely conjecture, but I imagine that coming across a hirsuite sikh Indian in the dead of the night lit only by the light of cigarette might have been frightening to Filipino children at the time.  It then would make perfect sense that Filipino mothers would use the convenient bumbay as a threat to precocious youngsters who wanted to wander off in the night.

How this legend managed to stay alive until the 1980s is a mystery to me however, and it’s likely I’m entirely wrong.  I invite any bumbay or non bumbay friends to chime in with their thoughts.


In ancient Filipino cultures people would bury their dead with clothes, jewelry, furniture etc. that they felt would be needed in the afterlife.  We are hardly unique in this aspect, with the famous example of the Pyramids in Egypt being testament to that.  What struck me was that they called these tokes pabaon. Now my Filipino isn’t the best, but as I can best explain it pabaon is “something to take with you on the road”, which makes a lot of sense in that context.  What strikes me as interesting is that in the current vernacular the word baon means either an allowance or a packed lunch (to take on the road) and also to be buried.   It’s not a groundbreaking idea, but I love that it wasn’t random that these words that are spelled the same way mean entirely different things, but that they both came from the same idea.


5 Comments to “The Origins of Bumbay and Baon”

  1. oh, language! is this a Language book? if so, tell me the tile cause I wants it!

    Another thing to add:

    Filipino VS Tagalog

    Filipino is a conglomeration of the languages in the Philippines (while the bulk is in Tagalog–and this is arguable) it still borrows from other vernacular dialect. Example:


    The FIlipino word for Justice is KATARUNGAN which borrows from the Visayan “Tarong”
    The Tagalog is HUSTISYA which borrows from the Spanish.

    and other examples.

    (in a similarly related idea, language)

    Ceremony: the word CEREMONY used to only pertain to special occasions which pertain to rituals of the dead. CERE used to pertain to corpses, or the cloth which they use to cover the corpse. MONY (like in matrimony, alimony, etc) pertains to the legal status, property, state.

    K, sorry I geek out. BLame it on the college training.

  2. Actually they were two separate books, one on Philippine Antiques and one on Batangas (there was a section about precolonial Btanagas and the archaeological sites there).

    Nice Filipino Factoids™! I had no idea Katarungan had a Visayan root.

    On language, I think part of why Bahasa Indonesia was so easy for me to learn was because it’s so similar to Filipino; lalake = laki-laki, pinto = pintu. They even use the same word for rice, nasi, as Kapampangans do.

    Lastly my favorite Indo-Filipino word connection, the Indonesian word for milk is susu, which I am convinced has something to do with our use of the same word to refer to breasts. I have yet to find the root for words like joga and dede though.

  3. Very interesting! I too am a language maven, Ryan & DK. I’ve visited this blog before, but now I’m gona have to keep a closer eye on it. Oh, and the space ships are pretty cool, Ryan.

  4. Thanks Mac! It’s mostly an art blog, but every now and then if something interesting enough comes up I’ll post here. I dallied with having a separate blog for non-art posts but I’m too lazy to keep 2 blogs. 😛

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