a woman named, kartini

Once upon a time, every April 21st, all of Indonesian Students had to dress up in a kebaya or other Indonesian traditional dress to commorate a woman, named Kartini. All I know then was, she was a heroine. Kartini Day was always fun, because I could dress up without having to wear school uniform, and was also able to put on a little bit of make-up and a little bit of hair-do. I wanted my costume to be different than the rest.

It was my first year in junior high school where Kartini caught my attention. In history class, my teacher asked us to read about an Indonesian Heroes. I was interested in 3 women. One was Tjut Nyak Dien, a heroine from Atjeh Province. She fought and declared a Holy Ware on the Dutch back in the Atjeh War around 1893. Until she was captured and exiled until her last days. Second was Martha Christina Tiahahu, a Moluccan. She was born into a military family and had been fighting the Dutch since her teenage days. She was captured when she was 17, then being exiled to Java Island. She died because of her illness, a year later.

Then… a woman named Kartini. At that time, I only knew her as the heroine who fought for women’s right to education in the late 1800s – and early 1900s. Before I read her memoir, the question that lingering in my head was, why? Why was her fight important? She was not like the 2 previous women, who literally led troops to fight the Dutch. She didn’t even set up a system or build a school for women. Then habis gelap terbitlah terang caught my attention and since then, Kartini has been my inspiration. She was giving all of her effort to bring at least a glimmer of light to women surrounding her, regardless of their status.

I have refused to wear kebaya or batik on Kartini’s Day ever since. Because her memorial day is not about being photographed in a kebaya or batik (nowadays). It is not just about women being able to go to school, but still dictated by their situation. More than that, it’s about an ideology of women being able to be what they are and have their place in the world. It’s about women being able to define themselves without having fear. Kartini is a symbol of Indonesian women’s strength.

Unfortunately, she passed away right after giving birth to her first child. Kartini may not have lived to fulfill her dream to build a school where women were able to attend. But her thoughts lives on and continues to inspire most women of Indonesia. One of the woman.. is me.

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