Monday, June 23, 2008

Mata Hari

Matahari was born as Margaretha Geertruida on August 7, 1876 in Leeuwarden Holland (the Netherlands).
She was the second child of Adam Zelle and his wife Antje van der Meulen (inter-race decent of Manado and Holland) and only sister of four Zelle boys. Her father was a wealthy businessman. Margaretha Geertruida (MataHari), throughout her youth was accustomed to servants and a life full of luxury and aristocracy. She was affectionately called M'greet. As she later recalled, her father seemed to regard her as "an orchid among buttercups." in bahasa ]

Initially, she enjoyed a privileged childhood but when she was thirteen years old, her father's business failed and he left home. Two years later, her mother died.

Sent to live with relatives, she started training as a schoolteacher. However, she was dismissed following an indiscreet affair with the headmaster. Then, at the age of eighteen, she responded to a newspaper advertisement on behalf of an army officer seeking marriage for the purpose of career advancement. So, she met 38-year-old Captain Rudolph MacLeod, a Dutchman of Scottish ancestry, and on 11 July 1895, they married.

Life finally changed, they had two children, a son Norman born on 30 January 1897 in The Netherlands. This bundle of joy brought happiness in their lives and what’s more the MacLeods were now close together, but in financial crisis due to the expenses of wedding and honeymoon and finally a baby too. As revealed by her later, at the time of divorce, Margaretha cried bitterly and pointed out that when Margaretha had given birth to a baby, John was having sex with a native girl in the next room. After five months of the baby’s birth they finally decided to shift to the Dutch East Indies. Margaretha thought this was going to be a great adventure. She now turned 20 years old while John was 41. After having shifted to the East Indies, a daughter Jeanne-Louise born on 2 May 1898 on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. Jeanne was nicknamed ‘Non’, that is an abbreviation for a Malayan word ‘Nona’, which means a young girl. However, things were not much different for Margaretha. There were daily fights and arguments and of course some unpleasant situations still continued.

Life was now slowly changing for Margaretha. She was now a mother too apart from being a wife. Rudolph was slowly realizing what it meant to marry an exceptionally pretty girl and the one who was very young too. Rudolph had experienced many such incidents when men on streets had tried to flirt with Margaretha, and Rudolph, left with no choice, had to defend her honor. When things started going beyond his control he started accusing Margaretha of flirting with other men. He had a Casanova kind of an attitude, and he did not change much after marriage. His old ways and habits stuck to him like glue. He was many times accused of being too rough with his wife by many of his friends. He used to accuse Margaretha in public too.

John then got transferred to Medan, another city. Margaretha would be called there later and in the meanwhile he would get settled in Medan. Margaretha, however left their home and started living with the Van Rheedes. Van Rheedes served as the chief accountant for the Dutch army in the East Indies. This was the time when Margaretha really did what she liked. She used to like dressing in the native ‘Sarong’ and ‘Kabaja’, in English those dresses would be a skirt and a blouse. Also among the usual other dresses were laced up, tight-fitting corsets. She enjoyed the brightly patterned clothing. Her keen interest got her invitation to one of Javanese dance dramas and it went on for days and days. Slowly her fascination for history, language and culture of Indonesia grew and slowly and secretly she started learning Malay bit by bit, though she could not speak much of the language fluently but she somehow could manage to speak a word here and there.

Time passed and her knowledge too increased. Many a times at parties in the local club, when soldiers and their wives were being entertained by the native folk dance performers, Margaretha would often join them in their dances, flailing herself about uninhibitedly to the delight of the on lookers. To her relatives, in 1897, Margaretha wrote about she being asked to dance by the officers in the Dutch East Indies, and she also mentioned that she had taken the name ‘Mata Hari’ which in Malay meant ‘the eye of dawn’. Interestingly, Margaretha was attracted towards Hindu mythology and would hunt around the town for people who would translate the dance dramas to her. This interest of hers made her identify herself more and more to the Hindu pantheon. At times when she was alone in her room, she would perform the slow, hypnotic dances and most of the time the only musical accompaniment were the sounds of an orchestra in her head. With her soul too now being too much attached to the dancing and herself being attracted to the Hindu mythology, Margaretha realized that she was becoming more or less an ‘Apsara’, or a Celestial Dancing Girl, whose moments of happiness could be realized only when she was dancing for the Gods.

