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Letters of a Javanese Princess   By: (1879-1904)

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First published in 1921

"When you sail from Chambra fifteen thousand miles on a course between south and southeast, you come to a great island called Java. And experienced mariners of those Islands who know the matter well say that it is the greatest Island in the world and has a compass of three thousand miles. It is subject to a great King and tributary to no one else in the world. The people are idolaters. The Island is of surpassing wealth, producing black pepper, nutmegs, spikenard, galingale, cubebs, cloves and all other kinds of spices.

"This Island is also frequented by a vast amount of shipping, and by merchants who buy and sell costly goods from which they reap great profit. Indeed, the treasure of this Island is so great as to be past telling."

Marco Polo.


The letters of Raden Adjeng Kartini were first published at the Hague in 1911 under the title, "Door Duisternis tot Licht," (from Darkness into Light). They were collected and edited by Dr. J.H. Abendanon, former Minister of Education and Industry for Netherland India. Many of the letters were written to him and to his wife "Moedertje." Dr. Abendanon has given me permission to publish this English version, which is a selection comprising about two thirds of the original book.

I also wish to acknowledge my debt to Dr. Leonard Van Noppen, who, when Queen Wilhelmina Professor of Dutch Literature at Columbia University, first called my attention to the book and told me something of Kartini's story .



When the letters of Raden Adjeng Kartini were published in Holland, they aroused much interest and awakened a warm sympathy for the writer. She was the young daughter of a Javanese Regent, one of the "princesses" who grow up and blossom in sombre obscurity and seclusion, leading their monotonous and often melancholy lives within the confines of the Kaboepaten, as the high walled Regent's palaces are called.

The thought of India, or as we now say, perhaps more happily, Java, had a strange fascination for me even as a child. I was charmed by the weird mystery of its stories, which frightened even while they charmed me. Although I was born in Holland, our family traditions had been rooted in Java. My father began his official career there as a Judge, and my mother was the daughter of a Governor General, while my older brothers had followed their father's example and were officials under the Colonial Government.

At nine years of age I was taken to the inscrutable and far off land round which my early fancy had played; and I passed five of my school years in Batavia. At the end of those five years, I felt the same charm and the same mystery. The thought of Java became almost an obsession. I felt that while we Netherlanders might rule and exploit the country, we should never be able to penetrate its mystery. It seemed to me that it would always be covered by a thick veil, which guarded its Eastern soul from the strange eyes of the Western conqueror. There was a quiet strength, "Een Stille Kracht"[1] unperceived by our cold, business like gaze. It was something intangible, and almost hostile, with a silent, secret hostility that lurked in the atmosphere, in nature and above all, in the soul of the natives. It menaced from the slumbering volcanoes, and lay hidden in the mysterious shadows of the rustling bamboos. It was in the bright, silver moonlight when the drooping palm trees trembled in the wind until they seemed to play a symphony so gentle and so complaining that it moved me to my soul. I do not know whether this was poetic imagination ever prone to be supersensitive, or in reality the "Quiet Strength," hidden in the heart of the East and eternally at war with the spirit of the West... Continue reading book >>

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