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Indonesian Heroine, Kartini and Woman Emancipation in Java Tradition

Yohan12 holds a bachelor's degree in Islamic guidance & counseling, master's degree in education and Doctor Cand. in Islamic Studies

The IDR 5 banknote, printed in 1952 with Raden Ajeng Kartini's image

The IDR 5 banknote, printed in 1952 with Raden Ajeng Kartini's image

In the Dutch’s colonial era, women got difficulty to participate freely in public places due to the restriction of an old tradition. At that time women did not have any authorities like men. So they just spent most of their youth lives at home seclusion.

As an indigenous woman like R.A. (Raden Adjeng) Kartini, such restriction actually became a trigger to make significant changes. She fought tenaciously against all the confinements to free women from adversity.

Suffering from bitterness of life, then she's inspired to raise women's rights and finally succeeded in the establishment of a special school for girls named the 'Kartini School'.

Home Seclusion

R.A. Kartini was a daughter of Adipati Ario Sosroningrat (one of the descendants of Hamengkubuwono VI) who was appointed by the Dutch government as a district Regent of Jepara in Central Java.

Unfortunately, the Dutch Government in Java at that time required her father to marry a noble women before he was appointed as a regent. Practically, her father had three wives, they were M.A. Ngasirah (Kartini’s biological mother) as the first wife from an ordinary woman, Raden Adjeng Woerjan as a noble woman from Madura kingdom in East Java and another one who was named unmentioned. Besides, she had 11 biological as well as step brothers and sisters.

She's born from a Javanese noble family in April 21, 1879 in Mayong, Jepara, Central Java province. Although her father had high political position but she didn't get a larger opportunity to participate in public domains. Nevertheless, she's permitted to study at ELS (Europese Lagere School) in Java, a school managed by the Dutch government, up to 12 years old.

Unfortunately, in her 12 up to 16 in 1895, she'd to be secluded at home by her family. Like many other girls, Kartini was also forbidden to have massive outdoor activities.

After she got her freedom in her 16, six months later she's locked up again. Then after her six months seclusion, she got her freedom and officially permitted to have outdoor activities. Unfortunately, she got a lot of reproaches from her community due to her unusual thoughts that against the establishment of old traditions.

At that time she realized that Javanese girls were very different from European's. They're also very much different from men in the term of social status. At that time, a girl’s fate was dominantly determined by her parents. For example, In marital status, a girl had to marry a man that she hadn't recognized before and obeyed her parents' choices, matchmaking alike. That's one of the traditions that extremely impressed her.

Marrying an ideal man was just a wishful dream for girls in Java at that traditional confining time.

In short, Kartini's had to spend her young age in very traditional community in central Java that applied strict rules.

Indonesian Heroine: Raden Adjeng Kartini

Indonesian Heroine: Raden Adjeng Kartini

Kartini's Dream and Correspondence

One day, Kartini met one of young female students who was studying French language in preparation for going to school in Netherlands. Then she asked her: "Kartini, what major would you choose after finishing your study in Java?"

At that time she couldn't give any answers to that question. She’s really confused. Even she never knew what she wanted to be. Her friend's question above really made an impressive memory to her mind for years.

After that ,she felt very lonely because her female friends had already continued their studies in Netherlands. She realized one day she would be left behind. Indeed, she also had high dream to study in Europe, but unfortunately her dream never came true. Fortunately, at that time she's still allowed by her family to read books, magazines and newspapers in Dutch language.

At that time she realized that although she couldn't study to higher levels but there's still a lot of opportunities to learn and achieve many things in various ways. For example, every time she finished doing female works at home, she immediately read many books to free her loneliness, for example, read books written by Louis Copeeruus (De Stille Kracht), Van Eden, Auguste de Witt, and Multatuli (Max Havelaar and Love Letters), and other feminism romances.

In addition, she actively did correspondences to her friends who were studying in European countries. At least it could comfort her mind who was in isolation with her older sister in the midst of her family life.

After the death of Kartini in 1904, her correspondence entitled 'After darkness comes the light containing social critics and her lawsuit against the restrictive tradition of women in Java to be published in the Netherlands by Mr. Jacques Abendanon in 1911.

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Note: Kartini’s correspondence was frequently considered controversial because there's an interference by the Dutch East Indies government as indicated by some people.

Self-loneliness was increasingly felt by Kartini while her mother began to regularly stay away. Fortunately, although at that time women were positioned lower than men, one of her brothers and her father still loved and cared for her well.

In her era, girls’ status were quite different from boys. They weren't freely permitted to study in some schools held by Dutch government. They're only permitted to learn at home or at traditional schools.

R.A. Kartini for elevating women's social-political rights: after rain comes sunshine and after darkness comes the light.

R.A. Kartini for elevating women's social-political rights: after rain comes sunshine and after darkness comes the light.

