Maria Hertogh (Nadra)

Singapore Infopedia


Maria Huberdina Hertogh (b. 24 March 1937, Tjimahi, Java, Indonesia–d. 8 July 2009, Huijbergen, Netherlands), also known as Nadra (sometimes spelt as Natra) binte Ma’arof or just Bertha, was the focus of racial riots that occurred in Singapore in December 1950. The riots were sparked by the controversial battle over her custody between her Malay-Muslim foster mother Aminah binte Mohamed, and her Dutch-Catholic parents, the Hertoghs.1 Aminah nicknamed Maria “Putih”, meaning “white” in Malay.2

Early life
Maria was the third child of seven children. She was baptised as Maria Huberdina Hertogh by her Dutch-Eurasian parents. The Japanese invasion of Java during World War II saw Maria’s father become a prisoner-of-war in 1943. Struggling alone and having just given birth to her sixth child, Maria’s mother Adeline Hunter gave Maria to the care of a family friend, Che Aminah binte Mohamed, on 1 January 1943. The process was witnessed by Adeline’s brother, Soewaldi. Maria was brought to Bandung, raised as a Muslim and given the name Nadra binte Ma’arof at her circumcision a year later.3

Aminah and Maria moved to Jakarta for a short period but soon returned to Bandung, where Aminah’s fluency in Japanese enabled her to work as an interpreter for the Japanese military police. In 1947, fearing that Maria’s Dutch background would make her vulnerable during the Indonesian War of Independence, Aminah and Maria fled to Terengganu, Malaya.4 She grew up in Aminah’s hometown of Kemaman, Terangganu, where Aminah was highly regarded. Maria studied at the Chukai Malay Girls’ School in Kemaman, and was trained in Koran reading outside school hours.5

Custody battle
Reunited after the war, Maria’s biological parents began seeking their lost daughter in the late 1940s. They lodged a request with Dutch officials to locate their daughter.6 A British official, Arthur Locke, was the first to alert authorities to Maria’s whereabouts when he spotted her at a school competition in Kemaman.7 At Locke’s request, Aminah and Maria came to Singapore on 12 April 1950 to meet with the Dutch acting consul general so that they could determine the legitimacy of Maria as Aminah’s foster child.8

A custody battle subsequently ensued over Maria, which, through sensationalist press reports, drew much public attention and fuelled religious sensitivities.9 Initially, custody of Maria was given to Aminah. Within four days of the ruling, on 1 August 1950, Maria was married off to Mansoor Adabi, a 22-year-old teacher at Bukit Panjang Government School heading a second-year normal class. The marriage of the juvenile 13-year-old Maria was raised in court during Adeline’s appeal against the ruling.10 On 2 December 1950, Adeline won the custody case,11 and Maria was placed temporarily in the Roman Catholic Covent of the Good Shepherd. This upset members of the Malay Muslim community. This custodial ruling sparked riots on 11 December 1950 in Singapore and lasted over three days, resulting in the death of 18 people.12 Shortly after, Adeline left with Maria to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and arrived there on 15 December.13

Later life
Maria married a Dutch cabinet maker, Johan (Joep) Gerardus Wolkenfeld, on 20 April 1956 and they had 13 children, three of whom did not survive infancy.14 Miserable over working at her husband’s cafe-cum-bar from early morning to midnight, she plotted to murder her husband with the help of two friends. However, the plans were discovered and she was brought to court on 16 August 1976.15 After reviewing her tragic past, Maria was acquitted within one day of hearing. Her marriage with Wolkenfeld ended.16

Maria died of leukaemia on 8 July 2009 at her residence in Huijbergen, the Netherlands.17

Grandmother: Louise Winterberg, also known as Nor Louise. A Eurasian of Indo-Dutch parentage, Winterberg left her Scottish husband Joseph Hunter for an Indonesian opera actor Raden Ismail. She gained fame as a bangsawan (Malay opera) performer and through this became friends with Aminah.18
Uncle: Soewaldi, son of Winterberg and Hunter, who converted to Islam.19
Father: Adrianus Petrus Hertogh (b. 1905), a Dutch army sergeant with the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.20 He married Adeline Hunter on 23 December 1938.21
Mother: Adeline Hunter, who spoke fluent Bahasa Indonesia.22
Sisters: Wiesge (b. 1935) and Corrie (b. 1936).23
Brothers: Kees, Bennie (both born between 1938 and 1941), Kareltje (b. 26 December 1942) and another brother (b. 1948).24

Adoptive family
Mother: Aminah binte Mohamed. From a respected Malay family in Kemaman, Terengganu, Malaya. In 1919, she married her first husband, Abdul Rani (also known as Abdul Ghani), who was the private secretary to the sultan of Terengganu. Abdul Rani was a cousin of Datuk Bukit Gantang who became the mentri besar (chief minister) of Perak after the war. Aminah accompanied her husband to Tokyo, Japan, where he taught the Malay language for almost 11 years.25 The couple mastered Japanese and adopted a Japanese girl whom they named Kamariah.26
Father: Ma’arof bin Haji Abdul, a jeweller from Bandung whom Aminah married in the mid-1930s, after Abdul Rani had passed away.27


Bonny Tan

1. Tom Eames Hughes, Tangled Worlds: The Story of Maria Hertogh (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1980), 1. (Call no. RSING 364.143095957 HUG); Haja Maideen, The Nadra Tragedy: The Maria Hertogh Controversy (Subang Jaya, Selangor: Pelanduk Publications, 2000), 20, 33. (Call no. RSING 959.5704 MAI-[HIS]); Genevieve Jiang, “It Was Absolute Madness,” Straits Times, 14 July 1998, 28. (From NewspaperSG); Singapore. Riots Inquiry Commission, Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission 1951 Together with a Despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1951), 7. (From BookSG; call no. RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
2. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 14.
3. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 1, 3, 6–7, 12–13.
4. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 33–34; Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 14.
5. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 31, 37.
6. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 15.
7. Fatini Yaacob. (2011). Natrah: In the Name of Love, trans. Maryam Abdullah, Zurhaida Mohd. Ismail and Flora Emilia Abdullah (Malaysia: Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia, 2011), 22–23. (Call no. RSEA 959.5704 FAT-[HIS])
8. Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, Colonialism, Violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh Controversy and Its Aftermath (New York: Routledge, 2009), 16. (Call no. RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS]); Yaacob, Natrah, 24.
9. “Maria Hertogh Dies, Straits Times, 10 July 2009, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 90–91, 100, 102–03, 195–96.
11. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 195, 200; Jiang, “Absolute Madness.”
12. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 53.
13. “Maria Arrives in Holland,” Straits Times, 16 December 1950, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 298; Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 59.
15. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 303–05; Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 60.
16. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 61.
17. “Maria Hertogh Dies Aged 72,” Today, 10 July 2009, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 30–31.
19. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 1.
20. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 1.
21. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 30–31.
22. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 30.
23. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 30.
24. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 30, 33.
25. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 4.
26. Maideen, Nadra Tragedy, 32.
27. Hughes, Tangled Worlds, 4.

Further resources
Joan Chee, producer, My name is Nadra, not Bertha, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, 1992, videocassette. (Call no. RSING 959.5704 MY-[HIS])

Joe F. Conceicao, Singapore and the Many-Headed Monster: A Look at Racial Riots against a Socio-Historical Ground (Singapore: Horizon Books, 2007). (Call no. RSING 303.623095957 CON)

Leslie Netto, Maria: Based on a True Story (Singapore: Derby Publishers, 1996). (Call no. RSING S822 NET)

The information in this article is valid as at July 2021 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.


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