Every year on 21 April, Indonesia celebrates Kartini day in memory of Raden Ajeng Kartini, a national heroine whose thinking and letters made her an important figure in pioneering women’s rights in Indonesia. Kartini was born into an aristocratic family with a strong intellectual tradition on 21 April 1879. During her time, Java was still part of the Dutch colony and she had the uncommon privilege to attend a Dutch school, where she became fluent in Dutch and was exposed to Western ideas and thinking. During her adolescence years, she was forced to leave school and withdraw to the cloistered existence, a common practice among Javanese nobility to prepare young girls for their marriage.
During these years, she continued to educate herself and fed her interest with books, newspapers, and magazines. She began to correspond with several Dutch friends and in her letters, she expressed concerns for the plight of Indonesians under the colonial rule and the restricted roles of Indonesian women.
In 1903, Kartini’s parents arranged her marriage to a Javanese regency chief. Her husband, also progressive in his thinking, understood Kartini’s aims and allowed her to establish the first school for native women in Java.
At the age of 25, Kartini died of complication after the birth of her first child. After her death, former minister for culture, religion, and industry in the East Indies J. H. Abendanon, arranged the publication Kartini’s letters. The book “Door Duisternis tot Licht” (in English: Out of Dark Comes Light) was published in 1911. The book was translated into English under the title “Letters of a Javanese Princess”.