The first naval admiral of modern times, she protected her country from foreign invaders with aplomb.
Cut Content: The Holes in This Story
In the Summer 2008 newsletter for the International Institute for Asian Studies, Elsa Clave-Celik argues that much of what we know about Keumalahayati – and many other Indonesian heroines like Cut Nyak Dhien and Cut Meutia – is a romantic fabrication. Going back to some of the Dutch sources for these tales, she points out that there’s little evidence Keumalahayati fought the Houtmans directly.
Clave-Celik puts forward that much of the stories about said heroines are distant echoes of one of the heroines of Indonesian/Hindu mythology: Amba/Sikhandi, written about elsewhere in the Rejected Princesses book. She points out that the template of warrior widow-martyrs of noble birth fits comfortably into a narrative that Indonesian and even Dutch societies were comfortable with – she specifically points to Dutch novelist and children’s book author Marie van Zeggelen as the source of much of Keumalahayati’s mythologization.
Women who do not fit this mold, she shows, do not get the same heroic treatment. Indonesian commoners and foot soldiers like Pocut Meurah Intan and Pocut Baren, who fought but also received medical aid from the Dutch — Baren was an amputee! — do not receive the same warmth from the history books. Something to keep in mind while reading through the rest of the Rejected Princesses book – what stories are advancing what agendas? What’s been vilified and for what reason? What’s been left out?
Stay tuned to Rejected Princesses Volume 2 for the answer!1
- Just kidding. There is no Volume 2. Yet. ↩
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- Keumalahayati is seen here signing a treaty on the back of a Dutchman, full in control.
- In the background are several members of the Inong Balee, in the middle of a dance number. There’s also a komodo dragon, since these sorts of movies always have animal sidekicks.
- In the far background is a Dutch ship sinking, while surrounded by period-accurate Acehnese ships.