John, meanwhile was busy with his life in Medan, he was sending no money to his wife or children. Margaretha had no financial support from her husband. It was very embarrassing for her. On the other hand, John used to write to his relatives, and in those long letters, he complained about Margaretha’s lack of maternal instincts. In his letters he wrote her in detail how she should be prepared to clean the house herself, and also mentioned that though being a Garrison Commander’s wife, she should not neglect her duties as a mother of two children.

It was just almost one month that Margaretha had settled in Medan, catastrophe struck, on 25 June 1899, the two-and-a-half year old son Norman died of the poison, but the little girl survived the accident because she had not consumed much of the supper. Investigation reports revealed that the poison found in the sauce which was consumed with rice. Rumors spread. One of them was, John had beaten up a native soldier, and incidentally this soldier was in love with the children’s nurse. The nurse, in order to take revenge of her lover being beaten up, had poisoned the children. The nurse, however, remained the prime suspect of the homicide. She was never charged for the accusations and the case was never resolved. John on the other hand, used to accuse Margaretha for being careless about the children, which was the reason why their child died. John was transferred back again to Java to a village called Banyu-Biru. Finally after having thought over it for a long time and considering their life together being not so fruitful, the two decided to go for a legal separation.

Life continued, but Margaretha could not forget the time she had in Holland. She used to request frequently to return to Holland, and finally after too much of persistence her wishes were granted and in March 1902, they boarded a naval transport to Amsterdam. She thought at least there would be no separation if they were on home ground. John and Margaretha were tired of the life they had in the Indies, there were many sad memories associated with it. Even after reaching Holland, the couple fought incessantly. One fine day when Margaretha returned home, she was shocked, her apartment was empty, and John had gone away with their four-year-old daughter. Margaretha, after hard efforts tracked them down, but it was in vain, a separation was slapped on her face brutally. However, she was returned her daughter and was promised monetary support but that never reached her.

John cruelly put an advertisement in the Amsterdam newspapers : “I request all and sundry not to supply goods or services to my estranged wife Margaretha MacLeod-Zelle.” He also spread the word that it was Margaretha who had deserted him. She looked for some employment but found nothing. Unable to feed or clothe Non, she reluctantly returned her to John.

Margaretha was now on her own. She had been separated and penniless, she had no work skills and there was hardly any future for this 27-year-old lady. She recalled, in the East Indies, how intrigued she became as she read the Dutch newspapers that presented the easy life in Paris, then the center of culture and the arts. Anonymous writers had written about the huge volumes of talent and arts and those being highly appreciated there. She had in her mind a vague picture towards that unknown land that she had never seen but she was sure that perhaps she had a better future there, and finally she decided to leave for Paris and try her luck there.

She moved to Paris where she performed as a circus horse rider, using the name 'Lady MacLeod'. Struggling to earn a living, she also modelled for the portraitist Antonio de La Gandara.

From 1905, she eventually won fame as an exotic Oriental-style dancer. It was then that she adopted the stage name Mata Hari, which means 'sun' in Indonesian and Malay (literally 'eye of the day'). For her act, she posed as a princess from Java of priestly Indian birth, pretending to have been initiated into the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood. Although the explanations were fiction, the act was spectacularly successful because it elevated erotic dance to an acceptably respectable status, and so broke new ground in a style of entertainment for which Paris was to be world famous.

The Mata Hari was also a successful courtesan and had relationships with many military officers, politicians and others in influential positions in many countries, including France and Germany.

Mata Hari the double agent
During World War I, The Netherlands maintained neutrality and, as a Dutch subject, Margaretha Zelle was able to cross national borders. To avoid the battlefields, she would travel between France and The Netherlands via Spain and England, and her movements inevitably attracted suspicious attention. On one occasion, when interviewed by British intelligence officers, she admitted to working as an agent for French military intelligence, although the latter would not confirm her story.

In January 1917, the German military attaché in Madrid transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy, code-named H-21. French intelligence agents intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, were able to recognise H-21 as the Mata Hari. Remarkably, the messages were in a code that German intelligence knew had been broken by the French, leaving historians later to suppose that the messages were contrived so that, in the event that she was working for the French, her French paymasters would identify her as a double agent and neutralise her. On 13 February 1917, she was arrested in her Paris hotel room. At the time of her arrest, France was at a low point in the war. Morale was down, there was seemingly no end in sight, hundreds of thousands of both Central Powers and Anglo-Russian Entente forces had died, and there was a hunger for a scapegoat. The now-famous Dutchwoman seemed to fit the role. The famous Mata Hari was put on trial, accused of spying and so causing the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers. Although it has been speculated since that there was no concrete evidence, she was nevertheless found guilty and was executed by firing squad on 15 October 1917, at the age of 41.

