Land of Sunda | Friday, 19 November 2010 | sundanesecorner.org
The word priangan is one of several derivatives of parahiyangan. The other ones are parahiang, parahyangan, parahiangan, parayangan, priyangan, and prayangan. European writers in colonial era adapted the name into preanger. The word priangan itself is derived from the Sanskrit word hiang or hyang, which means ‘god’.
In Old Sundanese manuscripts, such as the 16th century Carita Parahiyangan ‘the Story of Parahyangan’, we have also found several important figures—which are referred respectfully—whose names are initiated by an honorific pronoun rahiyangta, e.g. the ascetic king Rahiyangta Medangjati. It is likely that rahiyangta has the same root.
The form with affix pa-an refers to a place, e.g. pasundan (pa-Sunda-an) means ‘the place of Sundanese (people)’, pakidulan (pa-kidul-an) means ‘southern region’, and panglawungan (pa[ng]-lawung-an) means ‘the place for gathering’. For this reason, the word priangan means ‘the abode of divinities’.
Since when the word priangan has been spoken in Sundanese is unknown. According to Dutch historian R.A. Kern in his book, Geschiedenis der Preanger-Regentschappen: Kort Overzicht ‘the History of Priangan Regencies: A Brief Overview’ (1898), Hindu power—whose cultural views were spread by means of Sanskrit language—was established in West Java in 11th century.
The word priangan is contained in A Dictionary of the Sunda Language of Java (1862) by Jonathan Rigg—which is the first Sundanese-English dictionary that has ever been published. Rigg, an English planter working in Jasinga at the southern region of the present day Bogor, explains that priangan is:
The native name for what European call “Prianger Regencies” in Java. The etymon of the word may be found in Hyang, divinity, vide voce. Vide also Parahiang,—with the Polynesian an suffixed, to indicate place, and thus originally Para-hyang-an, contracted into Priangan. The Prianger Regencies are for the most part, especially the inhabited parts, an inland upland plateau, surrounded by stupendous mountains and volcanoes,—a fit place for a superstitious people to locate their gods in, and a fit neighbourhood for the adjoining territory of Bantam, which see. It will thus mean,—the abode of the divinities. Priangan was also the name given to the capital of the inland and central parts of Sumatra, called Menangkabau, and had no doubt its name in a parity of origin in the Priangan of Java. (Rigg, 1862: 382)
As a toponym, priangan refers to a region, which in colonial times was called Preanger Regentschappen ‘Priangan Regencies’. In 19th century Dutch writer Andries de Wilde in his book, De Preanger Regentschappen op Java Gelegen ‘Priangan Regencies Lying Across Java’ (1830), describes the region as follows:
De Preanger Rengentschappen, welke een der skoonste en vruchtbaarste gedeelten van het eiland Java uitmaken, zijn in het zuidwestelijk gedeelte van hetzelve gelegen, grenzen ten westen aan de Residentien Bantam en Buitenzorg, ten noorden aan de Batavische Ommelanden en het Krawangsche, ten oosten aan het Cheribonsche, en ten zuiden aan de zee.
Zij zijn in vijf Hoofddistricten of Regentschappen verdeeld, als: Tji-antjoer, Bandong, Soemedang, Limbangan en Soekapoera, welke, onder het opzigt van den Europeschen Resident, ieder door een’ regent beheerd worden. De afzonderlijke Regentschappen zijn weder in kleinere distrikten of tjoekas verdeeld, welke laatse weder in troepen, of onderdellen, onderscheiden zijn.
The Priangan Regencies, lying in the most beautiful and fertile parts of Java, in the southwestern part of the island, borders at west to the Banten and Bogor Regencies, at north to Batavian Region and Karawang, at east to the Cirebon, and at south to the sea.
It is divided into five main districts or regencies, i.e.: Cianjur, Bandung, Sumedang, Limbangan and Sukapura, each of which, under the authority of a European resident, is managed by a regent. Separate regencies are divided into smaller districts or tjoekas, which could be distinguished based on their troops or components. (De Wilde, 1830: 1)
So far administrative boundaries of the region of Priangan, as part of the Province of West Java, has been changed, so that the general feature of the present day region is to some extens different from that of 19th century. However, even in 19th century R.A. Kern himself, in his ‘brief overview’ on the history of Priangan, suggested that the history of Priangan needs to be understood not in the sense of de tegenwoordige residentie ‘the present day regencies’, for their boundaries, at least for the most parts, are zuiver administratief ‘purely administrative’. In other words, administrative boundaries do not always parallel to cultural history. Kern’s overview reaches across the whole regions of West Java.
As for the word preanger, collective memory is to some extents filled with the unpleasant situation in the time of Dutch colonialism. The word reminds us to the so-called ‘Preanger Stelsel’ or ‘Priangan System’ in 19th century West Java that forced people across the region to cultivate coffee plantation for the benefit of European market. Sundanese scholar S.I. Poeradisastra —which previously known as Boejoeng Saleh Poeradisastra— describes the colonial situation as follows:
Far and wide in the Priangan the population had to spend much of their most fertile land and working time to produce more and more coffee with the help of their entire family, even pregnant women who gave birth to their babies among the coffee bush. For the purpose of producing more coffee they had to abandon their entire paddy fields and homestead (Setiawan ed., 2010: 27).
The word priangan, parahyangan, and preanger are still in use today. In the song Halo-halo Bandung, for instance, Bandung is called ‘capital of P(e)riangan’. The well-known collected poems by Ramadhan K.H. from 1950s is entitled Priangan Si Jelita ‘Priangan the Beautiful’. There is also Universitas Katholik Parahyangan ‘Parahyangan Catholic University’ in Bandung. Parahyangan has been used as the name of a train transportation service between Bandung and Jakarta up till this year. And Hotel Preanger is one of the well-known hotels in Bandung since colonial times.
It is unlikely that the current daily usage of the word priangan has something to do with spiritual or religious motives.***