Sundanese people

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Not to be confused with Sudanese people.
Sundanese people
ᮅᮛᮀ ᮞᮥᮔ᮪ᮓ
Urang Sunda
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Total population
more than 40 million
Regions with significant populations
Indonesia: 36,701,670[1]
15.5% of the Indonesian population (2010)
West Java: 34 million
Banten: 2.4 million
Jakarta: 1.5 million
Lampung: 0.6 million
Central Java: 0.3 million
South Sumatra: 0.1 million
Related ethnic groups

The Sundanese are an ethnic group native to the western part of the Indonesian island of Java. They number approximately 40 million, and are the second most populous of all the nation's ethnicities. The Sundanese are predominantly Muslim. In their own language, Sundanese, the group is referred to as Urang Sunda, and Suku Sunda or Orang Sunda in the national language, Indonesian.

The Sundanese have traditionally been concentrated in the provinces of West Java, Banten, Jakarta, and the western part of Central Java. Sundanese migrants can also be found in Lampung and South Sumatra. The provinces of Central Java and East Java are home to the Javanese, Indonesia's largest ethnic group.

Sundanese culture has a number of similarities with Javanese culture, however it differs by being more overtly Islamic, with less Hindu-Buddhist elements, and has a less rigid system of social hierarchy.[2]

The common identity that binds Sundanese together is their language and culture.


The name Sunda derives from the word su which means goodness. Sunda also means light, cleanness, bright, and white.[3]

Origins and history[edit]

Jaipongan Mojang Priangan, a Sundanese traditional dance performance.

The Sundanese are of Austronesian origins who are thought to have originated in Taiwan, migrated though the Philippines, and reached Java between 1,500BC and 1,000BC.[4] There is also a hypothesis that Sundanese or Austronesian were originally from Sundaland. However, the Out of Taiwan theory is the most widely accepted hypothesis regarding the origins of Austronesian speaking peoples outside of Taiwan. The word "sunda" did not appear until about 1400s; thus, it is a new invention. Prior it was called Parahyangan, which means the land of the Hyang (gods or ancestors).

The Sunda Wiwitan belief contains the legend of origin of Sundanese people; Sang Hyang Kersa, the supreme divine being in ancient Sundanese belief created seven bataras (deities) in Sasaka Pusaka Buana (The Sacred Place on Earth). The oldest of these bataras is called Batara Cikal and is considered the ancestor of the Kanekes people. Other six bataras ruled various locations in Sunda lands in Western Java. A Sundanese legend of Sangkuriang contain the memory of the prehistoric ancient lake in Bandung basin highland, which suggest that Sundanese already inhabit the region since Stone Age era. Another popular Sundanese proverb and legend mentioned about the creation of Parahyangan (Priangan) highlands, the heartland of Sundanese realm; "When the hyangs (gods) were smiling, the land of Parahyangan was created". This legend suggested the Parahyangan highland as the playland or the abode of gods, as well as suggesting its natural beauty.

Hindu influences have reached Sundanese people as early as 4th century AD as evident in Tarumanagara inscriptions. Court cultures flourished in ancient times, for example, the Sunda Kingdom, however, the Sundanese appear not to have had the resources nor desire to construct large religious monuments similar to those in Central and East Java.[2]

Inland Sunda is mountainous and hilly, and until the 19th century, was thickly forested and sparsely populated. The Sundanese traditionally live in small and isolated hamlets, rendering control by indigenous courts difficult. The Sundanese, in contrast to the Javanese, traditionally engage in dry-field farming. These factors resulted in the Sundanese having a less rigid social hierarchy and more independent social manners.[2] In the 19th century, Dutch colonial exploitation opened much of the interior for coffee, tea, and quinine production, and the highland society took on a frontier aspect, further strengthening the individualistic Sundanese mindset.[2]

There is popular belief among Indonesian ethnicities that Sundanese are famous for their beauty, in his report "Summa Oriental" on early 16th century Sunda Kingdom, Tomé Pires mentioned: "The (Sundanese) women are beautiful, and those of the nobles chaste, which is not the case with those of the lower classes". It was said that Sundanese women are — in estimation of Indonesians — one of the most beautiful in the country. In Indonesian popular beliefs, it was said that because of the climate, they have lighter complexion than other Indonesians, and because the Sundanese diet features raw vegetables, they reputedly possess especially soft skin. Bandung ladies, popularly known as Mojang Priangan are reputedly pretty, fashion smart and forward looking.[5] Probably because of this, many Sundanese people today pursue careers in the Indonesian entertainment industry.


