Indonesia’s first feminist
Published/Last edited or updated: 31st May, 2017
Jepara’s Museum RA Kartini celebrates the life and work of Raden Adjeng Kartini (1879–1904), hailed as a national hero in Indonesia and regarded as the country’s first feminist—she was a pioneer for women’s education at the turn of the twentieth century.
Born into an aristocratic family in Mayong, some 20 kilometres away, the family later moved to Jepara. Raden Adjeng is a title given to unmarried female aristocrats, and she is sometimes referred to as Raden Ayu, the married version or simply RA Kartini. Her father was the Regent of Jepara under the Dutch colonial government, which afforded her a Dutch eduction, but unfortunately only until adolescence as at the time Javanese tradition for upperclass girls required her to be cloistered within the confines of her family compound from puberty until she married.
To relieve her boredom, she advertised in a Dutch women’s magazine for penpals, and began correspondence that opened her eyes to European ideas of equality. She wrote of her dreams of improving education for girls and social justice not just for women in Javanese society, but of her countrymen’s struggle against Dutch colonialism. In 1903 she opened the first school for girls in Indonesia that didn’t discriminate on the basis of social class.
Ironically to escape the confines of the family compound she agreed to an arranged marriage, and a year later died from complications of childbirth. Her eloquent and passionate collection of letters were published posthumously as “Through Darkness to Light”, and later in English as “Letters of a Javanese Princess”, and went on to inspire generations of Indonesian feminists.
Her birthday, April 21 is celebrated as a national holiday, seen as Indonesian Women’s Day, although somewhat paradoxically fashion parades are often the focus of festivities. The museum displays a collection of photos and furniture from the Kartini household labelled in English and Indonesian, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of privileged Indonesians of the time. Two other rooms house general artefacts and local handcrafts, only of passing interest.
The museum is worth a visit if you have some spare time in town and will take less than 30 minutes to spin through.
Address: 1 Jalan Alun-alun, Jepara
Coordinates (for GPS): 110º40'2.04" E, 6º35'19.57" S
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Admission: 3,000 rupiah Monday to Friday, and 4,000 rupiah on weekends
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.