ACEHNESE FEMALE COMMANDER
Cut Nyak Dhien (1850-1908), who is also known as Tjoet Nja’ Dhien, was one of the most prominent female military leaders in history. She was a hero who led the Acehnese guerilla forces against the Dutch colonial power for about 25 years during the Aceh War (1873-1904). The Republic of Indonesia under Soekarno awarded her with the title of National Hero of Indonesia on 2nd May 1964 and her picture was printed in Indonesian’s stamp in 2008 and also featured in 10,000 rupiah banknote (see pictures).
Cut Nyak Dhien was born in Lampadang around 1850 and passed away on 6th November 1908 in Sumedang. She was born into an aristocratic family which was well-grounded in Islamic studies in Aceh Besar. Her father, Teuku Nanta Setia belonged to Uleebalang aristocratic class. Her mother was also from aristocratic class as she was the daughter of Uleebalang of Lampagar.
In her early education, Cut Nyak Dhien received Islamic knowledge and also learnt skills regarding the household matters. She was renowned for her beauty and received many marriage proposals until her parents arranged her marriage to Teuku Cek Ibrahim Lamnga, who was also from the aristocratic family, when she was at twelve.
The First Aceh War erupted after the Dutch declared war on Aceh on 26th March 1873. The Acehnese forces were led by Panglima Polem and Sultan Alauddin Mahmud Syah II and managed to defeat the Dutch forces under the command of Johan Harmen Rudolf Kohler, who underestimated the Acehnese forces. Kohler was shot to dead. During the war, the Dutch destroyed Aceh Grand Mosque that caused Cut Nyak Dhien to understand that the Acehnese should be free from being of the slaves of the Dutch, as their religion and their houses of worship are not respected by the Dutch.
During the Second Aceh War, which had erupted in November 1873, the Dutch managed to capture the Sultan’s Palace and forced Cut Nyak Dhien with her infant along with the others to flee to a safer location. Her husband Teuku Ibrahim died in the war and that caused Cut Nyak Dhien to rage in anger and swore to destroy the Dutch.
Two years later, Cut Nyak Dhien accepted the marriage proposal from Teuku Umar as he allowed her to continue fighting. They were married in 1880 and granted with a daughter, named Cut Gambang. They together raised the spirit and morale of the Acehnese and gathered armies to fight against the colonial power. The Acehnese declared a Sacred War (jihad) against the Dutch by using guerilla warfare tactics along with traps and ambushes attacks.
The Acehnese forces were greatly lacking in supplies. Teuku Umar and Cut Nyak Dhein made a secret plan and decided that Teuku Umar, along with 250 strong men, will surrender to the Dutch, which happened in September 1893. At that time Teuku Umar was already appointed as a commander and also was given the title of Teuku Umar Johan Pahlawan. This man full of wisdom and the great knowledge of warfare tactics, was able to flee from the Dutch with supplies enough to help the Acehnese in their struggle. Cut Nyak Dhein played a vital role in this military operation by giving constructive advises to her husband and also in planning the warfare strategy.
Teuku Umar and Cut Nyak Dhien continued to fight, but later Teuku Umar was killed when the Dutch led a surprised attack on him in Meulaboh. After the death of her husband, Cut Nyak Dhien continued to lead the Acehnese forces. It was reported that she slapped her daughter, Cut Gambang, for crying over the death of her father and said that: “As Acehnese women, we should not shed tears for those who have been martyred.”
With a very small army, she continued to resist against the colonial power and caused a lot of destructions, especially in 1901. But the Dutch managed to adapt their warfare tactics and, at the same time, Cut Nyak Dhien was suffering from nearsightedness and arthritis due to her old age. Furthermore, the Acehnese forces kept on decreasing in numbers, including facing the problems of the traitors from within and also lacked of supplies. Consequently the Dutch managed to surround her forces, but she continued to fight with determination until she was captured by the Dutch.
She was brought to Banda Aceh where she still managed to establish contacts with Acehnese fighters, who were not captured by the Dutch yet. She was exiled to Sumedang on 11th December, 1906, as the Dutch realized that she might be able to mobilize the Acehnese to fight again.
Cut Nyak Dhien was not held as a prisoner in a new place as she was seen to be very religious and the prayer beads (tasbih) was always in her hands. This caused the Bupati of Sumedang to send her to the house of Haji Ilyas, one of the local religious teachers, where Cut Nyak Dhien began to give religious education. As she was very pious woman, Cut Nyak Dhien was well respected by the people of Sumedang. At the same time, she refused to accept any gifts from the Dutch.
Writer is a final year student at dept of History and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia
Biography Pahlawan Nasional Cut Nyak Dhien
In picture: Cut Nyak Dhien after being captured by the Dutch