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Meet Malahayati, the Muslim admiral who made history as the “First Female Commander” in the world

Unlike most women of her time, Keumalahayati received an education at the Aceh Royal Military Academy, where she honed her skills in leadership, combat, and navigation...

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Meet Malahayati, the Muslim admiral who made history as the “First Female Commander” in the world

Malahayati, also known as Keumalahayati, was a trailblazing Muslim woman who became the first female admiral in the world. Born in the 15th century in the Aceh Sultanate, she came from a family of respected admirals and was determined to follow in their footsteps.

The Rise of Keumalahayati

Keumalahayati was born into a noble family with a strong military background. Her father, Admiral Mahmud Syah, was a respected naval officer, and her grandfather was Sultan Salahuddin of Aceh. This lineage provided her with an early exposure to military strategy and naval warfare. Unlike most women of her time, Keumalahayati received an education at the Aceh Royal Military Academy, where she honed her skills in leadership, combat, and navigation.

Her life took a decisive turn when her husband, also a naval officer, was killed in battle against Portuguese forces. This personal loss spurred her to take up arms and defend her homeland. Keumalahayati’s dedication and skill did not go unnoticed, and she quickly rose through the ranks, eventually being appointed as the head of the Aceh Sultanate’s naval forces by Sultan Alauddin Riayat Syah Al-Mukammil.

The Formation of the Inong Balee Army

The Inong Balee Army, meaning “Widow Warriors,” was an elite military unit composed entirely of women who had lost their husbands in battle. Recognizing the untapped potential and fierce determination of these widows, Keumalahayati founded and led this extraordinary group. The creation of the Inong Balee Army was revolutionary, as it provided women with a significant role in the defense of their nation.

The Inong Balee soldiers were trained rigorously in various aspects of warfare, including archery, swordsmanship, and naval tactics. Under Keumalahayati’s leadership, these women became a formidable force, known for their bravery and strategic acumen. They played a crucial role in defending the Aceh Sultanate from foreign invasions, particularly against the Portuguese and the Dutch, who were vying for control over the lucrative spice trade in the region.

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Achievements and Legacy

One of Keumalahayati’s most notable achievements was her victory against the Dutch fleet in 1599. Leading the Inong Balee Army, she managed to capture the Dutch admiral Cornelis de Houtman, a significant blow to the Dutch East India Company’s efforts to dominate the region. This victory not only boosted the morale of her troops but also established Aceh as a formidable naval power in Southeast Asia.

Keumalahayati’s leadership extended beyond the battlefield. She was instrumental in diplomatic negotiations and the administration of the Aceh Sultanate’s naval affairs. Her efforts in maintaining the sovereignty of her homeland and promoting the role of women in the military have left an enduring legacy.

Today, Keumalahayati is celebrated as a national heroine in Indonesia. Her story is a testament to the strength, resilience, and capabilities of women in leadership roles, particularly in times of conflict. The legacy of the Inong Balee Army continues to inspire and empower women, not just in Indonesia but around the world.

Conclusion

Keumalahayati and the Inong Balee Army exemplify the impact of female leadership in military history. Their contributions to the defense and sovereignty of the Aceh Sultanate during a time of intense foreign pressure are a powerful reminder of the capabilities and strengths that women bring to all spheres of life, including the traditionally male-dominated field of military combat.

Their story remains a beacon of inspiration for future generations, highlighting the importance of inclusion, resilience, and strategic prowess.

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