Are Papuans and Indonesians racially alike

What does "Bule" actually mean in Indonesia?

A contribution by Gunda from

For those who travel to Indonesia frequently, it is part of everyday life. Those planning their first trip to the island nation are sure to face it.

"Bule" is the most frequently used word next to "Mister" and "Miss" when Indonesians talk about foreigners.

A reason to take a closer look at the word. What does it mean? In what context is it used? Is it even meant in a derogatory way?

"Bule" means albino

The literal translation of "Bule" is albino.

The word is usually used for everyone non-Asian foreigners or foreigners with a lighter skin and eye color than the Indonesians.

And while some foreigners even use it themselves, other circles argue about whether it is racist is or not.

Where do these different opinions come from?

In Indonesia you stand out as a "bule" - no matter how long you have lived in the country.

When do we meet this word?

The word "Bule" can hardly be found in any dictionary. In what context it was first used is unclear.

Some believe that it is from the Javanese comes. Out "Bulai", Which means something like albino, became" Bule ".

Others claim that "bule" for the bleached, slightly pink hue which occurs when fabrics are left in the sun for too long. Caucasians or Europeans develop a skin tone similar to pink if they are in the sun for too long.

The first Indonesians to see Europeans gave them the name "Bule".

In Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (“The Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language”) it is explained that “Bule” is used for all foreigners in Indonesia - no matter how long they have lived here or how well they have integrated.

Most are with it Caucasians (Europeans), Americans, and Australians meant, Asian foreigners are excluded. In some cases we can bule africa for people of African descent or bule arab listen to people of Arab descent.

In Indonesia, the word is ubiquitous when it comes to a foreigner.

At first we may only perceive it as a low whisper, soon afterwards in a casual conversation between two Indonesians or - depending on the holiday destination - as a loud shouting on the street.

The more attentive we go through the day, the clearer it becomes.

The further we get away from civilization, the more astonished the locals react to us.

In Papua, for example, not a day goes by without a loud "Hey Bule"Or"Hey mister / miss“(By the way, you shouldn't be surprised if you are called Mister as a woman).

“Bule” is a word for any situation - in a restaurant, at work or in the nearest supermarket. Indonesians use it like any other word.

The further you get away from Bali, the more “exotic” you are as a “bule” for Indonesians.

How do the Indonesians see it?

Indonesians are usually very easy going and laid back people. Even if they don't know each other, people chat everywhere - on the street, when shopping or on public transport. Especially when they see a "Bule"!

The word flows easily into the conversation, without a specific ulterior motive. It's just a functional word that means a person with lighter skin color.

“Bule” is neutral, but - depending on the context - it can have a positive or negative aftertaste. Like any other word.

How can it be that it often causes discussions?

What do the "Bules" say?

Travelers who only have a short stay in Indonesia will see it half as bad. You probably put the word away with a wink and a laugh.

It can be different for those who have found their second home in Indonesia and are Part of society feel. Even if it's not a bad word, it often leads to different opinions among emigrants.

Of course there are some black sheep, but most of them try to integrate into Indonesian society as much as possible. Many speak the Bahasa Indonesia language fluently, have Indonesian friends or even families and feel more than just “newcomers”. They adapt to Indonesian realities and traditions and cannot imagine ever leaving the country again.

After several years of integration, it can be painful to still be seen as the outsider.

Lots of expats feel excluded from the community and uncomfortable in such a situation. For example, if you are traveling with a group of Indonesians, you will be noticed as "the Bule". If someone talks about you in the neighborhood, then you are "the boy next door“.

In cities where many foreigners live, locals are of course used to a more colorful cityscape. However, if one speaks of a foreigner, then "the Bule" is also meant here.

However, being “one of the bules” can also mean positive things. If you stay in a remote area for a long time, the sight of another foreigner can happen a sense of togetherness create. Shared experiences, unbelievable stories or completely banal experiences in another country bring us closer together. Often it is the cultural background that makes us tick in a similar way.

And then there are also many foreigners who use the word itself when it comes to non-Asian people. Because somehow it makes communication easier.

What is right? And why are many people reluctant to be “the bule”?

In Bali, too, you are and remain a "bule", no matter how hard you try to adapt.

Racism and pigeonhole thinking

The answer is simple: nobody likes being pigeonholed.

Anyone who spends longer and longer in Indonesia quickly understands which characteristics are associated with the word "Bule": a person who not only "White" is, but also wealthy (because at least she can afford a ticket to Indonesia), arrogant, self confident and full of sins.

A “bule” enjoys a revealing life and does not have to worry about tomorrow, because money is known to be abundant in a “bule”.

Nonetheless, there is often a hint of it recognition with when Indonesians talk about "den Bule". After all, people who own (or are associated with) money in Indonesia enjoy big respect.

The same prejudices are present when it comes to mixed (love) relationships goes. A secure and stable income - that is what "the Bule" stands for. Of course, that doesn't apply to all relationships, but there are plenty of locals who are following this trend.

Whether positive or negative - pigeonhole thinking is not good for anyone. And yet - don't we all do it a little? Don't we sometimes have just as many prejudices?

For many foreigners in Asian countries it is the one first experience of discrimination. How to deal with it has to be learned first. Being exposed to an experience like this gives you the opportunity to question and examine your own behavior.

For many people, racism is part of their daily life. A first confrontation with it can therefore help to better understand such situations in the future.

The word "Bule" is primarily associated with the characteristics "white" and "wealthy"

Mutual respect and intercultural understanding

No matter how long we are in an Asian country or how well we speak the language, we will always remain “the white person” who we are in the eyes of the locals. We have to accept that despite perfect integration and adaptation.

We will come across the word “Bule” again and again in Indonesia. Whether it is meant positively, negatively, racially or simply neutrally depends on the context and cannot be generalized.

Mutual respect is what makes a peaceful coexistence. Respect for the feelings of one and the culture and traditions of the other.

No matter how different our skin color is, what matters is what is hidden underneath. It is our differences that make us the unique people we are.

And wouldn't the world be boring if we were all the same?

How do you see the name "Bule"? We look forward to your comment!

about the author:

Gunda with friend Hartono

Gunda was a diving instructor in Southeast Asia for several years before she finally lost her heart to Indonesia. Here she not only found her new home, but also her great love. After managing a diving resort in Raja Ampat, she “got stuck” in Sorong by chance. This is where the idea for their website was born. Gunda lives with her husband Hartono in Raja Ampat and the two of them want to set up a small self-sufficient farm for themselves in the near future.

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