Constructing a Female Hero: Memory, Representation, and Cultural Politics in Indonesia

Tjut Nja Dien (second left), Indonesian female hero, when captured by Dutch in 1905. Image source: KITLV, Leiden

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 05 November 2019


Coombs Ext 1.13


Myra Mentari Abubakar


Myra Mentari Abubakar

How is a female hero constructed in Indonesia? This study traces the phenomenon of the national hero cults in Indonesia and looks at the process of how a historical figure transforms into a heroine with broader recognition at the national level. This incorporation of female hero characters in the heavily male-dominated nationalist narrative in Indonesia can be seen as an effort to improve the equality of representation of men and women in Indonesia’s historical narrative. At the same time, having looked closely to the archive, it reveals that: nationalist narrative is composed of many voices including the national and colonial one. Additionally, what seems to move to gender equality has also replicated the gender hierarchy within Indonesia national narrative.

This study makes the arguments by tracing the contested status of a female hero and focusing on the representation of Tjut Nja Dien in multiple texts and various sites of memory. I will demonstrate how various collective memories and ideologies have shaped Tjut Nja Dien, what important values and ideas are privileged in her particular representations, and what political interests influence those different representations. I suggest, despite the heroism concept which has continuously moved into a more inclusive and expanded direction, the nationalist rhetoric still fails to offer the kind of heroism which genuinely empowered a female hero. Instead, the female hero is fabricated dependent on historically changing need to respond to the major shifting importance in modern Indonesia history.

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