For reasons of national security, the evidence was heard in secret and, to this day, the judicial files remain closed. What is known about her wartime activities from other archives makes flimsy evidence, and historians have found nothing to indicate that the Mata Hari ever passed any significant information to either side. It is more likely that she accepted payment from both sides but failed to satisfy her paymasters. Certainly, the trial occurred at a time when the war was not going well for France, and for the French government it was very convenient to focus blame for military failures on the treachery of spies. The conviction of the Mata Hari provided a high-profile example, and enhanced the public image of French counter-espionage capabilities.

The fact that a former erotic dancer had been executed as a spy immediately provoked many rumours. One is that she blew a kiss to her executioners, although it is more likely that she blew a kiss to her lawyer, who was a witness to the execution and a former lover of hers. Another rumour claims that, in an attempt to distract her executioners, she flung open her coat and exposed her naked body.

A third rumour had it that the Mata Hari was unusually composed at the execution, refusing to be tied or blindfolded – and that this is because the firing squad was to be bribed to use blanks for a fake execution, but the plan failed. However, the tale bears a suspicious resemblance to a plot in Puccini's earlier opera, Tosca.

The enduring legend and popular culture
Naturally, popular imagination was fired by the idea of an exotic dancer working as a lethal double agent, using her powers of seduction to extract military secrets from her many lovers. This image has made the Mata Hari an enduring stereotype of the femme fatale.

Such of the enduring popularity is owed to the film entitled "Mata Hari", released in 1931 and starring Greta Garbo in the leading role. While based on real events in the life of Margaretha Zelle, the plot was largely fictional, appealing to the public appetite for fantasy at the expense of historical fact. Immensely successful as a form of entertainment, the exciting and romantic character in this film inspired subsequent generations of storytellers.

Eventually, the Mata Hari featured in more films, television series, anime series, and in video games series Read or Die, and in video games —but increasingly, it is only Margaretha Zelle's famous stage name that bears any resemblance to the real character.

Many books have been written about the Mata Hari; some of them serious historical and biographical accounts, but many of them highly speculative.

The finale was full of drama. On October 15, 1917, Mata Hari refused both blindfold and tether and blew a kiss to the firing squad before they pulled the trigger. Rumors say that one soldier, overcome by the idea that his rifle had fired the fatal bullet, fainted after the act ! Was she spying for the Germans or French ? The legend of the world’s most famous female spy lives on.

Here are pop cultures refer to the legend
- In the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale, the fictional character Mata Bond was the daughter of Mata-Hari and James Bond. She was a dancer just like her mother, but not a terribly good spy.

- Mata Hari has also been mentioned on the television series Charmed. The character Phoebe becomes possessed by Mata Hari's spirit.

- Mata Hari appears as a spy in the first two games of the Shadow Hearts video game series, under her true name, though Anglicised to Margarete Gertrude Zelle. In the first game, she also joins the party early on.

- In the Indiana Jones series, it is said in the novels that as a teenager, Indiana lost his virginity to Mata Hari.

- In the Young Indiana Jones Cronicals episode 'Demons of Deception' the 22 year old Indiana Jones meets and falls in love with Mata Hari in Paris during military leave from the front.

- Mata Hari is mentioned in "Like It or Not" a song from Madonna's Confessions On A Dance Floor. "Cleopatra had her way, Mata Hari too. Whether they were good or bad, is strictly up to you. In the same meaning, she is mentioned in "Shake Your Bon Bon", a song by Latin singer Ricky Martin.

- Another mention in music comes in the Mary Prankster song Mata Hari, discussing the reaction of society to openly sexual women.

- The song As You Turn To Go by The 6ths contains the lines "I know I'm not supposed to say I'm sorry, I know you've had more loves than Mata Hari".

- The Kingpins, one of Canada's most famous Ska bands, paid tribute to the spy in a song titled "Mata Hari" off of their first full length album Watch Your Back.

Mata Hari is mentioned in musician Warren Zevon's 2002 album My Ride's Here in the song entitled Genius.

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