Raden Ajeng Kartini, is a Javanese and an Indonesian national heroine. Kartini was a pioneer in the area of women’s rights for Indonesians. Kartini was born into an aristocratic Javanese family when Java was part of the Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies. She was born into a family with a strong intellectual tradition.
Kartini’s family allowed her to attend school until she was 12 years old. Here, among other subjects, she learnt to speak Dutch, an unusual accomplishment for Javanese women at the time. After she turned 12 she was ‘secluded’ at home, a common practice among Javanese nobility, to prepare young girls for their marriage. During seclusion girls were not allowed to leave their parents’ house until they were married, at which point authority over them was transferred to their husbands. Kartini’s father was more lenient than some during his daughter’s seclusion, giving her such privileges as embroidery lessons and occasional appearances in public for special events.
During her seclusion, Kartini continued to educate herself on her own. Because she could speak Dutch, she acquired several Dutch pen friends. One of them, a girl by the name of Rosa Abendanon, became a close friend. Books, newspapers and European magazines fed Kartini’s interest in European feminist thinking, and fostered the desire to improve the conditions of indigenous Indonesian women, who at that time had a very low social status. Kartini’s concerns were not only in the area of the emancipation of women, but also other problems of her society. Kartini saw that the struggle for women to obtain their freedom, autonomy and legal equality was just part of a wider movement.
On 17 September 1904, Kartini died at the age of 25. She was buried in Bulu Village, Rembang.
In 1964, President Sukarno declared R.A. Kartini’s birth date, 21 April, as ‘Kartini Day’ – an Indonesian national holiday. This decision has been criticised. It has been proposed that Kartini’s Day should be celebrated in conjunction with Indonesian Mothers Day, on 22 December so that the choice of R.A. Kartini as a national heroine would not overshadow other women who, unlike R.A. Kartini, took up arms to oppose the colonisers.
In contrast, those who recognise the significance of R.A. Kartini argue that not only was she a feminist who elevated the status of women in Indonesia, she was also a nationalist figure, with new ideas who struggled on behalf of her people, including her in the national struggle for independence.
Nowadays, Kartini day is celebrated in schools and children wear various costums, such as traditional costum or costum that describe certain profession.
(picture source: thejakartapost)
In her letters, Raden Adjeng Kartini wrote about her views of the social conditions prevailing at that time, particularly the condition of native Indonesian women. The majority of her letters protest the tendency of Javanese Culture to impose obstacles for the development of women. She wanted women to have the freedom to learn and study. R.A. Kartini wrote of her ideas and ambitions, including Zelf-ontwikkeling, Zelf-onderricht, Zelf-vertrouwen, Zelf-werkzaamheid and Solidariteit. These ideas were all based on Religieusiteit, Wijsheid en Schoonheid, that is, belief in God, wisdom, and beauty, along with Humanitarianisme (humanitarianism) and Nationalisme (nationalism).
Kartini’s letters also expressed her hopes for support from overseas. In her correspondence with Estell “Stella” Zeehandelaar, R.A. Kartini expressed her desire to be like a European youth. She depicted the sufferings of Javanese women fettered by tradition, unable to study, secluded, and who must be prepared to participate in polygamous marriages with men they don’t know.
J.H. Abendanon, the Minister for Culture, Religion and Industry in the East Indies, collected kartini’s letters into a book in Dutch ‘Door Duisternis tot Licht’ (Out of Dark Comes Light)