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  • Alvie Putri Gustiningrum

Roehana Koeddoes: The Story of Feminism, Journalism, and Nationalism

The emergence of feminism in Indonesia is a long, intriguing journey that has introduced us to numerous familiar names. Think Raden Ajeng Kartini, Cut Nyak Dien, and Dewi Sartika, to name a few. Women’s contribution to the growth of feminism, especially during the colonial era, is something that will always be worth talking about and being proud about. At the times when women had very limited roles outside of their homes, they were still fighting for changes to be made and for inequality to be destroyed. One of those women was Roehana Koeddoes, a smart, courageous woman who went on to advocate for equality and empowerment of women.


About Roehana Koeddoes

Roehana Koeddoes, or Siti Roehana, was born on December 20th 1884 in Koto Gadang, West Sumatra. She was a relative to a number of well-known figures in Indonesia’s history, such as Soetan Sjahrir who was her step-brother, and Chairil Anwar, her nephew. Roehana grew up in an environment of certain customs and teachings that were restrictive to women, resulting in marginalization and backwardness experienced by women around her.


Family Ties and Influences

Despite having to move around due to her father’s job, Koeddoes reportedly had a close relationship with her father who provided her with books and reading materials with various topics of coverage, such as politics, law, and linguistics. Her father, Mohammad Rasjad, also helped in widening her horizons and instilling her love for learning by subscribing to newspapers for his daughter to read. The restriction of education for women during colonial times did not stop Koeddoes from learning by her own will.


Advocacy for Women's Rights

According to the book Roehana Koeddoes Perempuan Menguak Dunia by Fitriyanti Dahlia, Koeddoes’ sense of nationalism manifested as the urge to get involved in the society at a young age by raising awareness of the unfair treatment to women and educating them. Koeddoes’ passion for education was also seen from the founding of Sekolah Kerajinan Amai Setia (KAS) in her hometown, Koto Gadang, in 1911. She acknowledged her privilege of being born to a well-educated family and wanted a lot of women to have the same access to knowledge as much as she did.



Founding of Sekolah Kerajinan Amai Setia (KAS)

She founded KAS alongside two of her friends, Rekni Putri and Hadisah, with the main focus of developing some skills for women, namely writing, reading, household skills, embroidery, and many more. Today, KAS still exists as Yayasan Amai Setia, a forum for silver and embroidery craftsmen in Koto Gadang.


Koeddoes' Journalism and Media Activism

Not only was she occupied with the education part of her work, she also was an active writer for Poetri Hindia, a weekly newspaper intended to be a place or forum where women can share their ideas and stories. Finally, in July 1912, Koeddoes established the first women newspaper in Minangkabau, Soenting Melajoe. Despite having Datuk Sutan Maharaja as the head of the newspaper, the editorial team was exclusively led by women.


It was through this media that women actively shared their ideas for the progress of native women in the colonial era. Soenting Melajoe, or Sunting Melayu, also contained various kinds of political and educational information. Furthermore, Soenting Melajoe also played a role in displaying values of nationalism, which was by showing two different perspectives of nationalism by male writers and female writers, usually written in forms of articles, poems, or gurindam (a traditional form of poetry that consists of irregular verses).


Overall, the characteristics of articles from Soenting Melajoe’s contributors were progressive, with a touch of political attitude that was not completely anti-colonial. This hint of Soenting Melajoe not being completely anti-colonial can be seen from Koeddoes’ birthday greetings for the Dutch government, also from Datuk Sutan Maharaja’s birthday greetings for Princess Juliana, the daughter of Queen Wilhelmina.


Koeddoes' Impact and Passion for Equality

It is reported that over a period of nine years, Soenting Melajoe had published articles and news written by native women in the range of 115-196 people each year. Another thing that needs to be highlighted about this newspaper, besides its contribution in accommodating women’s aspirations, is the native-oriented operations. Besides having natives for its leader, editorial team, and contributors, the publisher of Soenting Melajoe is known to be a native-owned company called Snelpersdrukkerij Orang Alam Minang Kabau. The birth of Soenting Melajoe is considered to be a rapid progress in the history of national press in the early 20th century.


Founding of Roehana School

Her success as the founder of Soenting Melajoe gave her popularity and credibility that she put into good use. In 1917, she founded Roehana School in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, all by herself. It is reported that due to the good public impression of her, many people from in and outside of Bukittinggi came to study there, basking in the pride of learning from an institution made by the accomplished and inspiring woman.



A True Indonesian Heroine

Koeddoes’ sense of nationalism and fairness remain as inspiration for Indonesians to strive to create a better society. Her passion for the advancement of women through education and press left a mark to be honored and cherished forever. In 1987, 15 years after her passing, she was officially given the title “Perintis Pers Indonesia” or Indonesian Press Pioneer. A few years ago, in 2019, Roehana Koeddoes was finally declared as a national hero by Joko Widodo, the President of Indonesia. Her name can be found today as a street name in Padang, West Sumatra, and a building name on Rimbo Kaluang Street, Padang, West Sumatera.


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