The New Woman in Java

A FEW words to announce to you, as briefly as possible, a new turn in my life. I shall not go on with our great work as a woman alone! A noble man will be at my side to help me.

He is ahead of me in work for our people; he has already won his spurs, while I am just beginning. Oh, he is such a lovable, good man! he has a noble heart and a clever head as well. And he has been to Holland, where his bride would so gladly go, but must not for her people’s sake.

It is a great change; but if we work together, and support and help one another, we may be able to take a far shorter road to the realization of our hopes than could either alone. We meet at many, many points. You do not yet know the name of my betrothed: it is Raden Adipati Djojo Adiningrat, Regent of Rembang.

And now, adieu! Soon I shall write again, and I hope at greater length.

A great task lies before me; unquestionably it is hard, but if I succeed, and bring it to a good end, I shall serve our people as I could never have served them in any other way. If my work is well done, it will be a lesson that will have a powerful effect upon our cause, because to my fellow countrymen my future will be the most beautiful and desirable in the world.

The mere fact of my marriage will do good: it will interest the parents, spur them on to educate their daughters, and impress them more than could a thousand inspired words. It stands for a fact, that beauty and riches are to be despised before gifts of the heart and mind.

I remember my own words, when someone asked me how the idea of education could be impressed upon our women and girls. ‘ The Javanese people are just like other children of nature: they are children of the sun, worshipers of splendor and brilliancy. Very well, gratify that wish, give them what their hearts desire, but at the same time give them something that is true, that is of real worth.’

Now we shall not infringe too harshly upon the customs of our land — our childlike people can still have their pomp and splendor. The freedom of women is inevitable; it is coming, but we cannot hasten it. The course of destiny cannot be turned aside, but in the end the triumph has been foreordained.

We shall not be living to see it, but what will that matter? We have helped to break the path that leads to it, and that is a glorious privilege!

Do not be uneasy; my betrothed will not cut my wings short; the fact that I can fly is just what has raised me so high in his eyes. He will only give a larger opportunity to stretch out my wings; he will help me to broaden my field of work. He appreciates your Meiske for herself, and not as a possible ornament for his home.

The Regent of Rembang comes on the seventeenth of this month. I have asked him to bring his children with him. I am so anxious to make the acquaintance of my future family. The children are to be my future, and I shall live and work for them, strive, and suffer, if need be, for them. I hope that they will love me. I have asked their father to give the entire control of his children to me. My dream is to make them feel, in so far as it is possible, that they are my own children.

I am only going to take one child with me to my new dwelling — a girl of eight or so, who has been given into my care by her parents. She is the daughter of a teacher and has been to school. She is a lovely child, clever and quick. If she shows any inclination at all, I shall educate her for some profession. Now she receives lessons from my sisters in handiwork. In Rembang there are women and children of gentle birth who have been educated. I shall try to gain their interest in our work later. My future sister-in-law is already‘tainted’ by a Western education; that will be pleasant for me.

My days at home are numbered; only two more short months and my future protector will come for me. He and his younger brother, the Regent of Toeban, have been here. The day is set: it is the twelfth of November. The wedding will be very quiet, only our families will be present, and neither of us is to wear bridal dress; he will be in his uniform, as I have already seen him. That is my wish. His children are not coming, to my great disappointment. They are still too little, and the journey is tiresome.

I shall find a rich field of work at Rembang, and thank God, there I shall not stand alone. He has promised to stand at my side and support me; it is also his wish and his hope to support me in my efforts to help our people. He himself has already labored diligently for their welfare for years. He too would like to help in the work of education, and though he cannot give personal instruction himself, he can have it done by others. Many of his various relatives are being educated at his expense. He expects me to be a blessing to him and to his people; may he not be disappointed! I am very grateful for one thing: his family share his ideas and approve of his choice. They look upon me as the future rearer of their children, and I really hope to serve in that capacity; I do not think of anything else.

Sometimes I forget that I have lost so many beautiful illusions, and think that I am still following my calling, only along a different way from the one that I had mapped out for myself, and I shall think that always; it gives me peace and helps me to be cheerful.

Nothing is perfect, and nothing may ever be perfect in this world. I had hoped and prayed that I might become the mother and sister of many, and God has heard my prayer, though it is a little different from what I meant.

