Wednesday, December 27, 2006



The West Java people are called the Sundanese, endowed with language and traditions unique to that of the rest of Java. The Sundanese language has 3 distinct hierarchies, starting from the lowly harsh (kasar), middle, and soft (lemes) Sundanese. Many Sundanese words have been adopted into Indonesian, although many of its contributions consist of profanities. Pajajaran Kingdom was the oldest kingdom in the region. The West Java region is also named as Parahyangan or the "Land of the Gods". In its later history, the region fell under influence of the Central Java kingdoms, reflected in elite Sundanese having borrowed much of its vocabulary and grammar from elite Javanese.

In Indonesia, the Sundanese people are known to be more easy going and less formal in their temperament than their distant relatives from Central Java and East Java. This is reflected in the grammar of the Sundanese language, which has many forms allowing for meaningless light banter. Interestingly, Sundanese has contributed many swear words to the Indonesian language spoken in Jakarta.

The most popular traditional musical instrument is angklung, made of parallel bamboo tubes tuned to specific frequencies with a hammer and is shaken to produce certain notes. Music is performed by a choir of angklung players, each of whom are responsible for sounding certain notes. Its melody is only slightly different from that of Central Java's gamelan ensembles.

The Sundanese language is spoken by approximately 27 million people and is the second most widely-spoken regional language in Indonesia, after Javanese. This language is spoken in the southern part of the Banten province, and most of West Java (excepting the northern coastal areas which has seen significant urbanization), and eastwards as far as the Pamali River in Brebes, Central Java.

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

  • Cirebon

Due to the influence of the Javanese culture during the reign of the Islamic Mataram kingdom, the Sundanese language - especially in the Parahyangan area - have different layers starting from the most formal, or "halus" version, to the everyday "loma/lancaran" version and the informal or harsh version. However, in the mountainous regions and most of Banten, the loma version is the most dominant. By contrast, this version is considered "harsh" by people from Bandung. In Central Java, Sundanese is spoken in the Cilacap region.

Kidung Sunda is a Middle-Javanese poem of probable Balinese provenance. In this poem, the story of king Hayam Wuruk of Majapahit who was looking for a bride to be, is narrated. At last he chose the princess of Sunda, a kingdom in West Java whose name remained undisclosed in this story. But his grand vizier Gajah Mada, rejected this idea. There was a dispute about geopolitical relations between Sunda and Majapahit (i.e. Java). Gajah Mada considered Sunda to be a vassal state of Java. For that reason a great battle took place in Bubat, the port where the Sundanese party landed as they refused to be treated as vassals. There the Majapahit-Javanese army slaughtered the Sundanese. The grieved princes of Sunda committed suicide not long afterwards. This historical story has to be situated somewhere in the 14th century.