Tuesday, September 26, 2023 | 13:33 WIB

Ki Hadjar Dewantara, Indonesia’s Father of National Education – Providing a model from the front, encouragement from the side, a push from the back


Jakarta, IO – Education in Indonesia owes much to Ki Hadjar Dewantara. A Javanese nobleman born “Raden Mas Soewardi Soerjaningrat” in the Paku Alaman region in Yogyakarta, on 2 May 1889, he is also known as an Indonesian Independence activist. 

Soewardi was the son of GPH Soerjaningrat and grandson of Paku Alam III, a king of Paku Alam. He completed his basic education at the Europeesche Lagere School, the highlevel school for European children in the Netherland Indies. He entered the then-top Dutch Medical School for Native Physicians (School tot Opleiding van Inlandsche Artsen – “STOVIA”) in Batavia in his teens, but dropped out because of frail health. 

Soewardi then went on to become a journalist and writer for a number of newspapers in the Netherland Indies, including Sediotomo, Midden Java (“Central Java”), De Expres, Oetoesan Hindia (“The Indian Herald”), Kaoem Moeda (“The Young Generation”), Tjahaja Timoer (“The Eastern Light”), and Poesara (“The Tomb”). He was a prolific and eloquent writer, well known for his communicative and anti-colonialist pieces. 

Young Soewardi was also active in social and political organizations. For example, from the time Boedi Oetomo was established in 1908, he became active in its Propaganda Section to socialize the importance of unity and integrity among the people of Indonesia (especially Javanese) at the time, to bring awareness of the importance of this issue to the common citizens. He even organized the Movement’s first Congress in Yogyakarta in October of that year. He also became a member of the Insulinde, a multi-ethnic organization dominated by (halfblood European-) Indonesians who lobbied for their own separate Government in the Netherlands Indies at the behest of Ernest Douwes Dekker (“DD”). It is no surprise that DD also invited Soewardi to join when he established the Indische Partij (“Indies Party”) in 1912. 

When the Netherlands Indies Government hatched a plan to collect funds from the people in 1913 – including from native citizens – to finance the celebration of Netherland independence, nationalist scholars at the time, including Soewardi, became enraged. He wrote “Een voor Allen maar Ook Allen voor Een” (“One for All, but All for One”), followed by his legendary column “Als ik een Nederlander was” (“If I were a Dutchman”), published in DD’s newspaper De Expres on 13 July 1913. As can be seen from the following excerpt, the latter is a brutal criticism of the Netherlands Indies Government: 

“If I were a Dutchman, I would not be shameless enough to organize a celebration of (my country’s) independence in a land whose independence was taken away from me. In line with this idea, it is not only unfair, but it is also inappropriate for us to tell inlanders, or the natives, to donate their hard-earned money to finance this celebration. The very idea of such a celebration is already an insult towards them, and now we also empty our pockets…?! Go on, continue with this physical and spiritual insult! If I were a Dutchman, the thing that would most offend me and my fellow Dutchmen is the fact that inlanders are obliged to pay for an event that has absolutely no interest or benefit for them.” 

Multiple Dutch officials doubt that Soewardi wrote the piece himself, as the diction greatly differed from what he used in his previous writing. Even if he did write the piece, they believe that it was one under DD’s provocation. However, due to its controversial nature, the piece still earned 24-year-old Soewardi a banishment to Bangka Island (by his own request), with the approval of Governor General Idenburg. The other two members of the “Tiga Serangkai” (“Three Musketeers”) of the Indische Partij, DD and Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo, protested against the judgment – with the unsurprising result that all three ended up getting banished together to the Netherlands in 1913. 


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