It is one of his dreams, too, to be able to raise up our people. He is truly good to his people and to the officials under him; they feed out of his hand.

Fortunately Rembang is a quiet little place, and it is good that he cares as little as I for amusements.

I am delighted that the Resident there is interested in our cause, so that I shall not go as a stranger. And there will be my great friend, the sea! It lies not more than a hundred feet from the house.

When they told him that I was much interested in the art and kindred industries of our people, he said there were goldsmiths and wood-carvers there; they only needed a little directing.

But capital and leadership are needed first of all, before our artistic industries can be placed upon a practical basis. A large work-place ought to be built, and many apprentices and artisans taken to work under regular supervision in our immediate neighborhood.

If everything goes well, what a retinue I shall take with me, even though I am a modern woman. I shall certainly have a strange bridal dower.

The Regent of Rembang is marrying a whole kotta. What business has he to put himself between the people and their bride? Oh, heavens! I shall strike an unfortunate time, for I shall arrive in the dry season of the year. I have said all along that I would not allow my foot to be kissed. I could never allow anyone to do that. I want a place in their hearts, not outward forms.

I cannot think of the future without my Roekmini. How shall I get along without her and she without me! When I think of her my eyes stay wide open the whole night long.

Do you know what has happened? At his earnest request the date has been changed. The wedding will not be on the twelfth, but on the eighth of November, and on Wednesday the eleventh, at about five o’clock, I shall leave my home.

Your girl is alive again, she is alive. Her heart glows and thrills, and it is not burning pain or bitter, dumb despair that makes the strings vibrate; love is sounding the chords. Why did I complain, ungrateful that I was, with such a rich treasure within me?

Love is greater than all else! And she is richest who gives most. And I shall give, as a rich father’s child, with a full hand. What has been given me, I shall give back with interest. Oh, there are so many that hunger and thirst after love!

Strange and wonderful things can happen in life. He and father were drawn together from the first moment they set eyes upon each other two years ago. They have been friends ever since; and he has visited us often.
It was one of his poor little wife’s wishes to come and see us, with him and all the children. Both of them called my father, ‘Father.’ She was so anxious to make our acquaintance; alas, before her wish could be granted, death took her away.

Shortly before her death, he saw his wife in a dream; she was deep in fervent prayer, and the prayer that was sent up to the All-Highest was, that she and Raden Adjeng Kartini might meet and be friends through all eternity. Since that time, I have never been out of his thoughts.

Yes, he has suffered much; when she went away it was a deep blow to him: he loved her very dearly. And his hope for himself is, that father’s treasure — his wasiat djati,1 as he calls me — shall help him to forget his grief.

May I not find a little message from you when, on the eleventh, I enter my new home for the first time? It will be as if you had raised your dear hand to bless me.

This is the last greeting from your little daughter as a young girl, on the day before her wedding. To-morrow, at half-past six, we are to be married. I know that to-morrow my whole heart will be with you. Good-bye, my dearest. Greet your husband heartily for me, and remember that you will always have the deep affection of
Your own little daughter

You do not know with what affection this, my first letter from my new home, is written. A home where, praise God, there is peace and love everywhere, and we are all happy with and through one another.

