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Tuesday March 28th 2017

The Name of Priangan

Land of Sunda | Friday, 19 November 2010 | sundanesecorner.org

Hawe Setiawan

An illustration depicting a mountainous region of West Java (reproduced from 1830 publication of Andries de Wilde's 'De Preanger Regentscappen op Java Gelegen')

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.***

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6 Responses to “The Name of Priangan”

  1. I thought the “Carita Parahiyangan” manuscript was written in 16th century, or was it from 17th? And about the term ‘parahiyangan’, what’s your opinion if I propose that the term was derived from ‘rahiyang’? So, ‘parahiyangan’ will defined as the place of king(s).

  2. hawe setiawan says:

    I thank you very much for this encouraging comment, especially for the correction to the date of the ‘Carita Parahyangan’ (the present post has been corrected). Yes, according to a research undertaken by the late Atja, one of prominent Sundanese philologists, this Old Sundanese manuscript was written in 16th century. In his introduction to the 1981 publication of the ‘Carita Parahyangan’, Atja stated, ‘This manuscript (at least its final parts) was written in or after 1579 CE.’

    Your assertion on the possible meaning of the term ‘parahyangan’ is very interesting. As far as the word formation is concerned, it could be ‘the place of king(s)’. However, since we have no Sundanese etymological dictionary, I could only refer to Rigg’s dictionary that emphasizes ‘hyang’ as the root of ‘parahyangan’ and its several derivatives. My own speculation also refer to Kern’s overview on the history of Priangan that has, among others, emphasized the spiritual aspect of its mountainous regions (see the other post: ‘Sacred Mountain of Priangan’). In this sense, the word ‘rahiyang’ seems to have also spiritual meaning. Perhaps, in Old Sundanese community, the king was a kind of representative of the divinities on earth. Well, it’s just my humble opinion.

    By the way, I would be very please if you write something on Sundanese subject for this lonely blog.

  3. The problem with ‘parahiyangan’ definition as ‘the place of the divinities’ is that it has the ‘ra-‘ prefix to form ‘rahiyang’. If we trace this term back to the ‘Carita Parahiyangan’, we found that it has the same meaning with ‘king’. So, addition of ‘pa-an’ will produce ‘parahiyangan’ as ‘the place of king(s)’ rather than ‘pahiyangan’ (the place of the divinities). This definition fits with the content of the manuscript, i.e. ‘stories of the kings’ (and of course, including their territories). This definition can be compared to the Javanese manuscript ‘Pararaton’. Last but not least, the manuscript itself did mention a locality called ‘parahiyangan’. However, whatever the definition is, I am quite sure that the manuscript was not made to inform us about this locality. Rampés!

  4. hawe setiawan says:

    Well, whatever it is, I am trying to translate the ‘Carita Parahiyangan’ into (not so good) English for the benefit of non-Sundanese readership. You know, it is not easy. Yet i’ll try my best. Let’s see.

  5. :*. I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives up to date information ,-:

  6. Look, all I’m saying is that there are two sides to every story.

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