For my Fatherland

Noto Soeroto For my Fatherland.png
Vereniging voor Javaanse Cultuurontwikkeling.jpg


This second part of the poem 'For my Fatherland' is written by the poet Raden Mas Noto Soeroto, a Javanese prince. He was the first Indonesian poet to write Dutch. During the war, he was introduced to Dutch cultural life by intellectuals as Frederik van Eeden, Henri Borel and Jan Hendrik Valckenier Kips. From 1906, Noto Soeroto, a member of a wealthy royal family, studied in the Netherlands and stayed there during the war. As an officer, he was mobilized in the Dutch army to guard neutrality. His poetry reflects his increased longing for a more favourable policital, cultural, and economic position for his ‘fatherland’, by which he clearly meant Java. He published this poem in the collection ‘De geur van moeder’s haarwrong’ [‘The scent of mother’s knot'] in 1916. To read the original poem in Dutch and the English translation of the second fragment, please click on the sources above.


The global war had a serious impact on the rise of nationalism in the neutral Dutch East Indies. The life trajectory of Noto Soeroto reflects this evolution. In the pre-war years and until 1916, his Dutch poetry on Java and his Western education illustrates his intermediary position and his belief in the congruity of East and West, of the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies, both on a political, economic, and cultural level. His belief in a truly global world community was, just as for van Eeden and Borel, inspired by the Indian philosopher and poet Rabindranath Tagore, on whom he published a biographical sketch in 1916 .

Yet, the failure of the Dutch to protect the East Indies in a military capacity, particularly in the face of Japanese threats, enraged Noto Soeroto. Although he was an officer mobilized in the Dutch army, such grievance made him a more vocal advocate of Javanese independence from 1916 onwards. Nevertheless, he remained a defender of life-long bonds between the Motherland and colony (Karels voetnoot).

For Noto Soeroto, it was essential that encounters between East and West were on equal footing. Therefore, he believed the Dutch should grant considerable political rights to the East Indies for the Javanese, as he claimed, needed to 'rediscover' their own culture. In his poem ‘For my Fatherland', he referred to the ‘wealth’ and ‘jewels’ lying in the Fatherland, which refers to Java. According to Noto Soeroto, this 'wealth' had not only been robbed by Dutch rulers, but the Javanese had also forgotten their own culture. The poet believed that the rediscovery of Javanese culture was a conduit for progress and this could not be taught through Western education. He encouraged his compatriots to search ‘the light in their inner self’.

Noto Soeroto was one of many Indonesian intellectuals who pleaded for Javanese nationalism, as an antidote to growing Indonesian nationalism at the end of the war. He believed that Java had its own identity and 'uniqueness' that was not taken into account in the Indonesian conglomerate. In 1918, a 'Javaans Comité voor Cultuurontwikkeling' ['Javanese Committee for Cultural Development'], visible on the picture in the sources above, was established in Soerakarta. The committee consisted of Javanese and Dutch intellectuals who held conferences and published on the content and aims of Javanese nation and culture.