I regret so deeply that through the press of circumstances I have not been able to write to you before. Forgive me. The first days were so frightfully hard; then our children were ailing, and at last I felt the reaction from the wearisome days through which we had passed. I was far from well and was obliged to take care of myself. Now I am again fresh and happy. Once more it is the old irresponsible, hare-brained creature of other days, who can look forward to the future with smiling eyes.
Do I have to express myself still more plainly, dearest? I bless the day on which I laid my hand in that of him who was sent by the All-Father to be my comrade in the journey through this great and difficult life.
Everything that was noble and beautiful in my eyes I find here realized before me. Some of the dreams that I still dream he has carried out years ago, or he dreams them now with me. We are so entirely one in thought and ideas that often I am frightened. You would both love him if you knew him. You would admire his clear brain and honor his good heart. I have thought so often that the noble should live for the people, and I have wanted to preach this aloud. Our nobles would not care to hear it; but he, my heart’s king, has gone before me.
It is just a month to-day since my husband brought me here to his country, and led me into his house, now our home. The queen could not have been more warmly welcomed. All of Rembang made festival; even on the border, every house was decorated with flags; the very hired carriages on the highways bore the tricolor. The enthusiasm of the people was so spontaneous and genuine, the expressions of sympathy came so warmly from their hearts. The people were gay and rejoiced because their beloved ruler was happy. Again and again my husband took me out on the balcony — the people must see his new Goesti-Poetri.
I sat on a stool near him, silent, my eyes full of tears, and my heart overflowing with emotion; there was happiness, there was gratitude, there was pride: pride in him, that he had gained such a warm place in the hearts of the people; gratitude because one of my dearest dreams was realized; and happiness because I sat there at his side.
And our children — how can I tell you of these delights? I felt drawn to them at once, they are such dear unspoiled creatures; and every day they grow closer and closer to my heart. Their father has laid a good foundation to their education; it began just as I always wished education to begin, in simplicity and modesty. My little treasures do not hold themselves above the most humble person here in the house; everyone is alike to them. The field is prepared, I have only to go forth and sow.
In January I hope to be able to open our little school. We are looking for a good teacher; and till we have found one, I shall have charge of the lessons myself. If unforeseen circumstances should intervene and I be prevented in any way, one of my sisters will carry on the work for me, till I am able to take charge of it again.
Several parents have already asked me to teach their children. Our idea is to open a school for daughters of the native chiefs here, if we can get a suitable teacher. If we could find a good governess, then she could care for the mental development of our children and also for the formation of their characters.
When everything is in good working order, could we not hope for a subsidy from the government? The expenses of the school would be as low as possible; the children would receive their board and lodging free from us.
The parents are full of confidence and are asking us to take their children. This is now our opportunity. We must begin. After a while I shall write to you at greater length about our plans. I have the fullest confidence that a girl’s school, held by us at our home, under the direction of a European teacher with me as head mistress, would succeed. We have great plans, and we would give anything to be able to talk this over with you and your husband face to face.
I am writing this at five o’clock in the morning. The children are awake and hanging over my chair; mother must give them bread and milk.
You must see our youngest just once; he is not yet two years old, but so intelligent. As I sat here, he came with a little footstool; it was too heavy for him to carry, so he dragged it to mother; mother’s feet must not hang. Then the darling child climbed on my lap. When I call the children to me, they fight to see which one shall reach me first, and our little sister brings me the spoons and forks.
The one who is naughty must not come to mother. They have the greatest fun when they bathe with me, and I too enjoy this more than anything else. It is such a pleasure to see the fresh, laughing little faces.
And now I am going to talk about myself. I have not thanked you yet for the many expressions of love which we have received from you of late. I was made so happy by the letter from your husband and yourself, which I received at Japara; my warmest thanks to you both. And you, Moedertje dearest, I kiss you heartily on both cheeks for your welcome greeting, which I found upon my arrival.
To-day I feel a great peace. A whole history lies behind it. And this letter must not go until I have told it to you.
Guess who has been staying here and who went away only this morning. Mevrouw and Heer Beervoets, from Marjowarno. They had been to Japara to see my parents, who sent them here to us. It was an inspiration of father’s, and we bless the happy chance which led those good angels here.
I had been anxious for a long time to make the acquaintance of this noble couple. My wish has been granted, and in what manner! I have always thought of them with sympathy, but now deep gratitude is mingled with the sympathy.
Day before yesterday, my husband was cheerful and wide awake all day. At noon the Beervoetses came, and he was so well that one would have little thought that a few hours later he would be lying desperately ill. Much interested, it was past midnight before we took leave of our guests. An hour later, my husband was suffering from a violent indisposition; the sickness came suddenly, and in less than three minutes it was so severe that he hardly expected to see the morning. How I felt, you can easily imagine. I had Doctor Beervoets called. He had expected to leave the next morning at eight, but neither he nor his wife had the heart to go away and leave us in so much trouble; they would go at one o’clock instead. But even then they saw that my husband needed constant medical attention, and our doctor was away on a journey.
It was an acute case of colic; an illness from which my husband had never suffered before in his life. Yesterday at midday he began to mend, and fell asleep. You can imagine how thankful I was. This morning at eight o’clock, our new friends went away. My husband is improving steadily and is only very weary. At this moment he is sleeping quietly, and has been for a full half hour. God grant that he may soon be entirely well!
It is so strange that in her last days his first wife should have thought of me. She longed to know me, and to become friends with me. Her dream was to go to Japara and to take her children to me; she hardly laid my portrait out of her hand, and even on her last sick-bed she had it by her.
After she had departed, and her earthly pain was over, everyone here, even the native officials, has had but one wish, which has now been granted since the eighth of November. That is why there was such general rejoicing when we came.
My husband thinks the idea of moving the Japara wood-carvers here excellent. He supports me warmly in that, just as he does in all my other projects. A handicraft school for natives has been one of his dreams all along.
My husband is anxious for me to write a book about the sagas and legends of Java. He would collect them for me, and we could work on them together — a wonderful prospect.
There is so much that he wants to do with me; on my writing-table several articles from his hand are already lying.

