Who are the Sundanese people?

According to Ethnologue, the encyclopedic authority on languages, there are 710 living languages in Indonesia. Of course, most of them are dialects and unfortunately spoken by few people, but Indonesia is ranked as one of the most multilingual countries in the world. Among all these languages, Sundanese has approximately 40 million native speakers in the western part of Java. It is also the second most spoken indigenous language in Indonesia. So who exactly are the Sundanese?

The Sundanese people


The Sundanese people is one of the largest ethnic groups in Indonesia. The Sundanese people mainly inhabit the provinces of West Java, Banten, some parts of Jakarta, and the western part of Central Java. Sundanese people are generally known as polite, optimistic, and cheerful people. The name Sunda itself comes from Sanskrit prefix su- which means ‘goddess’, but also means clear, bright, white. Another name for the area of Sunda is Parahyangan, which means “abode of gods”, representing its natural beauty.

Sundanese culture
The great majority of Sundanese are orthodox Muslim but there are many practices of syncretism and mysticism that still go on. Rites of passage are an essential part of the Sundanese life and you might be surprised by the elaboration of a Sundanese marriage (formally there are nine phases!). Moreover, folktales and stories are of great value for the Sundanese. One of the most famous is the legend of Nyai Roro Kidul, the goddess of the South Seas. 

Food and Clothing


You might be wondering what the delicious dishes of this culture are, well here there are some of them:
- nasi timbel (steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf);
- sambal terasi (mortar ground chillies with shrimp paste);
- lalab (raw vegetable salad served with sambal terasi).

Interestingly, while most Sundanese people wouldn’t consider themselves as vegetarian, a lot of Sundanese cuisine vegetarian-friendly. The abundant resources and rich land of Parahyangan provides fruits and vegetables of all kinds, making it easy to abandon meat for your diet. Yet, meat-lovers still have a wide range of choices for healthy meat-based.


Seeing the bright colors of the Sundanese cuisine we cannot but mention also the gorgeous Sundanese clothing, such as kebaya or known in Sundanese as kabaya (a long-sleeved, fitted lace blouse) and sarung (a skirt-like garment). In general, Sundanese clothes are based on the function, age, and social position of the wearer.

The capital, Bandung

The capital of West Java is Bandung, and it is considered as the capital of Sundanese culture, as the Sundanese dialect of Bandung area is considered as the standard form of the language. And if you want to experience the true essence of the Sundanese culture then you have to visit this city. Bandung has a long history that goes from ancient times to the Dutch occupation and to the independence struggle. Walking along the streets of Bandung you can admire the Alun-alun central lawn square, the Grand Mosque, many museums, and the colonial architecture.


The Great Mosque of Bandung was initially constructed in 1812 with traditional architectural style that incorporated pyramidal multi-tiered roof, hence it was known by the locals as balé nyuncung (spiky pavillion). It underwent a series of reconstruction in 1930, 1955, 1970, and 2001. The renovation in 1955 replaced the traditional multi-tiered roof with dome. However, you still can notice the multi-tiered roof structure on top of its minarets, that are open to the public for city view every Saturday and Sunday.

The capital city of Asia and Africa

Just three minutes walk from the Great Mosque, you can find Museum of Asian African Conference, one of the most historically important landmarks of Bandung. In 1955, delegations from 29 Asian and African countries, representing 1.5 billion people all over the world, gathered in Bandung to discuss economic and cultural cooperation between the two continents and to oppose colonialism and promote independence. Due to the event, Bandung is also known as the capital of Asia-Africa.

The governmental office of West Java is located in Bandung, and it is commonly known as Gedung Sate (Satay Building), referring to stay-like lightning rod above the main roof. The design of the building incorporates various architectural styles, that its elements can be traced back to European, Indian, Arabian, Chinese, Sundanese, Javanese, and other international and traditional styles. Even though the access to the building itself is restricted, recently the building opened a museum that explains its architecture and history. Due to its function as governmental office and its intricate beauty, it’s not an exaggeration to call this building as the white house of Bandung.

The Upside Down Boat

What would you think when you hear of an upside-down boat? A shipwreck? An incident in the middle of the ocean? In Bandung, it refers to a mountain. Just in the north of Bandung, you’d find a Tangkuban Perahu, a mountain shaped like an upside-down boat.


It looks like an upside-down boat, right?

The legend says that once upon a time, a young man with supernatural powers fell in love with his eternally-beautiful-and-young mother, whom he had left for a long time. The mother refused his love but he insisted. As a strategy, the mother gave an impossible task: create a giant boat within one night. But the guy has supernatural powers, so, in fact, he could have built it. Knowing this, the mother tricked him by burning straws to make it seem like it’s morning already. Feeling devastated, the guy kicked the boat and due to his supernatural power, the boat turned upside-down from the kick. And there you go, an upside-down mountain, or as locals know it: “Tangkuban Parahu”.

White Crater

In the south of Bandung, one would find another beautiful scenery: white crater. It offers stunning view with fresh air. Sometimes, it can make you feel that you are in a spooky forest in winter, not in some crater in a tropical country.

There are mountains in both the north and south part of Bandung, you are not the first one to notice. In fact, as the Sundanese people said, Bandung is dikungkung ku gunung, heurin ku tangtung (surrounded by mountain, crowded with people).

Outside Bandung, you can still find a lot of stunning destinations. West Java and Banten always has something to offer to you.

Sundanese Music

Gamelan or degung is the most widely known traditional music of West Java. It is similar to Javanese and Balinese gamelan, but Sundanese gamelan has its own music style.

Gamelan itself refers to a set of percussive musical instruments, mostly made out of metal, that produce unique sounds for each instrument. Sometimes, it is accompanied by a bamboo flute and Sundanese zither.


Batik is famous as Indonesian fabrics, but a lot of people are not aware that each region has their own batik pattern as style. Now you are :)


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Pietro Turino