The role and position of women was a dominant trope in the discourse of colonial reform in turn of the 20th century colonial Indonesia. Dutch “progressives” as well as “conservatives” – men and women – employed representations of ‘the woman’ in asserting the moral superiority of Dutch civilisation. The imagined subjects of such discourse, European as well as Indonesian women, were respectively admired or admonished: “she” had a noble duty to perform, or she failed to perform it; “she” evidenced innocence or its loss; “she” performed “tradition” or she suffered it. The image of “the colonizing white woman” and the “the colonial Eurasian woman”; “the colonized native woman” and “the traditional woman not yet colonized” – or missionize were all central personas in the portrayal of colonial modernity. Within an emerging definition of Indonesian modernity these personas, too, soon found their counterparts: “the dangerous white woman”, “the Europeanised indigenous woman”, “the new modern woman”. Drawing on Frances Gouda’s (1993) concept of gendered rhetoric of colonialism and anti-colonialism, and the insights of Partha Chatterjee and Antoinette Burton, this paper demonstrates how images of the woman were mobilised to justify the expansion and intensification of colonial authority. At the turn of the twentieth century they provided the moral dimension that enabled Dutch colonialism to garner support from a newly democratised Dutch electorate, as, similarly, a little later, Indonesian images helped mobilise nationalist support. This rhetorical thematic therefore provided a key emotive underpinning for the modernities of colonial Indonesia (and elsewhere). The paper draws on a range of male and female authored, Dutch and Indonesian literary, journalistic and archival sources from the period 1890s to World War One to illustrate the range and function of such images in the construction of these alternative modernities.
Joost Coté is Senior Research Fellow in the School of Philosphical, Historical and International Studies, Faculty of Arts, Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. . As well as having translated the correspondence of pioneer Indonesian feminist, RA Kartini and her sisters, (Coté 1992, 2005, 2008), he has published on a range of issues related to colonial practice and cultures and modernity in early twentieth century Indonesia. He is currently preparing an annotated new English translation of the complete writings of Kartini due to be published in 2013.
European physicians in general had a low opinion of midwives. Going to the Indies, they took these opinions with them in their backpack. In the colony, Europeans looked down on the indigenous healers, the dukun, their contempt for dukun was even stronger for those specialized in obstetrics. The European sources on the doings of these traditional birth attendants (TBA) are real horror stories written with a lot of emotion. The attitude of the European doctors was taken over by the Western-trained Indonesian male doctors. Neither group realized that their help was only called in when a dukun could not handle the delivery because of a complication. They never watched a normal delivery which a TBA could handle perfectly well. This low esteem of TBAs was the main reason why the colonial government established a midwifery school in 1851. They wanted to educate young Indonesian women to become midwives and to replace the dukun. However, the colonial government was accused of letting white and brown mothers down in the most difficult hours of their lives by not providing sufficient obstetric care in the Dutch Indies – which in their view should be Western obstetrical help. This attitude was in line with the prevailing climate of those days, in which men wanted to protect both the workers, and the weak female species. The horror stories about the TBA and compassion with the women in childbed put pressure on the government to improve obstetric care. A fact that was underestimated was that indigenous women preferred TBAs, as they knew and respected the indigenous traditions and magical rituals in the process of childbirth. In the end, the colonial government decided to give priority to general health care and hygiene.
After her graduation as a historian, Liesbeth Hesselink (1943) worked as a teacher in secondary schools, as a civil servant first for the ministry of Education and later for the municipality of Leiden. She also represented the Dutch Labour Party as a member of the board of Councillors for the municipality of Leiden for eight years. After her retirement, she attained her doctorate in 2009 with her thesis titled Genezers op de koloniale markt, inheemse dokters en vroedvrouwen in Nederlands Oost-Indië 1850-1915, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009 (Healers in the colonial market place, indigenous doctors and midwives in the Dutch East Indies 1850 – 1915 ). Other publications: “Crossing Colonial and Medical Boundaries: Plural Medicine on Java, 1850-1910” in A. Digby, W. Ernst and P.B. Mukharhji (eds.), Crossing Colonial Historiographies: Histories of Colonial and Indigenous Medicines in Transnational Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, planning to appear in September 2010, p. 117-43.