I wish that I could throw my arms around your neck. I long from my soul to tell you of my great joy, to make you a sharer in our splendid secret. A great, sweet happiness awaits me. If God so wills it, toward the end of September, there will come one sent from heaven to make our beautiful life still more beautiful, to draw the bond closer and tighter that already binds us together. Mother, my mother, think of the little soul that will be born from our two souls to call me mother!
Can you picture it? I a mother! I shall make you, old Moedertje, I shall make you a grandmother! Will you come later on to see your grandchild? I shall not be able now to go to Batavia. Our plan was first to go on a journey this month, to take a month’s holiday. Now we must give up the idea. I am not able to travel, and when our little one is here, then, too, I may not travel. So I shall see Batavia no more, at least while you are there. And what would it be worth to me without you and Mijnheer ? My husband is so glowingly happy because of this new life which I carry under my heart. That alone was wanting to our happiness.

It must have seemed strange to you not to have heard from me in reply to your cordial letter, and to have had no word of acknowledgment for the splendid presents with which we have been so greatly pleased. If every thought sent to you had become a deed, what an array of letters you would now have! Forgive me, dear friends, that no word has gone to you long before this.
The change from a simple young girl to a bride, a mother, and the wife of a highly placed native official, — which means much in our Indian life, — is so great that I could think of nothing at first but of how best to fulfill my new duties. But that was not the only reason. Shortly after our wedding, my husband was taken very ill. After that I myself began to ail. Even now the Rembang climate does not agree with me. We live close by the sea; but what at Japara was an advantage, is here, at Rembang, a plague. Here we must have a care for the sea wind, which is very unwholesome, because it must first blow over coral reefs and slime before it reaches us.
And now I must tell you about my new life. You will be glad to hear of that, will you not? Because you take such interest in your Javanese friend, and have been so concerned about her future. God be thanked, your fears for me have proved groundless. A young wife writes you these lines, a wife whose happiness beams in her eyes and who can find no words to express it.
My husband (and it is known through the whole of Java that I am different from others; yet he has bound himself to me) is not only my husband, he is my best friend.
Everything that I think has been thought by him too, and many of my ideas have already been expressed by him in deeds. I have laid out for myself a full life, I have planned to be a pioneer in the struggle for the rights and freedom of the Javanese woman. I am now the wife of a man whose support gives me strength in my efforts to reach the ideal which is always before my eyes. I have now personal happiness and also my work for my ideal.
I am sure you will both be pleased to know that your little Javanese friend of the turbulent spirit is now anchored in a safe haven. I wish that you could see me in my new surroundings. You know how little I cared for luxury and worldly position; they would have no value in my eyes, were it not that it is my husband who gives them to me. But they are means by which I may reach my goal more easily. The Javanese are deeply loyal to their nobles. Everything that their chiefs desire is readily accepted by them. So now at the side of my husband I shall reach the hearts of the people much more easily. The success of the plans for our school shows that I have their confidence.
We began to teach at home in Japara, and now our younger sisters are carrying on the work there. Our little school now has a hundred and twenty pupils, daughters of native chiefs. My sisters give them instruction. But here too I have begun our work; my own little daughters were my first pupils. So you see that the little Javanese are beginning to realize the dream of their girlhood.

