The name Sunda derives from the Sanskrit prefix su- which means "goodness" or "possessing good quality". The example is suvarna (lit:"good color") used to describe gold. Sunda is also another name for Hindu God Vishnu. In Sanskrit, the term Sundara (masculine) or Sundari (feminine) means "beautiful" or "excellence". The term Sunda also means bright, light, purity, cleanness and white.
The Sundanese are of Austronesian origins who are thought to have originated in Taiwan, migrated though the Philippines, and reached Java between 1,500 BC and 1,000 BC. Nevertheless, there is also a hypothesis that argues that the Austronesian ancestors of contemporary Sundanese people originally came from Sundaland, a sunken massive peninsula that today formed Java Sea, Malacca and Sunda straits, and the islands between them.
The Sunda Wiwitan belief contains the mythical 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 Mesolithic era, at least 20,000 years ago. 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.
The earliest historical polity appeared in Sundanese realm in Western part of Java was the kingdom of Tarumanagara, flourished between 4th to 7th century. Hindu influences have reached Sundanese people as early as the 4th century CE as evident in Tarumanagara inscriptions. The adoption of these dharmic faith in Sundanese way of life however, was never as intense as their Javanese counterpart. It seems that despite the central court began to adopt Hindu-Buddhist culture and institution, the majority of common Sundanese still retain their native natural and ancestral worship. By the 4th century, the older megalithic culture probably still alive and well next to penetrating Hindu influences. Court cultures flourished in ancient times, for example, during the era of Sunda Kingdom. However, the Sundanese appear not to have had the resources nor desire to construct large religious monuments similar to those built by Javanese in Central and East Java. Traditional rural Sundanese method of rice farming, by ladang or huma (dry rice farming), in contrast to Javanese irrigated sawah wet rice cultivation (that require complex administration, coordination, and a lot of labor forces), also contributed to small population of sparsely inhabited Sundanese villages.
Geographic constrains that isolate each regions, also led Sundanese village to enjoy their simple way of life and their independence even more. That was probably the factors that would contribute to the carefree nature, egalitarian, conservative, independent and somewhat individualistic social outlook of Sundanese people. The Sundanese seems to love and revere their nature in spiritual ways, that they adopted some taboos in order to conserve the nature and maintain the ecosystem. The conservative tendency and somewhat their opposition of foreign influences, is demonstrated in extreme isolationist measures adopted keenly by Kanekes or Baduy people. They have these rules against interacting to outsiders and adopting foreign ideas, technology, and way of life. They also has set some taboos, such as not to cut the trees nor harm the forest creatures, in order to conserve their natural ecosystem.
One of the earliest historical record that mention the name "Sunda" appear in Sanghyang Tapak inscription dated 952 saka (1030 CE) discovered in Cibadak, near Sukabumi. In 1225, a Chinese writer named Chou Ju-kua in his book Chu-fan-chi describes the port of Sin-t'o (Sunda), which probably refer to the port of Banten or Kalapa. By examining these records, it seems that the name "Sunda" started in the early 11th century, as a Javanese term used to designated their western neighbour. A Chinese source more specifically refer it as the port of Banten or Sunda Kelapa. After the formation and consolidation of Sunda Kingdom's unity and identity during Pajajaran era under the rule of Sri Baduga Maharaja (popularly known as King Siliwangi), the shared common identity of Sundanese people were more firmly established. They adopting the name "Sunda" to identify their kingdom, their people and their language.
Inland Pasundan 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. 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.
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. Bandungite ladies, popularly known as Mojang Priangan are reputedly pretty, fashion smart and forward looking. Probably because of this, many Sundanese people today pursue careers in the Indonesian entertainment industry.
The Sundanese language is spoken by approximately 36 million people and is the second most widely spoken regional language in Indonesia, 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.
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. 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, Tasikmalaya, 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, 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.
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 pantheism. 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"). 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 the 4th century. The Batujaya stupa complex in Karawang shows Buddhist influences in West Java, while Cangkuang Shivaic temple near Garut shows Hindu influence. 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 the early 18th century, and later under colonial Dutch East Indies control, the christian evangelism upon Sundanese people started by Christian missionaries of Genootschap voor In- en 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.
