Budi Utomo (also Boedi Oetomo; "Pure Endeavor"), founded in May 20, 1908, was the first native political society in the Dutch East Indies. Today, the year 1908 is commemorated as the birth year of its "nationalist awakening." In 2008, the Indonesian government marked a centennial celebration of the modern birth of nationalist aspirations.
The founder of Budi Utomo was a pensioned government doctor who felt that native intellectuals should improve the masses in education and culture. The society held its first congress in May 1908. The congress was a gathering of students in Batavia. The first leader was Dr. Wahidin Soedirohoesodo, but by the organization's first major gathering in Yogyakarta in October 1908, he stepped aside for younger organizers.
The membership was a very high class of natives, government officials and intellectuals, confined very largely in Java and the Javanese. The furtherance of popular education became the main activity. Few branches expanded the activity into native commerce and industry. Tjipto Mangunkusumo, who would later found the more radical Indische Partij, expanded the scope of the society to include more working classes, and also the rest of the Indïes outside of Java. The organization enjoyed a rapid growth; in 1910 the society had 10,000 members enrolled in 40 branches. At the same time, it received official recognition form the colonial government.
Budi Utomo's primary aim was first not political. However, it gradually shifted toward political aims with representatives in the conservative Volksraad (the People's Council) and in the provincial councils in Java. Budi Utomo officially dissolved in 1935, but it has marked the first nationalist movement in the early twentieth century. After dissolution, some of the members joined the largest political party its time, the moderate Greater Indonesian Party (Parindra). In keeping with the outlook of Budi Utomo, former members—whether in the Volksraad or Parindra—insisted on the Indonesian language for all public statements.
The use of Budi Utomo to mark the inception of modern nationalism in Indonesia is not without controversy. Although many scholars agree that Budi Utomo was likely the first modern indigenous political organization, others question its value as an index of Indonesian nationality. For example, in his novels Pramoedya Ananta Toer, pointed to the exclusively aristocratic and male composition of Budi Utomo. Ariel Heryanto questions the nationalism of Budi Utomo, given that its existence was permitted by the Dutch regime: "Because of [Budi Utomo's] remarkably conservative character, the Dutch colonial administration tolerated [it]." Heryanto points to a "more populist and egalitarian" Muslim association (Sarekat Dagang Islamiyah), born a few years prior, as a more genuinely nationalist organization: one which was banned by the Dutch. In enshining Budi Utomo as the first nationalist organization, the current government reiterates the colonial version of history.