While modern day Java is now home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, it is historically dominated by two, the Javanese and the Sundanese. The Javanese is also the largest ethnic group in the nation, making up 40.1 percent of the total population. Most Javanese crowds the central and eastern part of Java. On the other hand, the western part of Java is known as Tanah Sunda (Sunda’s Homeland), and is dominated by the Sundanese, which is the second largest ethnic group in the nation at a mere 15.5 percent. Although they share a common island, the Sundanese has a distinct language, traditional writing system and culture from the Javanese.
To understand why Gajah Mada’s heroism is not honoured in Tanah Sunda, one must travel back to the 14th century and learn about a romantic tragedy far greater than Romeo and Juliet—and its subsequent consequences to modern day Indonesia.
It all began when a Majapahit emperor, Hayam Wuruk, proposed a Sundanese princess, Dyah Pitaloka Citaresmi, to marry him. While some say that Hayam Wuruk fell in love with the princess who were famed for her beauty, others speculate that the marriage proposal was political. At the time, the Majapahit Empire was expanding aggressively under the leadership of its prime minister Gajah Mada, who vowed not to eat food with spices until he has united the entire Nusantara. His oath would be known as the Sumpah Palapa (Palapa Oath), which stated:
“If (I succeed) in defeating (conquering) Nusantara, (then) I will break my fast. If Gurun, Seram, Tanjung Pura, Haru, Pahang, Dompo, Bali, Sunda, Palembang, Tumasik, are all defeated, (then) I will break my fast.”