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A watershed moment in race relations is the subject of a new musical. DENNIS CHUA writes.
SHE has earned a place in Malaysian and Singaporean history as the most famous child custody victim.
Her plight also “launched” the career of the then future Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.
She was Maria Hertogh, better known as Natrah, a 13-year-old Eurasian who, in 1950, became the central character in the legal conflict between her Dutch parents and her foster mother from Terengganu.
They had left her in the care of a friend, Aminah Mohamad during World War II. While staying with her foster mother, she got married to Mansor Adabi.
|(From left) Remy Ishak, Maya Karin, Umie Aida and Sofia Jane.|
Natrah’s tragic life will be the subject of a musical Natrah in Istana Budaya, directed by Erma Fatima, from Nov 30 to Dec 9.
Its 70-strong cast is led by Maya Karin as Natrah, Sofia Jane (Natrah at 70), Umie Aida (Aminah) and Remy Ishak (Mansor).
The title role was initially offered to Diana Danielle, but she turned it down early this month.
Erma said: “It would have been Diana’s theatre debut and we were all looking forward to it. Sadly, she and Istana Budaya could not agree over payments and her schedule conflicted with the musical.”
While she regretted Diana’s decision, Erma said she had great respect for the budding actress and hoped to collaborate with her in future projects.
“Maya was my first choice to replace Diana, it was great that she said yes. Initially, I wanted Sofia to play Natrah’s mother but on her suggestion, we decided to portray Natrah in her 70s because that would make the story more engaging,” she said.
Besides Maya and Sofia, Erma is auditioning for actresses to play Natrah aged nine and 40.
While the staging of Natrah comes months after Hertogh’s death, Erma and Istana Budaya had always wanted to make a musical about her life.
Istana Budaya director-general Mohd Juhari Shaarani said Hertogh’s story “deserved to be told” to the younger generation as it was a tragic tale that affected the struggle for Independence.
“Natrah was a victim of two worlds. At a young age, she was taken away from the place she called home, and she spent a lifetime trying to return here,” he said, adding that they planned to stage Natrah in Singapore later.
Erma said: “Natrah was a young woman whose life had an impact on Malaysian history. She was a tragic figure who endured much pain, but remained hopeful till the end.”
Maya said Natrah was one of her “dream roles”. She learnt more about Hertogh while on the set of 1957 — Hati Malaya.
“Natrah’s story is an interesting one. It’s not merely about a girl at the centre of a custody battle. It involves the country’s struggle for Independence and issues affecting Malaysians in the post-war years,” she said.
Sofia said the role of Natrah in her twilight years would make the audience identify more with the protagonist.
“Through 70-year-old Natrah, the audience will get to see how she feels about her turbulent life, and what we can learn about it,” she said.
She said Natrah’s life had many important lessons for Malaysians, and a musical about her was timely.
Umie said playing Aminah was an “out of the ordinary” role for her, and she strongly identified with Natrah’s foster mother.
“The musical is as much the story of Aminah as it is of Natrah, for it is in Aminah’s world that Natrah spends her formative years.”
Remy, who underwent theatre training with Fauziah Nawi, said he was delighted to be playing Mansor.
“It’s my first major play, and I’m honoured to play Mansor. This is a role which is different. It is a challenge I’m ready for,” he said.
Natrah also stars Norman Hakim and Pilih Kasih contestants Wanina Zaki, Sofian Bujang, Fiona Benard and Ahdan Salleh.
Tickets are priced at RM30, RM50, RM70, RM100 and RM150. Call 03-4026-5558.
’twas a turbulent time
MARIA Hertogh or Natrah Maarof was born on March 24, 1937, in Tjimahi in Java, the Dutch East Indies.
Her father Adrianus Hertogh was a sergeant in the Dutch Army.
During World War II, she was left by her Eurasian mother Adeline Hunter in the care of a family friend — Aminah Mohamad — who lived in Bandung.
Sergeant Hertogh was captured by the Japanese Army and sent to a POW holding facility in Japan, where he was interred until 1945.
Aminah claimed that Adeline had given Maria to her for adoption.
Shortly after the war, Aminah took Maria home to Kemaman, Terengganu, and Maria’s parents requested the Dutch authorities in Java to trace her. They found Aminah and Maria in 1949, but Aminah refused to give Maria up.
Maria married Mansor Adabi in 1950, and it was during this time that the Hertoghs and Aminah were involved in a custody battle over Maria in the Singapore High Court.
The court granted custody of Maria to her parents, and consequently, riots broke out in Singapore. The riots originated with a peaceful demonstration in support of Maria and Aminah, organised by Pas founder Dr Burhanuddin Helmi.
Singapore police nabbed 778 people in the riots which claimed 18 lives. Two hundred were charged and five received the death sentence.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, who was then a lawyer, had the death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Maria was taken by her parents to Holland and married Johan Wolkefeld in 1956. He subsequently corresponded with Mansor and both men wanted Maria to visit Aminah.
However, the trip never materialised due to Maria’s financial difficulties. Aminah died in 1976.
In 1989, Maria was interviewed by the magazine Dewan Masyarakat published by Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka. She expressed a strong desire to return to Malaysia.
In 1999, she returned to Singapore to film a documentary on her life for a Dutch television station. She also visited Aminah’s family in Terengganu.
In various interviews, Maria said she was only happy during her childhood, and dedicated her life to caring for others and making them happy.