Main article: Sundanese language
Map showing the location of the Sundanese in Java

The Sundanese language is spoken by approximately 36 million people[6] and is the second most widely-spoken regional language in Indonesia,[7] after Javanese. The 2000 Indonesia Census put this figure at 30.9 million. This language is spoken in the southern part of the Banten province, and most of West Java and eastwards as far as the Pamali River in Brebes, Central Java.[citation needed]

Sundanese is also closely related to Malay and Minang as it is to Javanese, as seen by the Sundanese utilising different language levels denoting rank and respect – a concept borrowed from the Javanese.[2] Sundanese shares similar vocabularies with Javanese and Malay. There are several dialects of Sundanese, from the Sunda–Banten dialect to the Sunda–Central Javanese dialect which mixes elements of Javanese. Some of the most distinct dialects are from Banten, Bogor, Priangan, and Cirebon. In Central Java, Sundanese is spoken in some of the Cilacap region and some of the Brebes region. It is known that the most refined Sundanese dialect — which is considered as its original form – are those spoken in Ciamis, Tasikmlaya, Garut, Bandung, Sumedang, Sukabumi, and especially Cianjur (The dialect spoken by people living in Cianjur is considered as the most refined Sundanese). While Sundanese spoken on north coast, Banten and Cirebon is considered less refined. While the language spoken by the people of Baduy is considered the archaic type of Sundanese language,[8] before the Sundanese people adopt the concept of language stratification to denote rank and respect as demonstrated (and influenced) by Javanese.

Today, the Sundanese language are mostly written in Latin script. An example of Sundanese-language media is Mangle Magazine that is written in Latin script. However, there is an effort to revive the Sundanese script which was used between the 14th and 18th centuries. For example, street names in Bandung and several cities in West Java are now written in both Latin and Sundanese scripts.


Akad nikah, Sundanese Islamic wedding vows in front of penghulu and witnesses

The initial religious system of the Sundanese was animism and dynamism with reverence to ancestral (karuhun) and natural spirits identified as hyang, yet bears some traits of monotheism. The best indications are found in the oldest epic poems (wawacan) and among the remote Baduy tribe. This religion is called Sunda Wiwitan ("early Sundanese").[9] The rice agriculture had shaped the culture, beliefs and ritual system of traditional Sundanese people, among other the reverence to Nyai Pohaci Sanghyang Asri as the goddess of rice and fertility. The land of Sundanese people in Western Java is among the earliest place in Indonesian archipelago that being exposed to Indian Hindu-Buddhist influences. Tarumanagara followed by Sunda Kingdom adopted Hinduism as early as 4th century. The Batujaya stupa complex in Karawang shows Buddhist influences in West Java. The 16th century sacred text Sanghyang siksakanda ng karesian contain the religious and moral rules, guidance, prescriptions and lessons for ancient Sundanese people.

Around the 15th to 16th centuries Islam began to spread among the Sundanese people, and its adoption accelerated after the fall of the Hindu Sunda Kingdom and the establishment of the Islamic Sultanates of Banten and Cirebon in coastal West Java. Numerous ulama (locally known as "kyai") penetrated villages in the mountainous regions of Parahyangan and established mosques and schools (pesantren) and spread Islamic faith amongst the Sundanese people. Small traditional Sundanese communities retained their indigenous social and belief systems, adopting self-imposed isolation, and refused foreign influences, proselytism and modernization altogether, such as those of the Baduy (Kanekes) people of inland Lebak Regency. Some Sundanese villages such as those in Cigugur Kuningan retained their Sunda Wiwitan beliefs, while some villages such as Kampung Naga in Tasikmalaya, and Sindang Barang Pasir Eurih in Bogor, although identifying themselves as Muslim, still uphold pre-Islamic traditions and taboos and venerated the karuhun (ancestral spirits). Today, most Sundanese are sunni Muslims.

