Another week, another Fierce Female to feature, and this week it’s someone who is known by many as Indonesia’s First Feminist, and a national heroine. It is none other than Raden Adjeng Kartini.
Raden was born in 1879 in Java, now part of Indonesia, which was then part of the Dutch East Indies. Raden went to a Dutch school in Java as a young girl, where she was able to learn to speak, read, and write in Dutch, but once she reached age 12 there were no further educational options for her to move forward intellectually. Many girls were taken from school before age 12, however, Raden was able to stay longer than most. This upset Raden, as it was then required of her to stay within her family home to learn different things that would prepare her for her future wifely duties. While most families would not allow any outside contact during this time for their daughters, Raden’s family was a bit more flexible than most, and allowed her to continue learning on her own through letters to friends and different magazines and newspapers that she was able to acquire.
These newspapers and magazines influenced Raden greatly, to see that the women in her community were not being given equal treatment, and sparked her the feminist fire in her heart. As she continued to read and educate herself, she began to send in submissions to one of the magazines, De Hollandsche Lelie, of which were published under her name.
Raden went onwards to fight for the rights and freedom of the women in her community, and though she was forced into an arranged marriage, she continued to fight for what was right. Her father held significant authority in her community, and was able to erect a school for girls under her name, in the hope that it would provide more women in the community the opportunity to learn beyond the age of 12. Raden enlisted the help of her friends, that she had been conversing with through letters, to find a way for her to learn to teach in Japan, which sadly did not come to pass.
Unfortunately, shortly after her marriage, she became pregnant and, a few days after giving birth, she passed away. Raden was only 25 when she died and, though she was still so young, her impact upon the community and the feminist movement was so great that her birthday was dubbed an Indonesian national holiday, which is called ‘Kartini Day’.
Following her death, her impact did not fade. The letters that she wrote to Dutch friends abroad were collected and published and, once they had been translated into English, were titled ‘Letters of a Javanese Princess’. This was significant because the women who Raden was friends with were all Dutch, and many people in the Netherlands at the time did not know or understand the problems facing the Javanese women at the time.
During her life, Raden held many thoughts that were dissimilar to those around her. One of which was that she was determined to eat vegetarian. She was quoted saying, “Living a life as vegetarian is a wordless prayer to the Almighty.” and had convinced her husband to do the same.
Through her letters, the Dutch government and the families of some of her Dutch friends felt compelled to open more schools for girls in her name, and allow more girls the opportunity to be further educated. Though she was gone too soon, her legacy lived on and aided many young women who had the hope of further education, and emancipation from their male authority figures. Raden made a definitive impact, and is regarded highly to this day.
Photo of Raden via this page.