Cut Nyak Dhien was born into a religious aristocratic family in Aceh Besar in VI Mukim district in 1848. Her father, Teuku Nanta Setia, was a Ulèë Balang in VI Mukim (Ulèë Balang was an aristocratic class in Aceh who led a district), while her mother also from an aristocrat family. When she was young she was renowned for her beauty. She was also educated in religion and household matters. Many men proposed to her until her parents arranged for her marriage to Teuku Cek Ibrahim Lamnga who was son of aristocrat family when she was twelve.
On 26 March 1873, Dutch declared war on Aceh which was the beginning of Aceh War. At the first war Aceh was led by Panglima Polem and Sultan Machmud Syah while Dutch army sent 3000 soldiers led by Johan Harmen Rudolf Köhler to take the Sultan's palace, much to his surprise The Sultan requested and possibly received military aid from Italy and the United Kingdom in Singapore. The Aceh army was rapidly modernized and enlarged from 10,000 to 100,000 soldiers. Dutch forces successfully pushed back, and Köhler died in action.
In November 1873, during the Second Aceh Expedition the Dutch successfully took over VI Mukin district and the Sultan's Palace in 1873 and 1874 respectively. In 1875, Cut Nyak Dhien with her baby other mothers and people were evacuated into a safer location while her husband Ibrahim Lamnga fought to reclaim the VI Mukim.
Ibrahim Lamnga died while fighting Gle Tarum on June 29, 1878. Hearing of this, Cut Nyak Dhien was enraged and swore to destroy the Dutch.
At the some point after Ibrahim Lamnga died, Teuku Umar, one of Aceh heros, proposed to her. At first she rejected him. But when Teuku Umar allowed her to fight, she at last accepted the proposal and married him in 1880. This greatly boosted the morale of Aceh armies in their fight against the Kaphe Ulanda (Dutch infidel). Teuku Umar and Cut Nyak Dhien had a duaghter together named Cut Gambang.
The war continued, and the Acehnese attacked the Dutch with guerilla warfare, particularly using traps and ambushes and declared Holy War against the Dutch. On September 30, 1893 Teuku Umar with 250 troops "surrendered" to the Dutch. Dutch army were happy to welcome him and gave him the title of Teuku Umar Johan Pahlawan and appointed him to be a commander. In fact, Teuku Umar secretly planned to betrayed Dutch. Even Cut Nyak Meutia came to Cut Nyak Dhien and insulted her for her husband's betrayal. However, two years later Teuku Umar set out to assault Aceh, and so he departed with his troops, heavy equipment, weapons, and ammunition from the Dutch. But he and his wife never returned to the Dutch. This is recorded in Dutch history as "Het verraad van Teukoe Oemar" (the treason of Teuku Umar).
Teuku Umar and Dhien kept resisting the Dutch with their new equipment until the Dutch sent the Maréchaussée (Marsose) to attack the Acehnese. This Dutch action is considered barbaric because the Dutch troops destroyed everything in their way and the Achenese people found them extremely difficult to resist until at last Van Der Heyden disbanded the Marsose. This event also led to the success of the latter Dutch general because so many people were killed.
The Dutch general, Joannes Benedictus van Heutsz took advantage of the condition and sent a spy to Aceh. Teuku Umar was killed during battle when the Dutch launched a surprise attack on him in Meulaboh. When Cut Gambang cried over his death, Cut Nyak Dhien slapped her and then she hugged her and said:
“ Sebagai perempuan Aceh, kita tidak boleh menumpahkan air mata pada orang yang sudah syahid ”
(translation: As Acehnese women, we may not shed tears for people who have become shahid)
After her husband died, Cut Hyak Dhien continued to resist the Dutch with her small army until its destruction in 1901 because the Dutch already adapted their tactics to the situation in Aceh. Furthermore Cut Nyak Dhien, getting older, suffered from myopic and rheumatics. The numbers of her troops was also keep decreasing and they suffered from lack of supplies. This made her troops feel sorry for her.
One of her troops named Pang Laot felt "sympathy" to her and told the Dutch about the location of her headquarter. The Dutch then assaulted Cut Nyak Dhien headquarters in Beutong Le Sageu. They caught in surprise and desperately fought back. Cut Nyak Dhien tried to take her rencong to fight but unfortunately the Dutch already caught her. While her daughter Cut Gambang successfully escaped and continued the resistance.
Old age and death
She then brought to Banda Aceh and her myopic and rheumatics slowly healed, but in the end she exiled into Sumedang, West Java because the Dutch afraid she would mobilize the resistance of Aceh people because she keep connected with them. She died on November 6, 1908 due to her old age. In May 2, 1964 she appointed to be national heroine by President Soekarno.