Students of traditional Indonesian medicine widely praise the name Kloppenburg-Versteegh (1862-1948), a woman born in the former Dutch East Indies, and who was famed for her tremendous knowledge about Indonesian medicinal plants and herbs. After she spent her early childhood years at a coffee plantation near Semarang in Central Java, her parents sent her to a boarding school in Batavia (present day Jakarta), where she would enjoy high-standard education. However, a few years later, Kloppenburg was called home by her parents, who by then were suffering from the devastating results of bad coffee harvests, and thus they could no longer afford their daughter’s expensive education in Batavia.
Back at home Kloppenburg was going to help her mother (Albertina van Spreeuwenburg) with the medical healthcare of the plantation workers. During this time, Kloppenburg learnt about the various alternative healing treatments used by her mother. Having seen the numerous benefits of using indigenous herbal medicine, Kloppenburg eagerly continued her studies on this subject. In the following years, Kloppenburg’s vast knowledge on medicinal plants and herbs did not remain unnoticed by the indigenous population; indeed, people soon considered Kloppenburg as an extraordinary expert in the field of traditional Indonesian medicine. Then, when she was confronted with the sudden death of her eldest daughter (Tina) in 1899, Kloppenburg was devastated when she learnt, that the doctor who treated her daughter, had failed to diagnose her daughter’s illness. As a result, the doctor prescribed Western medicine which turned out to have disastrous consequences.
From then on, Kloppenburg condemned the use of Western medicine. This tragic event encouraged Kloppenburg to expand her practical knowledge about traditional Indonesian medicine, which eventually lead to her first academic publication on this subject: ‘Indische Planten en Haar Geneeskracht’ (Indigenous Plants and Their Healing Properties), which was published in 1907. The book was enthusiastically received by the public, and instantly became a bestseller. Kloppenburg’s work soon became an invaluable source of information for medical students in the Dutch Indies. Now, more than a century later, Kloppenburg’s detailed knowledge and expertise in the field of traditional medicine still remain relevant to the study of medicinal plants and herbs in Indonesia today.
The Japanese occupation of the former Dutch colony marked the beginning of a series of tragic events in the life of Mrs. Kloppenburg; first her family’s land and properties were seized by the Japanese, followed by the political unrest during the Indonesian war for independence, which made life extremely difficult for the Dutch in Indonesia. During this period, Kloppenburg’s health deteriorated rapidly, yet there was no cure available for her ailments. Kloppenburg spent her last months in a Western hospital in Malang, East Java, where she would eventually pass away in 1948. Thus, Mrs. Kloppenburg will always be remembered as the first foreigner who introduced Indonesian herbal medicine to the Western world, and whose works have left us with an invaluable treasure of knowledge to be preserved for future generations.