Figure 18: Cut Nyak Dhien


Cut Nyak Dhein (1848 – 1908) was an upperclass Indonesian woman turned guerrilla freedom fighter who has become a symbol of the Indonesian resistance against Dutch invasion.

Born into the ruling class, Cut was married at the age of 12 to a man from another upperclass family. When Cut was 25 years old, the Dutch declared war on the Sultanate of Aceh (now a province of Indonesia) in order to gain control over the area, which was in a strategic position for the export of valuable peppercorns.

Cut spent the first three years keeping away from the war to take care of her child. However, when her husband was killed in action in 1878 she swore to take revenge on the Dutch. She spent the next 25 years fighting against them.

She got married again, and had another child, but refused to stop fighting the holy war, as her nation had declared it. Her second husband, Teuku Uma, was considered a hero, and as a pair they raised moral among the troops. At this point they were fighting a guerrilla war, laying traps and ambushes, but they were running low on supplies and in serious danger of defeat.

In a radical move, Cut and her husband surrendered, and spent the next two years working with the Dutch, inspiring their trust, to the horror of their own people. However, the couple were never loyal to the Dutch, and, while pretending to fight on their side, Cut and Teuku vanished back to their guerrilla army, equipped with lots of supplies taken from the Dutch to arm them!

Unfortunately for the native people of Aceh, the Dutch replaced their general with a man who would go to any lengths to win the war, and under his watch many atrocities were committed. The fear that this inspired meant that the tide of the war began to turn against the Acehnese, and the main base of the rebel army was discovered and Cut’s second husband was killed in 1899. Two years later Cut’s fight finally came to an end too, as she was captured, and sent into exile, where she lived until she died in 1908.

After her death Cut has remained a popular figure in Indonesia. In 1964 she was acknowledged by President Sukarno as a National Hero of Indonesia through Presidential Decree, and with an airport and a hospital named after her, as well as being depicted on the nation’s banknotes, Cut Nyak Dhein has not been forgotten in her homeland.

Even so, it took a lot of research to find her, and if my writing about her sounds dry it’s because the information about her in English that I have found is either made up of dry facts or is from blog posts, when normally I try to get more reliable sources (preferably ones that don’t refer to the female subject as ‘he’! I assume it’s because English wasn’t the writer’s first language, but it hardly inspires confidence!)

I think more people should know about this women who seems to have been indefatigable in her fight for justice, a fight which took everything from her – including her health; she was referred to when she was captured as an ‘old woman,’ and she certainly looks it, and she was losing her vision, but she was actually only 53 when she was captured!

Cut’s strength in the face of such adversary, and the fact that she outlived her father, both husbands and died the same year as her daughter, all of whom were killed in the fighting, must be a testament to her bravery and intelligence. I hope that you will remember this woman and her amazing work!


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