After Western Java fell under Dutch East India Company in early 18th century, and later under colonial Dutch East Indies control, the christian evangelism upon Sundanese people started by Christian missionaries of Genootschap voor Inen Uitwendige Zending te Batavia (GIUZ). This organization founded by Mr. F.L. Anthing and Pastor E.W. King in 1851. However, it was Nederlandsche Zendelings Vereeniging (NZV) which sent their missionaries to convert the Sundanese peoples. They started the mission in Batavia, later expanding into several towns in West Java such as Bandung, Cianjur, Cirebon, Bogor and Sukabumi. They built schools, churches and hospital for native people in West Java. Compared to the large Sundanese Muslim population, the numbers of Christian Sundanese are scarce; today Christians in West Java are mostly Chinese Indonesian residing in West Java, with only small numbers of native Sundanese Christians.


Family and social relations[edit]

Elderly Sundanese woman near a rice paddy, at Garut, West Java
A Sundanese Leuit (rice barn), initially Sundanese are rice farmers.

Sundanese culture has borrowed much from Javanese culture, however it differs by being more overtly Islamic, and has a much less rigid system of social hierarchy.[2] The Sundanese, in their mentality and behavior, their greater egalitarianism and antipathy to yawning class distinctions, and their community-based material culture, differ from the feudal hierarchy apparent among the people of Javanese principalities. Central Javanese court culture nurtured in atmosphere conducive to elite, stylized, impeccably-polished forms of art and literature. In a pure sense, Sundanese culture bore few traces of these traditions.[10]

Culturally Sundanese people adopt a bilateral kinship system, with male and female descent are of equal importance. In Sundanese families the important rituals revolved around life cycles, from birth to death, adopting many of the previous Animist and Hindu-Buddhist, as well as Islamic traditions. For example, during the seventh month of pregnancy there is a prenatal ritual called "Nujuh Bulanan" (identical to Naloni Mitoni in Javanese tradition) which traces its origins to Hindu ritual. Shortly after the birth of a baby, a ritual called "Akekahan" (from Arabic word: Aqiqah) is performed; an Islamic tradition in which the parents slaughter a goat for a baby girl or two goats for a baby boy, the meat later being cooked and distributed to relatives and neighbours. The circumcision ceremony is performed on pre-pubescent boys and celebrated with Sisingaan (lion) dance. The wedding ceremony is the highlight of Sundanese family celebration involving complex rituals from "naroskeun" and "neundeun omong" (marriage proposal and agreement conducted by parents and family elders), "siraman" (bridal shower), "seserahan" (presenting wedding gifts for the bride), "akad nikah" (wedding vows), "saweran" (throwing coins, mixed with flower petals and sometimes also candies, for the unmarried guests to collect and believed to bring better luck in romance), "huap lingkung" (bride and groom feed each other by hand, with arms entwined to symbolize love and affection), "bakakak hayam" (bride and groom ripping a grilled chicken through holding each of its leg; a traditional way to determine which one will dominate the family which is the one that get the larger or head part), and the wedding feast inviting whole family and business relatives, neighbours, and friends as guests. The death in a Sundanese family usually performed through a series of rituals in accordance with traditional Islam, such as the "pengajian" (reciting Al Quran) including providing "berkat" (rice box with side dishes) for guests. The Quran recitation is performed daily, from the day of death through the seventh day following; later performed again on the 40th day, a year, and 1,000th days after the death. However today this tradition is not always closely and faithfully followed since growing numbers of Sundanese are adopting a less traditional Islam which does not maintain many of the older traditions.


