A Bird’s Eye View of My Name Is Mata Hari

From Chapter 1:

I am Mata Hari.

I implore you, Père and Soeur, while you have sworn to a life of celibacy, do not dismiss peremptorily the skills and character of a courtesan.

I am a genuine courtesan.

And I am a dancer in the true sense.

I am a Dutch woman with Javanese blood flowing in my veins.

After reading Adolf Bastian’s Indonesien: Oder die Inseln des Malayischen archipel, and agreeing with his theory on the unity of mankind, I took to referring to the Dutch East Indies as Indonesia, in protest of Dutch colonialism. According to Bastian, the country includes Soematera, Java, Bali, Borneo, Celebes, the Moluccas, and all the other islands.

The name “Mata Hari” is Malay for sun, sonne in German, soleil in French, or zon in Dutch, and so forth.

People have also called me Lady MacLeod, after the name of my husband Rudolph John Campbell MacLeod, a Scot who was a Dutch military officer in Indonesia. I swear on my mother’s grave, I hate Ruud MacLeod. He is the most dishonest man in the world.

At the same time, my conscience tells me I cannot deny that there is something in my character that drove me to become a courtesan.

Don’t be scandalized. This is truly what I think. The skills of a courtesan are a gift from God, not only Satan. It is hard to set the realm of God apart from Satan in a human being if what is regarded as the receptacle of goodness and the hotbed of evil is none other than the human heart, and the human heart is not an independent agent.

Let me explain. It would be wrong to blame Satan when we know that behind Satan’s power, God gives him the freedom to rule people. At least that is the conclusion I have after reading the story of Job.


Pondering over my past, I know for sure that my current destiny cannot be separated from the path I had trod since marrying Rudolph MacLeod and started a life with its own notes in Java. In fact, it is karma.

By the way, don’t forget that I refer to the archipelago as Indonesia, despite the fact that the Dutch government calls it the Dutch East Indies. I also remind myself that my mother was of Dutch and Javanese parentage.

I am proud that my name is Malay. I can translate the words into seven languages, because as a dancer I performed across the European continent into Turkey and Egypt, where I was also a courtesan and spoke the local languages.

When people found out that I could speak seven languages, they called me the polyglot harlot. I had no reason to feel insulted. Instead, I was flattered.

Death is the one certainty in life. When I die, I want to die as a person of no particular nationality, or a speaker of any national language. I want to die as an exotic dancer who has danced naked. For that reason, I want to die naked too, absorbing the essential beauty of the verse I read in Job: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.


From Chapter 37:

I entered the Sociëteit de Harmonie building, known by the Dutch as the Soos and by the native people as Harmonie, and was immediately awed. The sumptuousness made me dizzy. I stared in admiration at the interior of this building. Built more than eighty years ago, it was designed by an architect named Schulze and officially opened by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.

It was unique. Where I stood, the entire floor was made of marble. Beautiful Venetian chandeliers, each containing three magnificent bright glass bulbs, hung from the ceiling. Large mirrors in Baroque copper frames magnified the grandness, and cast the light in every direction.

The entire ambiance impressed on those present that this was an extraordinary social meeting place in Batavia. It would be absolutely criminal if in the future an ignorant leader would cause the building to be demolished and replaced by another, as had often happened throughout the last two hundred years.

Hundreds of invited guests had come to celebrate the anniversary of Batavia. I did not ask Cremer if the European clergyman who had irritated him was also present. It was not my place to do so.

As I walked further into the room, closer to the area where plush chairs were neatly arranged for the guests, the air was impregnated with various fragrances. The scent of jasmines, roses, and tuberoses in the vases, mingled with the perfumes sprayed on the elegant evening dresses of the upper class ladies.

Approaching seven o’clock, the cavalry marched and saluted with their arsenal, accompanied by “Wilhelmus van Nassouwe,” the Dutch national anthem, played by the military orchestra. Governor General Rooseboom and his wife stepped down from his official carriage and walked into the building arm in arm.

The official ceremonies began, and they seemed never-ending. I was increasingly nervous.

Finally my moment came. Cremer went to the front and as master of ceremonies, introduced me. “Distinguished guests, honorable ladies and gentlemen. We are now going to see a Javanese erotic dance performed by Madame MacLeod from Friesland.”

The audience applauded, but looked uncertain. I was startled because Cremer did not refer to me as Lady MacLeod as he usually did, but as Madame MacLeod. However, I did not have time to worry because the gamelan music started.

