Into Their World… The Sunda of Indonesia


With nearly thirty million Sundanese living in or near the western portion of the Indonesian Island of Java,this is one of the largest remaining unreached people groups. Islam was first brought to Java in the fifteenth century by Indian traders who were converted on their trade routes and stricter Islamic practices were later developed post-World War II.

Many in this isolated group speak Sunda, which is part of the Malayo-Polynesian family. And although some speak Javanese as well, the Sunda set themselves apart with the claim to be more open and informal than the Javanese. Even their lifestyle lends itself to a more isolated state–villages of between 1,000 and 7,000 people are often separated by small agricultural fields. Houses, often built on poles or stilts, lie clustered together.

Many make their living from farming rice, fishing and making crafts. Other villagers engage in small trade, seasonal farming, service occupations and fish farming.

Traditional values are strong among the Sunda and represent a behavior code known as adat, guidelines laid down by ancestors. Change is often slow in the villages; however, modern developments such as television and road improvements are helping bring many changes.

The family structure is typically matrilocal, with the married daughter’s home located near the parents’ house. After marriage, the daughter will usually stay home to care for her parents. Although marriages were often arranged in the past, young people today choose their own mate. Wedding ceremonies are often based on traditional rituals and include references to the rice goddess, Dewi Sri.

Many Sundanese practice Islam; however, pre-Islamic practices, such as spirit worship, have been incorporated into the religious belief system. The Sundanese have been evangelized to some extent; however, many remain unconverted. For more information about this people group, visit:

(Information compiled from

Laurie Fortunak Nichols is editorial coordinator of Lausanne World Pulse. She also serves as editorial coordinator for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and managing editor and book review editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ). She has edited a number of books, including the recent Extending God's Kingdom: Church Planting Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, with A. Scott Moreau and Gary R. Corwin.