Indigenous but Courageous

As one of indigenous women, Kartini came courageously to fight for the restrained conditions that were less favorable for women between two opposite choices both how to elevate women's social-political rights and a strong urge to free women from traditional shackles. Unfortunately, what kind of the best alternative that she had to take, everything was still completely dark in the range of her mind.

Her strange behavior seemed unpleasant to some people in her community. They frequently ridiculed and laughed at her. She actually wanted to share such conditions with her father but she couldn’t because she worried about violating Javanese restrictive customs. When she talked much at that time, it would make her even more isolated.

Then, she realized that her father’s political power as a regent was not necessarily able to boost her ambitions. Political power of an indigenous was sometimes far from hope. Then she thought that only sincerity with the strength of self-determination would finally work to produce her best achievements.

R.A. Kartini's Letter

R.A. Kartini's Letter

After Rain Came Sunshine and Died at Young Age

After all of her older sisters and brothers were married, then Kartini became the eldest unmarried woman in her family. At that time, she abolished one of old traditions that demeaned humans by prohibiting her younger siblings from bowing every time they met.

In 1902, Mr. Van Kol and Mrs. Nelli, the two important people from Netherlands, encouraged her to study in Netherlands. But in contradictory, in 1903, she was also suggested by Mr. Jacques Abendanon in order to not study in that country because it would harm her due to the traditional rules.

Then, she's delegated by Mr. Jacques Abendon (The Dutch Minister of Religion, Arts and Culture in Indonesia) to study in a teacher school in Batavia, now it's Jakarta. After her graduation, she and her younger sister named Kardinah and assisted by several other friends were able to establish a female school.

The popular motto of Kartini is 'after rain comes sunshine' or ‘after darkness comes the light.’

That school was finally established and named the Kartini School in the city of Rembang, Central Java. In this school, female students were taught skills in Dutch and Javanese languages, Art, Arithmetic, Geography, History, and various practical skills of everyday life. That's the first female school established by an indigenous woman in Java.

Kartini's success in establishing a school for girls was one of her greatest achievements during her lifetime, as the initial milestone of enlightenment for Indonesian women in the future.

A few months later in 1903, she received an offer to continue her studies in Netherlands but she refused because she was required by her parents to get married. Then, in September 4 in 1904, she gave birth to a baby boy.

Unfortunately, several days after giving birth, in September 17, 1904, Kartini finally died. She died in the very young age, at about 25, in Bulu village, Rembang district, Central Java. And today, her dreams and words inspire many Indonesian women to strive for justice and equality. Then, the management of the female school that she built prior to her death was continued by her younger sister and other friends.

Signature of Raden Adjeng Kartini

Signature of Raden Adjeng Kartini

A Heroine for Women's Emancipation

Some important things to take into account from the struggle of R.A. Kartini wasn't because of the place where she studied but her positive roles in educating and raising women’s consciousness on social status.

Besides, she's highly respected by many Indonesian people due to her courageous in:

  • defying old traditions that hinder women to progress;
  • providing great opportunities for indigenous girls to obtain adequate educational rights which ultimately inspired her establishing special school for girls and encourage them to learn more knowledge and other relevant practical skills;
  • returning the old religious traditions, that are less in favor of women, to their normal practices, as she stated that religion should normally protect us from sinful behaviors, but unfortunately many men committed sins on the behalf of religion;
  • bequeathing important messages in defending the rights of indigenous women which were recorded and published in 1911 entitled 'Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang' or after rain comes sunshine;
  • Encouraging women to get their freedom and their gender equality;
  • Setting a good example in implementing the simplicity of life for women, and;
  • Fighting for the dignity of women according to their nature.

To thank her long efforts in raising women’s consciousness to make them free form the confinement of an old tradition, then Indonesian government makes a special day for her as a national holiday in every 21 of April, to annually recall all of her struggles for women emancipation.

Raden Ajeng Kartini for women's emancipation

Raden Ajeng Kartini for women's emancipation


That’s a short life history of R.A Kartini. Despite all the controversies as indicated by some people to the interference of the Dutch East Indies government to her struggle in defying Javanese old traditions, but her achievement for elevating women's social-political rights is worth to remember for today's as well as future generations.

Then, the government of the first President issued a Presidential Decree of the Republic of Indonesia dated May 2, No. 108 of 1964, which appointed her as a National Heroine which became known as 'Kartini Day' as a fighter for emancipating women's status. Hopefully this story can be a warm inspiration for girls and women in today's modern era to do better contributions for their countries.


Armijn Pane (pen.), (2009). R.A. Kartini: Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang. Tim Balai Pustaka (eds.). Balai Pustaka, Jakarta.

Woodward, A. And Bemmelen, S.V., "Historical Perspectives on a National Heroine: R.A. Kartini and the Politics of Memory" (2015). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 2189,

© 2022 Yohan Nur Yahya

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