The traditional profession of Sundanese people is agricultural, especially rice cultivation. Sundanese culture and tradition are usually centred around the agricultural cycle. Festivities such as the Seren Taun harvest ceremony are held in high importance, especially in the traditional Sundanese community in Cipta Gelar village, Cisolok, Sukabumi; Sindang Barang, Pasir Eurih village, Taman Sari, Bogor; and the traditional Sundanese community in Cigugur Kuningan.[11] Since early times, Sundanese have predominantly been farmers.[10] They tend to be reluctant to be government officers or legislators.[12] The typical Sundanese leuit (rice barn) is an important part of traditional Sundanese villages; it is held in high esteem as the symbol of wealth and welfare.

Next to agriculture, Sundanese people often choose business and trade to make a living although mostly are traditional entrepreneurships, such as a travelling food or drink vendors, establishing modest "warung" (food stall) or restaurant, as the vendor of daily consumer's goods or open a modest barber shop. Several traditional traveling food vendors and food stalls such as Siomay, Gado-gado and Karedok, Nasi Goreng, Cendol, Bubur Ayam, Roti Bakar (grilled bread), Bubur Kacang Hijau (green beans congee) and Indomie instant noodle stall are notably run by Sundanese.

Today, there are a number of Sundanese involved in the music and entertainment industry, with some of Indonesia's most famous singers, musicians and actors being of Sundanese origin Sinetrons.[13]


Traditional Sundanese house with Julang Ngapak roof, Papandak, Garut
Sundanese boys playing Angklung in Garut, c. 1910–1930
Wayang Golek, traditional Sundanese puppetry.

Sundanese literature was basically oral; their arts (architecture, music, dance, textiles, ceremonies, etc.) substantially preserved traditions from an earlier phase of civilization, stretching back even to the Neolithic, and never overwhelmed (as eastward, in Java) by aristocratic Hindu-Buddhist ideas.[10] The art and culture of Sundanese people reflect historical influences by various cultures that include pre-historic native animism and shamanism traditions, ancient Hindu-Buddhist heritage, and Islamic culture. The Sundanese have very vivid, orally-transmitted memories of the grand era of the Sunda Kingdom.[10] The oral tradition of Sundanese people is called Pantun Sunda: the chant of poetic verses employed for story-telling. It is the counterpart of Javanese tembang, similar to but independent from Malay pantun. The Pantun Sunda often recount Sundanese folklore and legends such as Sangkuriang, Lutung Kasarung, Ciung Wanara, Mundinglaya Dikusumah, the tales of King Siliwangi, and popular children's folk stories such as Si Leungli.

Traditional Sudanese arts include various forms of music, dance, and martial arts. The most notable types of Sundanese music are angklung bamboo music, kecapi suling music, gamelan degung, reyog Sunda and rampak gendang. The Angklung bamboo musical instrument is considered one of the world heritages of intangible culture.[14]

The most well known and distinctive Sundanese dances are Jaipongan,[15] a traditional social dance which is usually, but mistakenly, associated with eroticism. Other popular dances such as Merak dance describe colorful dancing peafowls. Sisingaan dance is performed especially in the Subang area to celebrate the circumcision ritual where the boy to be circumcised is seated upon a lion figure carried by four men. Other dances such as the Peafowl dance, Dewi dance and Ratu Graeni dance shows Javanese Mataram courtly influences.

Wayang golek puppetry is the most popular wayang performance for Sundanese people. Many forms of kejawen dance, literature, gamelan music and shadow puppetry (wayang kulit) derive from the Javanese.[2] Sundanese puppetry is more influenced by Islamic folklore than the influence of Indian epics present in Javanese versions.[2]

The Pencak silat martial art in Sundanese tradition can be traced to the historical figure King Siliwangi of Sunda Pajajaran kingdom, with Cimande is one of the most prominent school. The recently developed Tarung Derajat is also a popular martial art in West Java. Kujang is the traditional weapon of the Sundanese people.


