All dressed up in kebaya (left) and batik for Kartini Day

Bekasi: April 21 was a no-school day but children were in school to celebrate Kartini Day, a day declared by then President Sukarno in 1964 as an Indonesian National Holiday in honor of Raden Ayu Kartini. To commemorate the day, the students and teachers from the senior high department dressed in the national costumes, kebaya and batik, and held numerous activities ranging from debate to musical presentations at the school hall.

I was intrigued on who Kartini was after being told that she is hailed as Indonesia’s national heroine cum feminist. Through the course of my reading I discovered that she was born into an aristocratic Javanese family, and was the fifth child and second eldest daughter in a brood of 11. Her father, says Wikipedia, was the Regency Chief of Jepara. Kartini seemed to have set herself apart from the rest even at a young age. First, she was able to learn and speak Dutch fluently, a feat that was by no means trivial during that time. Second, she was allowed to attend school until she was 12. However, her education was cut short because, based on the norms, she had to be isolated and groomed in preparation for marriage. Fortunately for her, she was able to pursue other activities like embroidery and attendance in public with her father’s blessing.

There are two remarkable circumstances that surrounded Kartini. Aristocratic standing aside, she was an autodidact poring over books and other reading materials rife in feminist doctrines, which stirred within her to do something to improve the lot of women particularly those that opportunity eluded. Second, apart from a father who seemed to be open-minded to a certain degree about how young girls should be raised, her husband, the Regency Chief of Rembang, was quite supportive of her ideology and allowed her, as Wikipedia details, to set up a school for women in “the east port of the Rembang Regency Office Complex.”  Of the two, the second factor is crucial because if the men in her life – women were placed, firstly, under the authority of their fathers and later under their husbands after marriage – were as prejudicially patriarchal as the rest, Kartini would have led an unenlightened life like the rest of the womenfolk during her time.

More kebaya and batik from the junior high school students

Her Philippine contemporary, I dare say, could possibly be Gabriela Silang, the wife of the revolutionary Diego Silang. When her husband was assassinated upon the orders of the church and authorities, she wasn’t your humble shadow. She took over the reins of leadership in the fight against the Spanish conquistadores until her capture and eventual hanging. Her legacy of bravery and steadfastness is seen in the group Gabriela founded in April 1984. Gabriela is the acronym for General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership and Action and works for the betterment of Filipino women’s lives.

Kartini is twice honored in Global Prestasi School. Following the senior high department’s celebration, the junior high department will commemorate her fight for women’s rights with an array of activities that will certainly keep her memory alive and burning through the years to come.

Photography by Ibu Henney and Shabika Putri Arvijanti


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by MB on April 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Love your pix!


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