I stepped onto the stage made of wooden boards measuring ten by seven meters. For several seconds I stood motionless, arms extended, waiting for the electric lights to be turned off and replaced by the glow of candles that had been placed on the stage. When the lights dimmed, I slowly raised my right hand and lowered my left. Then I began to dance. A few movements into the dance I undid and took off my Chinese-style white kebaya. Turning my body while lifting my left leg to hold on to the blouse, I slowly unfastened my bra. Placing the kebaya on the floor, I used the bra in the dance, moving it this way and that in front of my breasts. Then I placed the bra on the floor and continued dancing bra-less, free of the cloth of civilization. Next I loosened and slipped the batik sarong from my waist, and began the last part of my dance in only my knickers. In a few seconds these, too, were placed on the floor and I danced in front of high society completely nude in half darkness, the only light on my body coming from the candles. I couldn’t tell whether or not the audience liked my dancing. What I did know was that I had danced with my body and soul fully merged, creating art. A performer must have confidence in her ability to create something beautiful, and the audience can decide to like or dislike it.

Cremer was the first to congratulate me. He hugged me tight. To my own surprise, I responded with enthusiasm, holding his body close to mine. I’m not clear how it started, but we were no longer kissing on the cheeks. Instead we were passionately tongue kissing.

Coming to my senses, I pulled myself away. “I must go home now,” I said.

“Won’t you wait till the end of the program?” Cremer, gently, yet firmly pulled my hands towards him. “There’s going to be a bal masque.”

“No, sorry,” I said. “I must feed my baby.”

Cremer nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He walked with me to the door. Outside, he looked for a carriage to take me home. Before I boarded the vehicle, I stopped and thanked those who approached and greeted me, expressing their appreciation.

I recognized the man who playfully pinched Norman John when I first came to De Ster van het Oosten looking for Cremer. Clockener Brousson said, “Your dance was true poetry.”

“Thank you,” I said humbly.


From Chapter 69:

I was sad to leave Java. It was in this land of my mother that I had discovered my true self. Yet it couldn’t give me the guarantee of becoming the matahari of my dreams.

Though I spelled the name in two words, I did associate it with matahari, the sun. And I wanted to shine. Being matahari in a land where there were only two seasons, the rainy and dry season, and the sun always shone in both, nobody noticed my sun. I wanted to be matahari in a land with four seasons, where after summer people sought the sun, and its presence was noticed and appreciated.

I had to forget all my lovers when I returned to the Netherlands. From Cremer to Brousson, each had shaped my life in Indonesia. I looked forward to beginning a new history, with new people in Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, and on and on.

I left for the Netherlands in April 1904. Spring had begun. Ice no longer covered the earth, and different flowers were in bloom. Life was tinged with hope.


From Chapter 76:

In the Musée Guimet I walked around to observe the crowd, who appeared to study and admire the statues and other sculptures of the East. I couldn’t help wondering whether they actually appreciated Eastern cultures and traditions. The guests whom Astruc had invited were military officers from various European countries. I wasn’t convinced that military officers had the capacity for cultural appreciation, especially the fine arts, and especially non-Western fine arts. In their day-to-day life and professional duty, these men who devoted their mental and physical energy to conquering their enemies, were often filled with contempt for the enemy countries and cultures. They destroyed cultural items and establishments without hesitation.

I spotted two men in civilian clothes, but I knew they were military officers. I heard their voices from where I stood. They spoke English with different accents. The blond one was German and the dark-haired one French. I made the distinction based on their pronunciation of r’s and l’s.

They looked at a statue of Nayaka and Nayaki coupling. The image was created from the description in the Kama Sutra, the male half standing with his right leg raised, and the female sitting in his lap, her arms wrapped around the man’s neck. The statue was a replica of the original in the Kalniga-Konaraku temple, labeled Latanwestitakam.

I silently stood behind them obscured by a large statue of Shiva that was the centerpiece of the room. The conversation quickly turned coarse.

“Look at this,” said the French man. “This Indian sculptor had no idea of anatomical balance.”

“What’s wrong with it?” the German asked.

“It’s such a caricature. How could it be possible that his cock is longer than that of a horse?”

“You should travel more, Ladoux,” the German mocked. “Everyone knows that the men in the Arab and Indian regions have gigantic cocks.”

“Even so, this is primitive. Just think, von Bayerling, where would you find a woman with hole to fit it?”

“Your knowledge about a woman’s anatomy is also nil, Ladoux. You think a vagina is like a shoe with its fixed size. It has an elasticity that can accommodate any size.”

