Friday, December 11, 2009

Natrah's "grief"


Natrah's "grief" echoes in IB


Not many people can relate to Natrah's story, especially the young generation. Natrah's story ends with a tragedy, but with a lesson behind it.

Natrah, a Dutch girl raised by a Malay family in Kemaman used to be the focus of the country. It all happened due to a clash of culture and religion of an incident which happened in December 1950.

This story of a girl, named Bertha Hertogh, who was born to a Dutch soldier in Indonesia, started when her father was arrested by the Japanese army in December 1942. Her mother and grandmother, who were poor, then decided to rerturn to the Netherlands.

Bertha, who was then five years old was then given to Che Aminah Mohamed who took her to Kemaman, Terengganu.

Since then, Natrah was raised by a Malay Muslim family until she Arthur Locke, the British adviser in Terengganu, in September 1949. Natrah was 12 years old then at studied at Sekolah Perempuan Melayu, Chukai.

The meeting was the start to all the life sufferings endured by Natrah. To make the story short, there was a tussle on her custody and following the clever trick by the British and Dutch, Natrah was returned to her family in the Netherlands. Hence, began her story of bitterness when she was forced to abandon her religious faith.

That was some of Natrah's life story. It is not a fairy tale, but a bitter reality.

The strength of Natrah's story is what prompted Istana Budaya to bing her life to the theatre. Istana Budaya Director General Mohamed Juhari Shaarani said the idea to bring Natrah to the stage was mooted by Information Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim.

He said the idea of staging Natrah was made since seven years ago, but due to several constraints, especially budget, it was postponed.

Now, after Natrah's death last July 9 in Huijbergen, the Netherlands at the age of 72, efforts to stage her life story was revived.

"We chose Natrah after looking at the agenda behind the tragedy. Natrah's tragedy heightened hatred for the colonial masters. The public became angry when Natrah was forced to change her religious faith. They were more united in opposing the colonials.

"That feeling didn't only exisit among the Muslim Malays, but also other races and religions. That was what IB saw and it was that element which we want to promote on the theatre stage," said Juhari.

According to him, another aspect to look into, but which many people may not understand, was on the conspiracy by the British and Dutch in the case.

Natrah was not English, but the issue involved religious conflict, between Islam and Christian, which was the faith of the British and Dutch. They strongly wanted to win the case because it involved their pride as the colonial masters.

"The British helped the Dutch by deceiving Che Aminah into going to Singapore. The Dutch would not win if Natrah's case was heard in the courts of Malaya," said Juhari.

The trick by the British and Dutch was seen in the conspiracy between the two colonials.They tried to pressure the people even in small issues involving custody of an adopted child. If Natrah's story is studied, there were many hidden agenda by the colonials.

He said Natrah was also brought to the stage to give opportunities to those who didn't know Natrah to follow her life story.

Most important, he said, it was to serve as a lesson so that there would not be another "Natrah" in the society.

"We don't want the tragedy involving Natrah to recur. Let it be a lesson and those who see it will understand and pledge not to allow a second incident liike what Natrah went through.

"It was staged in the form of story telling. There will be Natrah when she was young. The story line is clear and the audience will understand the trus story and what happened," he added.

He also spoke on the love story in Natrah, about a Muslim girl of Dutch descendant, who fell in love with Mansor Adabi, a 21-year-old Malay teacher.

"It should be remembered that at the first meeting, when Natrah was taken to Singapore from Kemaman, the girl was only 13 years old. But a girl of that age in those days, was already matured and married.

"So Natrah was married to Mansor with the hope that she would no longer be harassed by the Dutch, but Che Aminah's move was wrong," he added.

Juhari believed that the staging of Natrah would leave a deep effect on the audience.

"We have to understand what Natrah went through. She suffered since leaving Malaya, especially after receiving news that Mansor had remarried," he added.

Asked on the selection of Erma Fatima as the theatre director for Natrah, Juhari said it was because of her capability.

"We evaluate from all aspects, including the success of the theatre on Sirah Junjungan which she directed. Apart from that, Natrah is about a woman. We feel a woman would understand another woman better.

"Also because of her track record, which gives IB the confidence to choose her. What is important is that we are confident Erma will not let us down," said Juhari.

He said Erma's capability was proven when she managed to bring the big names in the entertainment industry onto the Istana Budaya stage, like Maya Karin, Sofea Jane and Umi Aida.

"They accepted the offer by IB because they wanted to act under Erma. As a government institution, IB can't afford to make lucrative offers, but Erma and Natrah managed to bring them to this stage. We hope these big names will make Natrah a success," he added.

For those who want to see Natrah, the performance at Istana Budaya would be held from Nov 30 until Dec 9.

Can Natrah competes with Mahsuri and Di Mana Setangginya? This will be determined by the audience, but it is IB's hope that Natrah will be a huge success before the curtain is let down for this year's theatre performance.

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