Sabtu, 21 April 2012
R KARTINI, ADJENG (Raden Adjeng Kartini) (1879–1904) Javanese princess and educator
Much of what we know about Adjeng Kartini comes
from the letters she wrote to friends and family in Java
and in Holland. The letters reveal a young Javanese
woman influenced by her connections to the Western
world, longing for an education and the right of
women to obtain one. Ironically, the only way possible
for this high-born Javanese woman to create the kind
of world she wanted was to surrender her independence
and marry. Toward the end of her short life,
Adjeng Kartini started a school for girls in Jakarta,
Java’s capital. She died in childbirth at the age of 25.
Kartini came of age just as Java’s interactions with
Western ideas and values grew more and more unsettling.
By the 17th century, most of the Indonesian
archipelago was under Dutch control, and it remained
so until the Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942. After
Japan’s defeat in 1945, Indonesian nationalists organized
under the leadership of Sukarno (1901–70), who
proclaimed independence from Holland and became
president of Indonesia in 1945. Several years of negotiations
and warfare followed, with the Dutch granting
independence in 1949.
Holland’s history with imperialism, especially in
Indonesia, was full of strife (see MATA HARI). The
colonial system came under sharp criticism around
the end of the 19th century from its officers stationed
in Indonesia and humanitarian reformers in Holland,
for its neglect of the welfare of the Indonesian people.
Most of the people with whom Kartini corresponded
supported the new colonial policy called the “Ethical
Policy.” This program emphasized increased education
for Indonesians, fuller participation in local government,
and efforts to raise indigenous standards of
living. Kartini did not live to see this policy put into
effect. In the end, the policy resulted in the demand
on the part of the Indonesians for self-determination
and an end to the colonial system itself.
Adjeng Kartini was born on April 21, 1879, to
the regent, or governor, of Japara district in Java.
Although Adjeng’s title was “princess,” she was not
actually one in the true sense of the word, in that her
father was not sovereign over a royal domain. He
served at the discretion of the Dutch, who put him in
charge of an administrative district. A Dutch adviser,
the assistant resident, ensured that all decisions made
coincided with Dutch interests. Kartini’s father spoke
Dutch fluently, which was unusual among Javanese
regents. Kartini’s father and uncles had been educated
by Dutch tutors; her brother, Kartono, graduated
with honors from a colonial Dutch high school
and continued with his higher education in Holland
As for Kartini, her schooling ended after she
reached the age of 12. From the age of six until the
age of 12, she attended a Dutch elementary school,
established in Japara for the children of Dutch
colonists. A handful of Javanese children were
allowed to attend, if they could learn the Dutch language.
At the Dutch school, Kartini learned the differences
between Western and Eastern cultures. What
impressed her most was the fact that the Dutch children,
from an early age, exhibited a strong sense of
independence and choice absent from Javanese culture.
Each child cultivated a sense of control over her
personal future and of directing her future for herself.
This idea was especially foreign to a Javanese girl.
Upper-class girls were forbidden by law to leave their
homes from the age of 12 through 14, or until they
married. Although Kartini admired the Western
notion of independence, she retained her respect and
affinity for Javanese religion.
Javanese aristocratic culture mandated isolation
for daughters before marriage as a sign of the family’s
high rank and pure blood. During her confinement,
Kartini began two habits that would follow her
throughout the rest of her short life: she established
relationships with outsiders through letter writing,
and she read the books sent to her by her brothers.
Kartini’s father made one important exception in
the rule of his daughter’s isolation: he introduced her
to the wife of the new assistant resident, Mavrouw
Ovink-Soer. This Dutch woman, a fervent socialist
and feminist, became a tutor to Kartini, and she
imparted much of her political ideas to her charge.
Kartini vowed to Ovink-Soer that she would never
marry, agreeing with her tutor that marriage crippled
a woman’s autonomy. She would later renounce her
promise. Also during her confinement, Kartini established
another friendship with a radical thinker, Stella
Zeehandelaar, through correspondence.
When Ovink-Soer left Japara in 1899, Kartini
asked her father if she could join her brother in Holland
for study. He refused. Kartini met a new Dutch
friend, J. H. Abendanon, one of the earliest proponents
of the Ethical Policy. As director of the Department
of Native Education, Abendanon made
women’s education a priority, albeit only as a vehicle
for insuring that his children were better educated
(see Dorothea BEALE for changes in attitudes toward
women’s education in Europe). With Abendanon’s
help, Kartini’s father allowed her to study for a year in
Batavia, the colonial capital, with the ultimate aim of
becoming a teacher in a school for the daughters of
regents, to be established by Abendanon.
Soon, however, it became clear that such a school
would not be successful. Nearly all of the Javanese
regents reported that they would never send their
daughters to such a school, or any school, for that
matter. Clearly, there was deep antagonism to the idea
of education for girls. A year later, Kartini befriended
a member of the Dutch Parliament, H. H. van Kol
(the two met through Kartini’s pen pal, Stella Zeehandelaar).
Upon hearing of Kartini’s ideas for a girls’
school, van Kol, a Social Democrat, arranged for Kartini
to get a governmental grant for her education in
Holland. To that end, he had published an account of
his travels in Java, in which he described Kartini. The
publicity outraged both the Javanese and the Dutch
in Japara, who began accusing Kartini of being sexually
promiscuous. This intensified her father’s insistence
that she marry.
And she did. Her father arranged an alliance
between Kartini and the regent of Rambang. Although
we do not know exactly why Kartini changed her
mind, she may have come to realize that a Javanese
woman could only act unconventionally if she were
married. In Kartini’s case, her marriage turned out to
be beneficial for her cause, since her husband supported
her ideas. The school in Japara was established
in 1903. A year later, on September 17, 1904, Kartini
died in childbirth.
Today, several Kartini schools exist throughout
Java, thanks to the initiative of Kartini’s old friend
Abendanon. He established the Kartini Foundation,
a private organization dedicated to the funding of
girls’ schools. Abendanon also had Kartini’s letters
published in 1911, under the title Through Darkness
Kartini, Raden Adjeng. Letters of a Javanese Princess, Hildred
Geertz, ed. Lanham, Md.: University Press of
———. On Feminism and Nationalism: Kartini’s Letters to
Stella Zeehandelaar, 1899–1903. Clayton, Victoria,
Australia: Monash Asia Institute, 1995.
Zainu’ddin, Ailsa Thomson, et al., Kartini Centenary:
Indonesian Women Then and Now. Clayton, Victoria,
Australia: Monash Asia Institute, 1980
Source: A to Z of Women in World History by Erika Kuhlman