In contemporary Sundanese social and religious life, there is a growing Islamism tendency, especially in urban Sundanese. Today, compared to the 1960s, large numbers of Sundanese Muslim women wearing hijab, as growing numbers of them became more pious or encouraged to do so. The same phenomena also found earlier in Malay community in Sumatra and Malaysia. Indeed, the Indonesian modern history saw the rise of political Islam through the birth of Darul Islam Indonesia in Tasikmalaya, West Java, back in 1949, although later this Islamist movement was cracked down by Indonesian Republic. In modern contemporary political landscapes, the Sundanese realm in West Java and Banten also provides the popular supports for Islamic parties such as Partai Keadilan Sejahtera and Partai Persatuan Pembangunan. There are numbers of Sundanese ulama and Islamic preacher has been quite successful in gaining national popularity, such as Kyai Abdullah Gymnastiar and Mamah Dedeh that has become a TV personality through their dakwah show. On the other side, there is also a growing movement led by the minority Sundanese conservative traditionalist adat, the Sunda Wiwitan community, that struggling to achieve wider acceptance and recognition on their faith and way of life.
Family and social relations
Sundanese culture has borrowed much from Javanese culture, however it differs by a much less rigid system of social hierarchy. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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 Sundanese 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.
The most well known and distinctive Sundanese dances are Jaipongan, 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. Sundanese puppetry is more influenced by Islamic folklore than the influence of Indian epics present in Javanese versions.
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.
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 (raw vegetables salad) eaten with sambal (chilly paste) and also karedok (peanuts paste) 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 at all." Rice is prepared in hundreds of different ways. However, it is simple steamed 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, galangal (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.
In general, Sundanese food tastes rich and savory, but not as tangy as Padang food, nor as sweet as Javanese food.
The traditional occupation 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. 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. Since early times, Sundanese have predominantly been farmers. They tend to be reluctant to be government officers or legislators.
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. Their affinity for establishing and running small-scale entrepreneurship is most likely contributed by Sundanese tendency to be independent, carefree, egalitarian, individualistic and optimistic. They seems to abhor the rigid structure and rule of government offices. 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.
Nevertheless, there are numbers of Sundanese that successfully carved their career as intellectuals or politicians in national politics, government offices and military positions. Some notable Sundanese has gained positions in Indonesian government as governor, municipal major, vice president and state ministers, also as officers and general in Indonesian military.
Sundanese also popularly known as cheerful and mercurial folks, as they love to joke and tease around. The wayang golek artform of Cepot, Dawala, and Gareng punakawan character clearly demonstrate Sundanese quirky side. Some Sundanese might found art and culture as their passion and become artists, either fine art, musics or performing art. Today, there are a number of Sundanese involved in the music and entertainment industry, with some of Indonesia's most famous singers, musicians, composers, cinema directors, film and Sinetrons actors being of Sundanese origin.
Notable Sundanese that being recognized as Indonesian national heroes among others are Dewi Sartika that fought for equality for women education, and Indonesian statesman such as Oto Iskandar di Nata and Djuanda Kartawidjaja. Popular former governor of Jakarta Ali Sadikin, ex-vice president Umar Wirahadikusumah, and former defense minister Agum Gumelar, and ministers of foreign affairs such as Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, Hassan Wirajuda and Marty Natalegawa, Meutya Hafid are among notable Sundanese on politics field. Ajip Rosidi and Achdiat Karta Mihardja are among Indonesian distinguished poets and writers.
Today, in modern Indonesian music and entertainment industry, there are large numbers of Sundanese artists that has become Indonesia's most famous singers, musicians, composers, cinema directors, film and sinetrons (TV soap drama) actors. Famous dangdut singers Rhoma Irama, Elvy Sukaesih and Ayu Ting Ting, musicians and composers such as Erwin Gutawa and singers such as Roekiah, Hetty Koes Endang, Vina Panduwinata, Nicky Astria, Nike Ardilla, Rossa, Gita Gutawa and popular celebrity Syahrini, Indonesian sinetrons actors such as Raffi Ahmad, Jihan Fahira and Asmirandah Zantman, also film director Nia Dinata, are among artists of Sundanese background. Famous wayang golek puppet master was Asep Sunandar Sunarya, while Sule, Jojon and Kang Ibing are popular comedian. On the sports field, Indonesian athletes of Sundanese background are badminton Olympic gold medalist Taufik Hidayat and Ricky Subagja.