We do not go out often, and we entertain very little, yet my life is always full. Spendid! I divide my days between my dear husband, my housekeeping, and my children — both my own and the adopted ones. And these last take the largest share of my time and attention. When father is at work, then the children work with me from nine until twelve o’clock. At half-past twelve, father finds a troop of cleanfaced but very hungry children. At half-past one the little ones are sent to bed,2 and if father is in bed, and I am not too tired, I work with the young girls. At four o’clock I preside at the tea-table. When the little ones have drunk their milk and have bathed, they can drive the fowls to the coops, or walk with us, or play in the garden. We amuse ourselves for a little, and prattle about everything or nothing.

When our little troop comes in, then we are done with play. Father sits down to read the paper, and they range themselves around mother. I sit in a rocking-chair with the two smallest on my lap, a child on each arm of the chair, and the two eldest at my knees. We tell stories; soon afterward suppertime comes around. We eat early with the little ones; the smallest of all sits next to mother. The little fellow has taken upon himself the task of lifting the glass cover for mother. No one must take that little work away from him, and if he is not allowed to do it, he knows it is because he has deserved a punishment.

At eight o’clock the little treasures are sent to bed. And we parents sit up and talk to each other till Klaas Vaak drives us to the poeloe kapok [bed]; and this is not so late as at Japara, for we get up very early in the morning.

Sunday is a holiday for both of us. We begin it always with a walk; after that I teach my girls cooking, and then the mother and wife can do the things for which she had not had time during the week. It is not much that she can do, for my husband is happier when I sit by him. He charms me sometimes with beautiful gamelan music and songs. I think it is delightful in my husband to add the songs. For the gamelan music alone makes too great an impression upon me. It takes me back to times of which I must not think. It makes me weak and sad.

So the days fly by, calm, quiet, and peaceful as a brook deep in the forest.

If the child that I carry under my heart is a girl, what shall I wish for her? I shall wish that she may live a rich full life, and that she may complete the work that her mother has begun. She shall never be compelled to do anything abhorrent to her deepest feelings. What she does must be of her own free will. She shall have a mother who will watch over the welfare of her inmost being, and a father who will never force her in anything. It will make no difference to him if his daughter remains unmarried her whole life long; what will count with him will be that she shall always keep her esteem and affection for us. He has shown that he respects women, and that we are one in thought, by his desire to trust his daughter wholly to me.

Oh, if you only knew the things that slander has spread abroad about me! What I heard before my marriage was praise compared to what I have since learned. My husband must indeed have had courage, to offer me his heart, his hand, and his name. He had heard many things concerning me, but never a single word of praise; still, in his heart there was a conviction, which nothing could shake, that we were the bearers of new ideas, which were incomprehensible to the great multitude, who scorned us because they could not understand. When his first wife was still living, he would always take my part when they dragged my name through the mud. He had a premonition that some day I should play an important rôle in his life. Everyone here in the house had been interested in me. So there are premonitions, secret longings, that come often as forerunners of what will happen in the future. Only I alone did not dream that this would be my future existence.

I am not giving my little ones any vacation; they will have one in September when my child is born. For the first fortnight I must rest, and then my baby will go into the schoolroom. I have already prepared a corner where baby can sleep, while mother and little sisters and brothers study. Now we shall have something àla Hilda Van Suylenburg — a mother who with a suckling baby goes out to work.

When shall I ever be able to write to you as of yore? From all sides come reproaches that I write so seldom. But I cannot do anything else; I have undertaken a great task, and it is my hard duty to carry it through to completion. The children are doing their best, and I have now twelve, among them several who are full-grown.

I am busy now with the outfit for your little grandchild. My sisters are eager for a girl, and my husband for a son. If it should be a girl, then I shall have to love her doubly, for everyone here is anxious for a boy.

My love for you and my interest in everything that concerns you must not be measured according to the number of my letters to you.
With the best will in the world, it is almost impossible for me to write to anyone at all, now especially, when I am struggling against bad health. I have been quite sick: I caught a cold and suffered severely. That is now past, thank God! but I still have to take care of myself. And I must — I will be well, for our child’s sake.
How much a child costs its mother! All the tedious suffering is still to come. O Moeska, I must take care of myself, and be prudent in everything. For a month past, I have received only members of the family, who can come into my room. I write this in a long chair. I cannot sit up straight comfortably.
Mamma was with me last week; the dear one, nothing is too much for her, where the welfare of her children is at stake. Just so she went to Pamalang when Kardinah was sick, and just so she came all the way here, when my husband in his distress telegraphed for her. My husband is looking forward to the approaching time with great apprehension. He cannot bear to see me suffer, poor dear one; he really suffered more than I when I was so sick. He would turn the whole world upside down to spare me suffering and pain.

