Feedback : Sitemap


About NE

Core Events


Episodes of the Singapore Story

Learning Journeys

Community Involvement Programme



The Maria Hertogh Riots (11 Dec 1950)

Who was Maria Hertogh?

Maria Bertha Hertogh was born in Java 1937 to Dutch Catholic parents. When she was about 5 years old, her father, a soldier, was made a prisoner-of-war by the Japanese who invaded Java. Maria was then taken by their family friend Aminah Bte Mohammad to Bandung for the girl’s safety. The whole dispute that was to develop later in 1949 and 1950 was to centre on whether Aminah had been given adoption rights over the child. Aminah clearly assumed so, especially since Maria’s mother was herself interned by the Japanese and thus had no opportunity to meet Aminah and Maria in Bandung.

Maria was brought up as a Muslim and given the name Nadar 
by Aminah. In 1947, Maria was brought to Malaya by Aminah as the Indonesian War of Independence raged. By 1949 when the Hertoghs received news that Maria was in Malaya, Maria could only speak Malay and had been brought up as a Muslim.

The Custody Battle

In 1950, the Hertoghs sought to reclaim Maria through the courts in Singapore. On 22 Apr 50, the Court ruled that Maria should be returned to her biological parents and she was to be first put under the custody of the Social Welfare Department. Aminah then appealed and on 28 Jul 50, Maria was returned to Aminah. Subsequently, Maria was married to a 22-year-old Malay teacher.

On 13 Nov 50, the Hertoghs revived their custody battle. The court ruled that Maria should be returned to her biological parents as her father was not consulted when Aminah took her off to Bandung. As Maria should be subjected to Dutch laws which do not permit any girl under 16 to be married, her Muslim marriage would be made invalid. The court then put her in the care of a Christian convent, pending her return to the Netherlands.

There was widespread coverage of the custody battle in the English, Malay and Tamil press. Reporters and photographers also entered the convent for more leads. Pictures of a Muslim girl in a Christian convent appeared in newspapers and that aroused the religious antipathy of local Muslims. Calls were even made in the Sultan Mosque to start a holy war to return Maria to Aminah if all legal avenues yielded no result.

On 11 Dec 50, the Appeal Court sat to hear Maria’s case. Large crowds gathered outside, eager to know the result of Aminah’s appeal. The judge however threw out Aminah’s appeal after only five minutes. The judgement and the legal process convinced the crowd that the colonial legal system was biased against Muslims. A riot began.

The Riots

The huge crowds gathered outside the court and the Padang vented their mob fury. Any European and Eurasian in sight was attacked. Cars were overturned and burnt. The Malay and Indian Muslim rioters took control of districts like Sultan Mosque, North Bridge Road and Jalan Besar, and set up roadblocks. The riot continued for three days and a 24-hour curfew had to be imposed for two weeks. British and Malay troops and the Singapore police had to be all involved to control the Riot. A total of 18

people were killed and 173 injured before law and order was restored.

The Significance of the Riot

The Riot showed that the colonial authorities were not sensitive to the racial and religious feelings of Singaporeans. It failed to realise how damaging it would be to put a Muslim girl in a Christian convent when so much media attention was focused on the trial.

More importantly, the Riot showed that racial and religious harmony could never be taken for granted in a multicultural society like ours. Our primordial attachment to our cultural roots makes
it easy for racial and religious feelings to boil over and these could easily take violent forms. If a racial riot is to happen today, what we have achieved so far could all be undermined.

The incident also shows the danger of unfettered, sensationalised coverage of racially and religiously sensitive issues in the mass media. Editors, reporters and photographers need to exercise restraint and be sensitive to the potential for violence when racial and religious feelings are aroused.

The above article was prepared by the National Education Branch (MOE).

Photo Credits: The National Archives of Singapore

>> back to Episodes of the Singapore Story

Page Last Updated : 04-Jan-2005
   Location: 1 North Buona Vista Drive, Singapore, 138675
Tel: 68722220  Fax: 67752963
Click here to give your feedback or make enquiries

This site is best viewed with IE ver 5.x and Netscape ver 7.x
Copyright 2004 Ministry of Education. All rights reserved.

Privacy Statement | Terms of Use