Sunday, 1 November 2009

Sundanese Literature

Sundanese Corner

LET us talk about sastra, which Sundanese people denominate literature. The term, which was derived from Sanskrit, is also known in Indonesian language.

A recent philological study has discovered that the word sastra is found in old manuscripts, e.g. the Sanghyang Sasana Maha Guru, a palm-leaf manuscript that was written in Old Sundanese in 16th century. The word sastra literally means ‘writing’. According to this manuscript, writing skill is one of the ten qualities that define educated people.

Oral Tradition

Sundanese literature seems to have been rooted in a particular oral tradition. One of several valuable legacies of ancient times is the carita pantun. It is a long and poetical story told by a juru pantun or tukang pantun (story teller), which was usually accompanied by the music of kacapi and tarawangsa, traditional string instruments.

In its form the carita pantun is usually divided into three main parts: the rajah pamuka (introduction), the story, and the rajah pamunah (epilogue). The story tells about Sundanese knights in fulfilling their obligations and duties. One of the well-known stories is the story of Raden Munding Laya di Kusuma studied by Dutch researcher C.M. Pleyte in the beginning of 20th century. It is told that Prince Munding Laya is the son of King Siliwangi of Padjadjaran.

People used to gather in a special occasion —e.g. when celebrating a newborn or welcoming a harvest season—to appreciate the performance of carita pantun. The performance was usually presented all night long.

This amazing story telling has passed away over past few decades. Thanks to some Sundanese cultural figures and scholars who recorded the performance of some old juru pantuns and transcribed their stories in 1970s, some ancient stories are well documented in written form.***(to be continued)

Hawe Setiawan

(I owe the information about the text of ‘Sanghyang Sasana Maha Guru' to Aditia Gunawan, a researcher at the National Library of Indonesia.)

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