I think of you so much! Above all do I think of you now, always with a feeling of tenderness, but, at the same time, a deep sadness.
Sadness because you are so far from me, and will be even farther removed beyond my reach. Why must it be that just those souls that are most closely akin should be separated so far from one another? I am so unhappy when I let myself long for you. I sit still, looking straight ahead, neither hearing nor seeing what is happening around me. I live in the past, that sweet and that bitter past, when I was so eager for suffering, and where your love is interwoven always like a garland of light. I suffered and I rejoiced. My heart is full of sadness, but also of gratitude, for the happiness which your love has brought me. I never cease to thank God for having brought you to us.

Good-day, Moeska; perhaps this will be my last letter to you. Think sometimes of your daughter who loves you and your husband so dearly, and who presses you now to her heart.

After all, that was not to be my last letter. I have been afraid; but perhaps it will be for the best that my time is coming quickly. I feel it, Moedertje; it is very probable that your grandchild will be born sooner than we first expected him. Greetings, my dear one. Think well of me, both of you; in my heart there is a prayer which says, ' God keep my dear friends.’
Your own little daughter,

How can I thank you for the precious little frock that you have given our baby. It has all the more worth in our eyes because we know under what circumstances you have worked this present for your little grandchild. We heard through Roekmini that you made it yourself after your return to Batavia. To think that you, who were indisposed yourself and had so many cares upon your shoulders as always, but especially at that time when you were under great pressure, could still take such delicate and patient stitches for our child! Your friendship must indeed be great, and your love for me deep and sincere. I looked at the little frock yesterday with wet eyes and a grateful happy heart; and often I feel I must look at it again. It tells me much, Moedertje dearest. It has made your daughter so happy.

Later your little grandchild can wear the figured ornament around his neck, when the dress grows too small for him. I shall keep it for him till he can understand me, when I tell him of the great love which God has given to his mother, so that the little ornament will be even more precious to him than it is now to me.

My husband said to me yesterday, when we received your present: ‘Go, wife, and write to Moedertje right away, or it may be too late.’ And I have followed his advice and, at the same time, the voice of my own heart.

Our little one is not here yet, but it may be any moment now. I feel that his coming is very near.

Thank you so much for your encouraging words, dear. The thought that far from here there is one, a part of my soul, who hopes and prays for me, makes me strong, and does me unutterable good.

People who have seen me during these last days think me unusually cheerful. And why should I not be cheerful when such great happiness awaits me? What matter all the hours of pain, when they are the price of such sweet happiness? I long so for my little treasure, and it is sweet to know that many whom I love are with me in thought in these last days. Do I not know how at my dear home, hour by hour, they think of me, hope and pray for me?

When so many hearts pray the same prayer, Heaven will not be deaf to it. Moeska, I am so firmly convinced that all will go well with your daughter; naturally you will be notified as soon as the great event has taken place.

Oh, if you, my good angel, could but stand at the cradle of my child, how blissfully happy I should be! I know that you will love our child even though it should grow into a greater simpleton than its mother. If it is only not too sensitive, all will be well — hè, Moeska? And that will not be unless the evil spirits watch by its cradle. But your talisman will take care of that and protect your little one from evil spirits.

My mother has been with me for two weeks, and there is also an old grandmother who has come to be with me during the hard hours that are coming. I am waited upon, spoiled, and watched over like a princess.

The layette and the little bed are in our room all ready for the coming of our treasure.

How delightful is the odor of the little fruit which is our true native perfume. I have put it away with the baby’s frock, in a chest with other garments, so that they will be perfumed delicately. My treasure must smell sweet.

Good-night, dearest Moedertje; accept again sincere thanks from us both. Greet Mijnheer heartily for us, and feel yourself softly kissed by your own little daughter.

[This was her last letter. Six days later her son was born; and after four days, she died suddenly, being just twenty-five years old. She was deeply mourned by all who had known and loved her.]

  1. Heir of his existence, in whom his whole being begins and ends. —THE TRANSLATOR.
  2. In Java it is customary to take an hour’s rest in the afternoon. — THE TRANSLATOR.