I cleared my throat to attract their attention.

They stopped their conversation and walked around the statue of Shiva.

I pretended to be seriously studying the statue. But through the veil of my hat, I glanced at the two men now standing near me.

Ladoux pointed and said, “You seem very interested in this.”

I turned to face them. “Yes.”

“This fascinating work is from Madoera,” Ladoux said with authority.

“No,” I corrected him, “this is not from Madoera, but from Madurai.”

Both men were surprised.

Ladoux then asked, “What’s the difference? Here it says Madoera.”

“That’s a mistake. The card should state Madurai.”

Von Bayerling stepped forward and assumed an autocratic stance. “What’s the difference?”

“Madurai is in India, Madoera in Indonesia.”

“Where is this Indonesia?” Von Bayerling’s question infuriated me immediately.

“Are you German?” I asked in a provocative tone.

He took the bait. “Why? Do you feel uncomfortable speaking to a German?”

“No,” I said, “I respect Germans.”

Von Bayerling was pleased and barely disguised his arrogance. He said in a jovial tone, “Deutschland über alles—Germany above all others.”

I gave him a faint smile.

Ladoux did not react.

Von Bayerling returned to the topic of Madoera and Madurai. “You haven’t told us the location of Indonesia.”

I felt driven to test this man. “Maybe you’ve heard of the German professor, Adolf Bastian, who in his book refers to the Dutch East Indies as Indonesia?” I was certain he had never heard of Bastian.

Von Bayerling tried to disguise his ignorance with more of his arrogance. “Which book of Professor Bastian are you talking about?”

I replied without hesitation, “Indonesien: Oder die Inseln des Malayischen archipel.”

He was bewildered. He probably never thought that an attractive woman would read serious books. Looking embarrassed, he asked in German,
“You read and speak German?”

I replied in his language, “Certainly.”

He continued, “Very pleased to meet you.”

“Thank you,” I replied

Ladoux was nonplussed at the lack of attention. He looked at me, shrugged and pouted, and walked away while mumbling in French, “The way they carry on. As if I cared.”

“What did you say?” I stopped him by speaking French.

Ladoux turned back. “You speak French, too?” he asked in French.

“Yes, I actually do. Don’t worry. Listen to me. Walk in the path of intelligence.”

Ladoux stood with his mouth gaping. When he recovered, he asked, in French, “Who are you?”

“My name is Mata Hari.”

“Ma-ta Ha-ri?” Ladoux and von Bayerling repeated.

“Yes, that’s it,” I said.


From Chapter 114:

The train slowly entered Paris on the thirteenth of February 1917. Before it came to a complete stop, a squadron of French soldiers rushed into the train car. I thought it had something to do with an emergency associated with the war until I was ordered to stand. I yelled out the names of generals whom I knew intimately, but without avail.

None of the soldiers showed me any deference or courtesy. I was dragged out of the train in the roughest and most indecent manner. A very ugly soldier used his moment of power to grab and squeeze my breasts.

“Stupid bastard,” I cursed him.

He snickered.

When we walked off the train, he pushed me on the platform and told me to move along to see his commander.

I soon stood face to face with Pierre Bouchardon. The expression on his face was as cold as the snow falling outside. Bouchardon was not a man who could be lured to bed. He looked like a clay statue, except that he breathed. I wondered if his heart was made of the same material.

I assumed a business-like approach. “This is a mistake,” I said.

He threw me a haughty and dismissive look. “To whom are you speaking?”

I wanted to slap his face, but I gathered my strength and said, “I’m talking to you.”

He raised his head and squinted at me. “Pardon me,” he said, and ordered his subordinates to take me to Élysées Palace Hotel. From there I was taken to the prison of Faubourg Saint-Denis. After a brief stay I traded that cell for another at Saint-Lazare.


Hoping for my acquittal was a futile exercise. In fact, I suspected there was an unsaid agreement between the prosecutor and the judge to convict me. In the Military Court where I was tried, a narrative infused with legal power was prepared, and said that I had committed treason and deserved to be sentenced to death.

“I cannot accept that,” I screamed. “I admit to being a prostitute. I admit to being a performer of exotic dances. I admit to being a spy. But I deny being a traitor. There is no basis for that accusation.”

No one could help me.

The judge read his verdict. I was sentenced to death. Still to be decided was the execution date. The court also agreed that I must pay all the costs of the trial.

When would the execution be?

I didn’t know.



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