Rethinking riots in colonial South East Asia: The case of the Maria Hertogh controversy in Singapore, 1950-54

16 December, 2019

Photo: ‘Ethnicity’ from SRN’s SG Photobank

The Maria Hertogh riots occurred in Singapore on 11 December 1950 over the custody lawsuit of Maria Hertogh, a girl born into a Dutch-Eurasian Roman Catholic family. Maria was raised by a foster Malay family during the war and moved with them to Kemaman, Malaya after the war ended. She was also legally married to Mansoor Adabi under Muslim law on 1 August 1950. This was also around the time when the Hertogh family, having since returned to the Netherlands, proceeded to reclaim Maria through legal means. The Court’s eventual verdict was to award the custody of Maria back to her birth parents as they recognized her to be under Dutch law and not Muslim law, which overrides her marriage to Mansoor Adabi. This outraged the Muslim community as they felt the Muslim law was being undermined, leading to widespread riots against the Eurasian and European community in Singapore.

In ‘Rethinking Riots in Colonial South East Asia: The Case of the Maria Hertogh Controversy in Singapore, 1950-54’ (South East Asia Research, 2010), Associate Professor Khairudin Aljunied goes beyond the cause, process, and conditions that led to the Maria Hertogh riots, and instead critically analyses the global and regional responses from colonial and anticolonial groups in the aftermath of the Maria Hertogh riots. He explains how the riots led to a heightened political consciousness and social activism in the neighbouring region of Southeast Asia, with local newspapers helping to perpetuate the feeling of British colonial discrimination towards Islam and Muslims. Conversely, animosity towards colonial rule was less substantial in the wider Arab world, presumably because the Arab leaders chose not to express their views regarding the riot. In Europe, the Dutch government urged the media not to aggravate the situation further and cautioned against excessive celebrations upon the Hertoghs imminent arrival at the airport. Meanwhile, the British employed strategies to maintain order following the riots. They did this by obtaining intelligence on activities in Malayan political groups that promoted independence in the wake of the riots, and also through a propaganda-driven, public display of respect for the Muslim community. Through this article, A/P Khairudin Aljunied hopes to acquaint Southeast Asian historians with an alternative way to study riots in the region by uncovering the little-known global and regional consequences of the Maria Hertogh riots.

Read the article here: