R.A. Kartini: Celebrated for Fifty Six Years and Going Strong

Every April 21st is celebrated as Kartini's Day to commemorate Raden Adjeng Kartini (famously known simply as Kartini) one of the national heroes who sparked the emancipation of Indonesian women.

President Soekarno, the first Indonesian president, issued Decree of the President of Republic of Indonesia number 108 of 1964 in May 2nd, 1964, which assigned Kartini as a national independence hero while also deciding her birthday, April 21st, to be commemorated annually as a national big day that later became known as Kartini's Day.

In Indonesia, the celebration of Kartini's Day is usually held with various festivities such as cooking competition, wearing the Javanese blouse (known as 'kebaya' (1)) the whole day with a pretty bun on your hair, walking for fashion shows, singing Kartini's song competition, and reading poems about Kartini's spirit. Kartini's song is composed by W.R. Supratman (2), with the title of "Ibu Kita Kartini" (Our Mother Kartini). The song recalls Kartini's effort to chasing force Javanese women's emancipation at that time who did not have the same rights as men. Nowadays, it is conceptualized in the form of women's emancipation.

Since we all have been staying at home for weeks, I decided to celebrate the day by drawing Kartini's face. It was my first time doing face illustration. Far from perfect but hope you can still recognize her beautiful face ;-)

One of the earliest Indonesian feminists, schooling for girls forerunner, women's rights equality campaigner – Kartini will always be an inspiration from time to time. Despite living a short life of twenty-five years, Kartini left a legacy endeavoring the equality and independence of Indonesian women in particular and national identity in general. Kartini's name is well-known not only in Indonesia but through the other countries until her name became the street names in four cities in the Netherlands Amsterdam, Haarlem, Utrecht, and Venlo. All the four cities posted the name of the street that refers to her name: Kartinistraat. Not forgetting South Jakarta, the hype city with many hangout places in Jakarta as Indonesia's current capital city, it also has road referring to Kartini's name: R.A. Kartini street. I suppose I have passed the road several times when coming from the direction of Cilandak area's.

It turned out Kartini had few Dutch penpals both in Java and Holland back in 1899. One of them was Estelle 'Stella' Zeehandelaar, a Dutch feminist and five years Kartini's senior. Ms. Zeehandelaar was the one who received Kartini's very first letters. Throughout her letters, Kartini uttered her desire for Javanese women who were considered still have a low social level in order to be like European youth women – more independent and advanced. She portrayed the sufferings of Javanese women shackled by tradition, inability to go to school, secluded (also known as 'pingit' (3)), and should be ready to marry men they barely even know – often in polygamous marriages.

Among Kartini's greatest letters and quotes, these two have stolen my heart since I first read them. I bet most of us have already known Kartini's incredible biography which brought me more to confer today's point of view on a few sentences cited from her letters to Stella Zeehandelaar and my all-time favorite quote from her.

"I have always been an enemy of formality. I am happy only when I can throw the burden of Javanese etiquette from my shoulders. The ceremonies, the little rules, that are instilled into our people are an abomination to me. You could hardly imagine how heavily the burden of etiquette presses upon a Javanese aristocratic household. But in our household, we do not take all the formalities so literally."

–R.A. Kartini's Letter to Ms. Zeehandelaar on August 18th, 1899 (4)


Raising your legs on the sofa, hiking to the top of the mountain, being a top manager in the company – all the blessings today thank Kartini's struggle in achieving women's equality and independence. These are a few examples of the capabilities for Indonesian women to express themselves. The freedom and independence that we feel today have witnessed the golden saying of the happiness of freedom.

Back to the sentences written in the letter, etiquette is not bad after all but rather offers personal securities and take care of other people's feelings. Etiquette implies the well-mannered person with an attitude of consideration, kindness, and respect for others. Both etiquette and manners walk side by side but are not the same – etiquette affords the structure in which good manners work. In this 21st century, people are more emphasizing on how they manifest the combination of generosity and specific know-how that reflects the common sense of manners.

Freedom indeed stands for everyone since it is everyone's right with its human's frank expression. It is also about having no constraints while making decisions and doing whatever you want to on your own. The ugly truth tells us that with freedom comes responsibility in which you will also be responsible for any consequences of it. However much we want freedom, we must always establish and settle ourselves with good manners – taking responsibility is one example.

"Many things can bring you down. But the only thing that can really bring you down is your own attitude."

–R.A. Kartini

Tailoring to the previous discussion, I was talking a lot about manner while the quote engages the attitude word instead of the manner word. Before going further, let me unfold those two related words with distinctive meanings.

  • Manner demonstrates our acts to others in certain circumstances – more detectable and objective. For the record, a manner can become a behavior when a person feels comfortable doing it.

  • Attitude refers to a person's mindset with the way they behave, feel, or think to specific things based on their experience and observation.

When we bring down words by words, the quote underlines how we behave, feel, and think as the sharpest arrow that might hurt us the most. This arrow defines the bad attitudes – cynical, dishonest, envious, suspicious, you name it.. – which effect negativities on ourselves. Changing the way we look at the world, making us stop trying new things, keeping us from maturing, and taking away our energy and motivation can be happening to let us down unwittingly while still holding the negativities inside us.

Despite being disappointed with your own attitude, there will still be various ways to make it up. The first step that matters a lot might be clearing your mind first before anything else. Your unhealthy thought is your guilty party – it plays the biggest role in your doing. If you have read my previous post, I mentioned that the only one who can control things beyond us from head-to-toe and inside and out is ourselves. But in this case, rather than controlling, it is more about helping yourself from the meshes of disenchantment. As Kartini wrote a letter to her other Dutch penpal, Mrs. Abendanon, on December 12th, 1902: "We strive to be strong, so we can do it ourselves, help ourselves, helping ourselves often more than helping others, and who can help themselves, will be able to help others better.". Often said that real life is cruel yet you only live once according to God's will, help yourself to go back on the right and chase your dreams, freedom.. anything that makes you happy instead of adding more frustrations. 

May Kartini always inspires us all superb women, may Kartini be remembered forever until the life of today's women grandchildren generation, may Kartini smiles peacefully from heaven to see a lot of her successors has grown from little girls with dreams to women with vision. 

(1): the traditional dress of Indonesian pride usually used for several occasions such as in all situations such as parties, ceremonial events,  traditional events, and even on weekdays.

(2): known as Wage Rudolf Supratman – an Indonesian songwriter and a national hero who wrote both the lyrics and melody of Indonesia's national anthem "Indonesia Raya" (Great Indonesia) and also for "Ibu Kita Kartini" (Our Mother Kartini) song dedicated for Kartini.  

(3): a tradition of young women being kept at home and had to go into the "box" which can be her bedroom or purposed room: during Kartini's era, the tradition is to cut off from all communication with the outside world, whereto the women would never be allowed to go outside except at the side of a husband, a stranger that is chosen for them by their parents without really knowing about the future husband. While for today, it tends only occur for Javanese wedding where the women cannot meet their future husband at the specified time until the wedding day. 

(4): Cited from Beekman E. M. 1984. Kartini: Letters from a Javanese Feminist, 1899-1902. The Massachusetts Review. 25(4): pp. 579-616.

©2020 by Beige and Bold.

Jakarta, Indonesia