The Javanese word for please is monggo. In Sundanese people say mangga. In both Indonesian and Javanese mangga means mango. So to say mango in Sundanese people say buah manggah, which literally means mango fruit. Explaining this somewhat trivial difference in language was always one of the first things people in Kediri would do when I told them I would be moving to West Java.

PST was held in Kediri, East Java a predominantly Javanese region. Now I am living in Sumedang, West Java which is predominantly Sundanese. I did not learn much Javanese during my time in Kediri so switching to Sundanese was not an issue. Sundanese and Javanese share quite a few similarities, but they are still very much their own unique languages.

Javanese, and orang Jawa (Javanese people), place a great emphasis on social hierarchy. This focus manifests itself in the language by the use of three different levels of speech people use dependent upon with whom they speak. One level is for people of a lower social level than the speaker, one for people higher, and one for people of the same level. I’m not exactly sure where the utility of having three different words for things like sleep and eat comes in, but I’m sure that it serves some purpose.

basa jawa.jpg
A fun little meme that shows some of the different levels for words in Javanese

Orang Sunda do not use the same strict system of social hierarchy that orang Jawa do. Some words have multiple levels, but it is not as important to use them correctly. In my bahasa Sunda class we typically learned one or sometimes two levels of formality but never all three.

Sundanese people are often said to be “more polite” than the Javanese; I was told this by a Javanese person, though I have yet to detect any real differences between how polite people are in either West Java or East Java. Though perhaps it would be fair to say the Javanese are formal where the Sundanese are genial. Before coming to West Java I was also told that the Sundanese are a little bit more emotional than the Javanese. I have only been in West Java for five days now, but such claims seem to be true.


Playing “football” in Subang regency

For my second day in Sumedang my counterpart and her friend took me to Subang to play some soccer with their friends. I was reluctant to join in on the match since I haven’t played any soccer in over fifteen years so I decided to watch and maybe jump in later. Just before the first half of the game was over, one of the players (on the team I was asked to join) walked off the field and kicked, destroying in the process, a box of little water cups that should’ve been used to rehydrate the parched players. Of course after that happened my resolve to not play with them strengthened as I was certain that I would not perform in manner that would preserve the surviving cups of water. I think such a strong display of emotion, such as the one I witnessed, would be hard to find from a Javanese individual.

After the soccer match we had a traditional Sundanese lunch. Eating habits are also a source of significant difference between East and West Java. Sundanese cuisine merits an entire weblog entry all of its own, so I’ll save that for another day. The Sundanese eat almost exclusively with their hands and without the aid of utensils. Apparently many volunteers ate several meals without a spoon and fork in Kediri, but it was something I only came across once during my two months in Kediri and I ate plenty of meals with many different families. Since I came to West Java, and excluding my time in Bandung, I have only eaten with silverware twice. Most meals are eaten using the hands alone.

The post soccer meal. The silverware seen here is only for serving.

In addition to not needing silverware, most meals don’t even require a table. Orang Sunda love to sit on the floor and eat. This may be another expression of their aversion to highlighting social hierarchy. Most of the meals I have had while in Sumedang have been eaten on the floor. Though now that Ramadan has started it’s hard to gauge whether or not what I observe is normal Sundanese life or part of how they celebrate Ramadan. Sahur, the morning meal before fasting, and when we break fast in the evening, is always on the floor and without silverware.

It is difficult to encapsulate all of the cultural differences that I have experienced between East and West Java. Most of these differences are very small things that make me think, “I don’t think orang Jawa would do that.” One thing that has remained the same, though perhaps with a little frequency among orang Sunda, is merunduk.

Meaning stoop or bow, merunduk is when an Indonesian walks by, or through, a group he or she will lower his or her shoulder and reach for the ground so as not to disturb the group. I did not understand this behavior at first, but it was so common in Kediri that I now catch myself slightly doing it when a situation calls for it. This custom comes from ilmu padi, or basically what translates to rice wisdom. There is a saying, “jadilah kamu seperti padi semakin berisi, semakin merunduk,” which means, as best I can translate, “you should become like the rice plant, the more you obtain, the more you bow.” Google translates it to “Be ye like growing rice contains, the more ducking,” which doesn’t make great sense. The idea is that despite whatever your accomplishments may be, you should remain humble, and walking through a group of people as if they’re not there is not humble in either East Java or West Java.

Merunduk is common in both Javanese and Sundanese cultures, though it seemed to me that the Javanese were much more liberal with their use of it. I could be sitting on the couch talking to my host sister-in-law and if my host sister walked through she would merunduk. It is especially important for younger people to merunduk in front of older people regardless of whether or not they’re in the east or west. However, when walking on the street and one passes two people on their front porch, instead of merunduk a simple “monggo,” or as they say in West Java, “mangga,” will suffice.

2 thoughts on “From monggo to mangga

  1. Hi Mitchell. I’m Mala from Sumedang. This afternoon, I saw a peace corps volunteer in Sumedang (not you). I was curious. So, I searched “peace corps volunteer sumedang” on Google and found your blog. Nice to know your story. Hope you enjoy your time here 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome! Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Next time you see a Peace Corps volunteer you should say hi! It’s always nice being able to speak to someone in English occasionally.


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