On the 17th of August, Indonesia celebrates its Independence Day. Amidst this joyful celebration, we should be reminded to pay respect to one of Indonesia’s less celebrated female hero, Rohana Kudus, who died on the same day 27 years after independence. Rohana Kudus was Indonesia’s first female journalist and was an advocate for women’s education. She founded the first school for women in Koto Gadang, West Sumatra. To learn more about this pioneering women’s life, you can visit the Rohana Kudus Museum in Koto Gadang, Bukittingi, West Sumatra, just a two-hour drive from the Sage II Vacation Home, in Sawahlunto.
About Rohana Kudus, My Ancestor
Known as the “Ibu Kartini” of Koto Gadang, Rohana Kudus was born on 20 December 1884 in Koto Gadang and happens to be the cousin of my great grandmother from my mother’s side. Although I have learned about her at school but it was only when I was in junior high school that my mother told me that we are related to her and that our families once lost contact for a period of time. Ever since then, I was eager to know more about her.
Reading about Rohana Kudus, I found out that her way of thinking was ahead of her time. Rohana, who herself never had any formal education, was an advocate for women’s education. Rohana established good relations with the Dutch women in her neighborhood and it was through a friendship that she learned to knit, weave, and sew, as well as learned the Dutch language. This had influenced her views on education and led her, in 1911, to found the Amai Setia Women’s Handcraft School which also taught women how to read and write. In 1917 she established a school for women and men, this time using her own name the “Rohana School”.
I was told that she encountered various obstacles in running her handcraft school’s activities. Some residents disliked her views on women’s emancipation which conflicted with the cultural norms of the old days.
What I also learned and found remarkable is that Rohana was also the founder of the first women’s newspaper in Indonesia in 1912, called Sunting Melayu, where all the writers and editors were women. Throughout her life she worked for a number of newspapers.
Aside from having the skills to teach and write, Rohana was also a successful businesswoman. She was able to market the handcraft school’s merchandise and they were imported to Holland. The Women’s Handcraft School is now a handcraft shop and on top of this shop is where the Rohana Kudus Museum humbly stands.
Despite having good relations with the Dutch, Rohana was against Dutch occupation. She led a public kitchen during the battle with the Dutch and smuggled arms wrapped in fruits and vegetables.
Even though I had all this information about her, Rohana Kudus, my ancestor, is still a mystery to me. I could only imagine this young fearless woman who devoted her life to the future of the people of West Sumatra, especially women.
Reading about the Rohana Kudus Museum, I learned more about her. The museum kept a lot of her personal belongings and photographs of her family and relatives. Her father, Mohamad Rasjad Maharadja, was an advisor for the Sultan of Deli. It was her father who taught Rohana how to read and write. He was also the founder of what was later to be the Studiefonds Koto Gadang, a school for the people of Koto Gadang.
Rohana’s half-brother, Sutan Syahrir, was Indonesia’s first prime minister and her cousin, Agus Salim, is a national hero who fought for Indonesia’s independence. Then I suddenly realized, how hard my ancestors have fought for our independence. Previously, it was just something I read in school textbooks, as if having no relation to me.
Acknowledgment Long Overdue
Rohana lived a long life, she died on 17 August 1972 in Jakarta at the age of 87. It is such a shame that the government acknowledged all of Rohana’s work only after she had died and that she was not quite a celebrated national hero. It was in 1974, two years after her death, that Rohana was awarded as the first female journalist of Indonesia by the Government of West Sumatra, and in 1987 awarded for being a pioneer of Indonesia’s Journalism by Indonesia’s Minister of Information. In 2007, she was finally awarded the Bintang Jasa Utama, a medal for civilians who are acknowledged for their services to the country.
RIP, Rohana Kudus, you are an inspiration for me and for Indonesia’s young generation.
FSLDK Indonesia (2016) Rohana Kudus, Seorang Perempuan Multitalenta dari Sumatera Barat http://fsldkindonesia.org/rohana-kudus-seorang-perempuan-multitalenta-dari-sumatera-barat/ (Accessed 8 August 2016).
Rangkuti, Annisa F. (2015) ‘Berkunjung ke Museum Rohana Kudus di “Amai Setia.”’ Kompasiana http://www.kompasiana.com/annisa_rangkuti/berkunjung-ke-museum-rohana-kudus-di-amai-setia_54ff104ca333119a4250f838 (Accessed 6 August 2016).
Wikipedia (2016) Roehana Koeddoes https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roehana_Koeddoes (Accessed 6 August 2016).
Women and Youth Development Institute of Indonesia (2010) Roehana Koeddoes http://www.wydii.org/index.php/en/publication/publications/newsletters/63–roehana-koeddoes.html (Accessed 6 August 2016).