Raden Adjeng Kartini was a prominent Javanese heroine. She was known as a pioneer in the area of human rights for native Indonesians.
She was a princess from the Island in Java. born on April 21, 1879. When Kartini was born, Java was still part of the Dutch colonies, the Dutch East Indies. Her father was the mayor; her mother was his first wife...but not the most important one. Polygamy was still a common practice among the nobility, and Kartini experienced first-hand the conflicts and sufferings that arise from this practice.
She was a very active child and loved playing and climbing trees. And because she came from an aristocratic family, she was allowed to "visit" school until the age of 12. Her education and the ability to read, write, and speak Dutch set her apart from the other young women, but in no way did this make Kartini feel superior to her peers. Instead, she spent her short life planning for the education of other women. The following is a quote from a letter she wrote to a Dutch friend when she was twenty:
"I have been longing to make the acquaintance of a modern girl, that proud independent girl who has all my sympathy! She who, happy and self reliant, lightly and alertly steps her way through life, full of enthusiasm and warm feelings; working not only for her own well-being and happiness, but for the greater good of humanity as a whole."
When Kartini was 12 years old, she was pulled from the school and 'secluded' at home. This was another common practice among nobility to prepare young girls for marriage. But, during her seclusion, she continued to educate herself on her own, and because she had learned how to speak and write Dutch, she she also acquired several Dutch penpals. European magazines fed her interest in the European feminist movement and fostered her desire to improve the conditions of indigent women, who, at that time, had a very low social status.
Now, Kartini had always been against the practice of polygamy, but worshipped her father, so, when her parents arranged her marriage to a man who already had three wives, she accepted and was married on November 12, 1903. Her husband, a liberal, not only continued to allow her to write to her friends, but also assisted her in establishing the first primary school for women in Indonesia. It was located in her father's house and children and young women were provided with a basic education.
However, her enthusiasm at educating Indonesian girls was to be short-lived. Kartini's only son was born on September 13, 1904, and a few days later on September 17, 1904, Kartini died of complications of birth at age 25.
But, her legacy can still be found in the letters she wrote to her friends in Holland, and after her death, J. H. Abendanon, arranged for the publication of her letters under the title, "Through Darkness Into Light". And in 1916, the Kartini Foundation opened the first all girls' schools in Java, thus fulfilling her dream. Her ideas were also taken up by Indonesian students who were attending Dutch university, and in 1922 an Indonesian translation of her letters was published.
Her beliefs and letters have inspired may women and have effected actual change where women have the same rights as men in the area of education, voting rights, and choice of career. In Indonesia, today, April 21st is a national holiday that recognizes her as a heroine. Women and girls don traditional clothing to symbolize their unity and participate in costume contests, cook-offs, and flower arrangements. Mothers take the day off and husbands do the cooking and housework.