5 Forgotten Indonesian Heroines in History

Indonesian Heroines – The story of heroine was related to gender equality. The term of gender equality boomed up in the 19th century by French socialist, Charles Fourier. In Indonesia, women’s movement, called emancipation, began since 1900s. It was perceived by woman’s organization as a community to advance woman’s effort, one of which was the establishment of the first woman’s organization ‘Poetri Mardika’, until the first Indonesian Women’s Congress in 1912-1928.

The experience of women who immerse themselves in the organization of the women’s movement is described nicely by St. Alisyahbana. His book, Layar Terkembang which set in the 30s, tells us about Tuti, a woman who is really busy in organization and voice of women’s emancipation.

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Backward a century earlier, in Tanah Rencong, Aceh, Cut Nyak Dhien was battling against the Netherlands in the Aceh War. Emancipation is not just about words, exclamation, or topic discussion in organization.  Awareness that everybody is obliged to maintain the homeland becomes a compelling reason to forget the gender boundaries. Evidently, women living in three centuries ago knew the application of emancipation and equality than the modern woman who even difficult to stand on their own feet.

Indonesian Heroines

There are some heroines who did amazing sacrifice, but forgotten accidentally. History book doesn’t put their names. But certainty, they are founders of gender equality who did something, not just moaning and dreaming in a letter.

1. Rahmah el-Yunusiah

In Islamic education, Rahmah el-Yunusiah is a founder for muslim woman in Indonesia and in the world.  When she was 23 years old, Rahmah el-Yunusiah established a school for woman, Diniyah School Putri.

Diniyah School not only provide religion and general lesson, but also teach many skills needed by a Muslim woman as a mother independently. So when Chancellor of the University of Al-Azhar, Abdurrahman Taj, visited Diniyah School Putri in 1955, he became interested in the specific learning system applied there, and inspired to establish Kuliyyatul-Lil-Banat (the campus of Al-Azhar for girls) at the University of Al-Azhar. And Rahmah was assigned as the first Syaikhah (female professor) of the University of Al-Azhar.)

Rahmah el-Yunusiah - Sumber gambar: jejakislam.net
Rahmah el-Yunusiah – source: jejakislam.net

2. Malahayati

She was the first woman admiral in Aceh (1585-1604). After graduating from Islamic school, she continued her studies at Aceh Royal Military Academy, known as Ma’had Baitul Maqdis. Malahayati has led 2000 troops named the ‘Inong Balee’ (widows of heroes who martyred) against the Netherlands. After several violent battles, she finally killed Cornelis de Houtman on September 11, 1599 in the deck. Three centuries before the birth of Cut Nyak Dien, Aceh had a female leader, first woman marine admiral. Malahayati is historical evidence that women can do for nation.

Malahayati - Sumber gambar: malahayati.ac.id
Malahayati – source: malahayati.ac.id

3. Roehana Koeddoes

She was a journalist. With her writings, Roehana gave encouragement to the youth and critics on the Dutch government. Nevertheless, the Dutch were amazed at the cleverness of Roehana Koeddoes which able to open school for women twice. Roehana Koeddoes spent her lifetime for education, journalistic, business, and politic. She got many appreciations as Indonesian First Female Journalist and Press Pioneering.

Rohana Kudus - Sumber gambar: id.wikipedia.org
Rohana Kudus – source: id.wikipedia.org

4. Siti Aisyah We Tenriolle

Siti Aisyah We Tenriolle is a Queen of Tanete Kingdom, South of Sulawesi in the 1855-1910.  She also ruled the Bugis Kingdom. Because of her contribution to translate La Galigo, the masterpiece epic ever, from ancient Bugis into common Bugis, then Tanete became popular in Europe. Together with her mother, Aisyah immersed and collected the ancient literature, such I La Galigo manuscript on Lontar leaves for 20 years. That epic nowdays is saved in Leiden University, Netherland, and becomes the longest epic in the world.

Siti Aisyah - Sumber gambar: id.wikipedia.org
Siti Aisyah – source: id.wikipedia.org

5. Sultanah Safiatuddin

Sultanah Safiatuddin became a sultanah (female leader of a kingdom) upon the death of her husband and ruled from 1641 to 1675, being the first of four women to hold the position in succession. She was very smart and actively developed science. She understood Melayu, Aceh local language, Arabic, Persian, Spanish, and Urdu.  In her reign, science and literature developed rapidly. At the time, there were some masterpieces written by Nuruddin ar-Raniry, Hamzah Fansuri, and. Abdur Rauf. She also formed the woman troops and let them fight in the Malaka War in 1636. She is really great ever, although national history book never mention her as one of Indonesian heroines.

Sultanah Safiatuddin Syah - Sumber gambar: acehlandtours.com
Sultanah Safiatuddin Syah – source: acehlandtours.com


It’s too late if we talk about equality of gender. Some women called heroine have proven that they can do better for the future. (Indonesian Heroines)

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