Book Review # 3 – Just call me Kartini

Book Title: Panggil Aku Kartini

Writer: Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Genre: Biography and History

Year: 1962 (12th Printed in January 2018)

Published by: Lentera Dipantara

Pages: 291 pages


Panggil Aku Kartini Saja (Just Call Me Kartini) is one of a masterpiece which wrote by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Who does not know him? An Indonesian author of novels, essays, stories which was not only talking about the struggle of Indonesia until the independence, the Dutch and Japan colonialism but his writings talked everything about his life, his experiences in the prison and how bad our former Indonesian Government treated him back then.

He got imprisoned several times, he was caught up, he got censored, he got branded as a communist just because of his political criticisms on his writings, although he was very vocal as well against the colonialism, racism and corruption of the Government. But he never stops to write, he never stops to criticize what was wrong with the Government. The man was born on February 6, 1925, in Blora, Java was the toughest and the most intelligent human I ever knew.

Indonesia should be very proud to have him as a great writer as well as one of the witnesses in Indonesia’s history.

Among of his works, that I would like to explore more on this 3rd book review on my blog is a book which revealed who is Kartini and how she could live and ‘survived’ during the Dutch colonialism era.

We definitely saw movies and read all the books and biographies that talked about Kartini, the Indonesian national hero as well as a feminist woman who was fighting for gender equality and women’s rights in Indonesia. As one of a daughter of the Regent of Jepara, made her have had a chance to go to the school, unlike any other Indonesian women.

Kartini - Heroine Pramoedya Ananta Toer- traitor
Source: Pinterest

In this book, Pram, which often called by this nickname, tried to describe the history of Kartini, her family roots, the situation of the Dutch colonialism and the Javanese culture itself. Born as a half-native and half-aristocratic Javanese family with a strong intellectual tradition made her allowed by her family to attend school until she was 12 years old.

Her name was allegedly given by her biological mother, Ngasirah. According to the wayang (Indonesian puppet) tradition, a father only gave names to his sons and there is no name left for girls at that time. And this wayang stories could not be separated from the way of Javanese living and even often became a framework of thinking, moral and psychological patterns.

Furthermore, this book also explained how the Javanese traditional culture was shaped Kartini during her childhood, whereas she had through all customary ceremonies. And for Javanese people at that time, there were very important steps of life that cannot be allowed to pass without an official ceremony, such as; birth, maturity, marriage and death (pg. 53).

As she turned 6 years old, her father gave her privileges as embroidery lessons and occasional appearances in public for special events, she even went to Dutch School. The school such an eye opener for her about the Western culture which far different from hers.

“The girl who entered the school was the biggest betrayal of the Javanese customs and culture at that time.”

In particular, feudal girls and middle-class girls found It most difficult to leave their homes, where ordinary girls had to leave their homes to help their parents to work in a market and rice fields. But she always reminds all Indonesian girls that “We (as girls) have a right not to be stupid!” this quotes who always inspire Indonesian girls and women to prioritize their education above anything else.

Raden Ajeng Kartini, the pioneer for women's rights
Source: Pinterest

Kartini was always very excited to go to school and outside the house, but the discrimination against women did not stop there, Kartini was also received discriminatory treatment in her school which she received even from her teachers, such as the differentiation of her skin colour in her class. But at the age of 12 years, Kartini must enter pingitan (a period of seclusion), this pingitan started when a noblewoman started their menstruation and continued until a nobleman asked to marry her. She felt very down and sad as she cannot continue her school both in Batavia or even in the Netherlands. But she kept and continued to learn by herself. Her father was the only one that she can relay on almost about everything, she always respected him and her ancestors. Her father, Raden Mas (male nobility) Adipati Ario Sosroningrat was one of the 4 Regent in all of Java at that time who were educated in Europe.

The one and only thing she can do to keep herself productive was only by writing letters to her friend, Stella. She shared almost everything that she felt, more about her daily life. She also wrote a letter to Marie Ovink-Soer during her struggle to accept her seclusion, she was protesting the gender inequality in Javanese traditions such as women being forced to marry at a young age and denied from freedom to pursue an education. Hence, she got acquainted with Estell (Stella) Helena Zeehandelaar who eventually became her regular penpal.

She shared an overview to Stella how manners and politeness work in her family. For example, Kartini’s younger siblings cannot walk or run in front of her, except moving by using their knees position. If Kartini passed by her younger brothers and sisters were sitting in chairs, they have to come off the chair, sitting on the floor until their older sister walked away.

Kartini was always very close and had some Dutch friends ever since she was a kid. She was always eager and encourage herself to learn more about the European literature, especially to advance herself to understand more about the Western culture. Not merely because she wanted to be one of them, but she believed to be strong like a Westerner, she must hold what the European also controlled which among of them were science and knowledge. The Dutch language she learned, she used it as a tool to reach the European civilization. Kartini thought that Europe at that time was a reality, a strength, and a big potential that determines the history of mankind itself.

Besides learned the Dutch language, she and her two younger siblings, Kardinah and Rukmini, also learned French and Germany languages through several book writers, such as; Servas de Buijn, Moderne Maagden atau Perawan-perawan Modern wrote by Marcel Provost, a famous French romance author and drama about love and marital conflicts among the French bourgeoisie. Besides, a book about the women’s emancipation from Prevost’s book, Kartini also learned books that had never been abandoned in discussing the history of women’s emancipation, namely De Wapens Neergelegd (Die Wapen Nieder) or Sarungkan Senjata by Bertha von Suttner, a book about the struggle to win social peace in particular and a world peace in general.

Kartini was not only concern in the area of the gender equality for women but also problems of her society. Kartini felt and saw that the struggle for Indonesian women to obtain their freedom was very real.

Unfortunately, she had to cancel her scholarship to continue to study in the Netherlands, because her parents arranged her marriage to Joyodiningrat, the Regent of Rembang who already had three wives and 12 kids. She did that just because she was very respected with her father and also her husband fulfilled her promises to supported her desire to develop the woodcarving industry in Jepara and the school for native women in Rembang.

But all of her dreams came to an end, just because of her death due to complication after giving a birth to her only children, Raden Mas Soesalit. She died at a very young age of 25 years. Since then, all of her struggles to defend and promote a better education for all girls and women in Indonesia has started and she is well-known as a pioneer of women’s emancipation in Indonesia.

Another culture (which involve the customs, traditions and religion) that became the most basic and main problem of Indonesian women nowadays is where the oppression against the Indonesia women. For example, the matter of ‘forced marriage’ and the issue of polygamy which Kartini must undergo, which also comes from the Javanese traditional culture that had existed a long time before the Islam came in Indonesia. Polygamy is one of the links of women’s suffering, since long time ago until today. Kartini was one of the witnesses which the mixed practices have been carried out by her father and her own husband.

After her death, now every 21st of April, we all celebrate Kartini’s Day to commemorate her struggle to defend all Indonesian women who are still struggling to get a better education, to be more equal in front of the men.

In this book, Pramoedya has successfully brought us to Kartini’s world and felt her strong energy and strength which he brings to their loyal readers. He even very well explained all the historical background even before Kartini was born, feudalism experienced by Indonesian people, Kartini’s anxieties, Kartini’s letters and literary works which have completed with Kartini’s paintings, to Kartini’s mental condition and her love.

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