Main article: Sundanese cuisine
Typical modest Sundanese meal consist of rice, salted fish, sayur asem, lalab sambel and karedok.

Sundanese cuisine is one of the most popular traditional food in Indonesia, and it is also easily found in most Indonesian cities. The Sundanese food is characterized by its freshness; the famous lalab eaten with sambal and also karedok demonstrate the Sundanese fondness for fresh raw vegetables. Similar to other ethnic groups in Indonesia, Sundanese people eat rice for almost every meal. The Sundanese like to say, "If you have not eaten rice, then you have not eaten." Rice is prepared in hundreds of different ways. However, it is simple boiled rice that serves as the centerpiece of all meals.

Next to steamed rice, the side dishes of vegetables, fish, or meat are added to provide variety of taste as well as for protein, mineral and nutrient intake. These side dishes are grilled, fried, steamed or boiled and spiced with any combination of garlic, galingale (a plant of the ginger family), turmeric, coriander, ginger, and lemon grass. The herb rich food wrapped and cooked inside banana leaf called pepes (Sundanese:pais) is popular among Sundanese people. Pepes are available in many varieties according to its ingredients; carp fish, anchovies, minced meat with eggs, mushroom, tofu or oncom. Oncom is a popular foodstuff within Sundanese cuisine, just like its counterpart, tempe, is popular among Javanese people. Usually the food itself is not too spicy, but it is served with a very hot sauce made by grinding chili peppers and garlic together. On the coast, saltwater fish are common; in the mountains, fish tend to be either pond-raised carp or goldfish. A well-known Sundanese dish is lalapan, which consists only of raw vegetables, such as papaya leaves, cucumber, eggplant, and bitter melon.[16]

In general, Sundanese food tastes rich and savory, but not as tangy as Padang food, nor as sweet as Javanese food.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kewarganegaraan, Suku Bangsa, Agama dan Bahasa Sehari-hari Penduduk Indonesia - Hasil Sensus Penduduk 2010. Badan Pusat Statistik. 2011. ISBN 9789790644175. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Hefner (1997)
  3. ^ Kurnia, Iwan (14 August 2007). "Watak Budaya Sunda" (in Indonesian). Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  4. ^ Taylor (2003), p. 7.
  5. ^ Cale, Roggie; Eric Oey; Gottfried Roelcke (1997). Java, West Java. Periplus. p. 128. Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "Sundanesiska". Nationalencyklopedin. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  7. ^ Taylor (2003), p. 120-121
  8. ^ The Sundanese
  9. ^ Dadan Wildan, Perjumpaan Islam dengan Tradisi Sunda, Pikiran Rakyat, 26 March 2003
  10. ^ a b c d Alit Djajasoebrata, Bloemen van net Heelal: De kleurrijke Wereld van de Textiel op Java, A. W. Sijthoffs Uitgeversmaatschappij bv, Amsterdam, 1984
  11. ^ Seren Taun Bogor
  12. ^ Ajip Rosidi, Pikiran Rakyat, 2003
  13. ^ Rosidi, Ayip. Revitalisasi dan Aplikasi Nilai-nilai Budaya Sunda dalam Pembangunan Daerah. 
  14. ^ KAsep (11 March 2010). "Angklung, Inspirasi Udjo bagi Dunia" (in Indonesian). Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  15. ^ KAsep (19 November 2009). "Jaipong - Erotismeu Itu Kodrati" (in Indonesian). Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  16. ^ KAsep. "Kuliner" (in Indonesian). Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  17. ^ madjalahkoenjit (6 May 2008). "Kuliner Sunda, Budaya yang Tak Lekang Oleh Waktu" (in Indonesian). Koenjit. Retrieved 24 October 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Taylor, Jean Gelman. Indonesia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10518-5. 
  • Hefner, Robert (1997), Java's Five Regional Cultures. taken from Oey, Eric (editor) (1997). Java. Singapore: Periplus Editions. pp. 58–61. ISBN 962-593-244-5.