Friday, November 4, 2011

They love Grandma Natrah’s ‘family’ (5 PHOTOS)

KEMAMAN: Two grandchildren of Maria Hertogh, who changed her name to Natrah after she converted to Islam, were ill at ease at their first meeting with members of her adoptive Malay family.

But they were soon taken in by the family’s hospitality and friendliness and overcame their shyness.

Sasha Van Gastel, 18, and Romy Elizabeth Marian Smol, 17, enjoyed traditional delicacies prepared by Natrah’s foster niece, Rokayah Yusof, 65, at her house in Kampung Mak Cili Paya here yesterday.

The visit of the Dutch girls, two of Natrah’s 18 grandchildren, to Rokayah’s house was the highlight of their two-week trip to Malaysia as they were on a quest to learn more about their grandmother.“It was a delightful experience as we were united with our grandmother’s adoptive family,” said Van Gastel, a first-year fashion design student.

It was even more enlightening as she had now “traced the legacy of our grandmother who touched the lives of a family and left a mark in the nation’s history”.

For Smol, who is the daughter of Natrah’s eldest child Frans Wolkenfelt, the Malay culture which Natrah once assimilated was both “beautiful” and “peaceful”.

“It is amazing how people here are so family-oriented, it is not to say that family is not important in my country (Holland), but people are more closely knit here,” the secondary student said while flipping through photo albums packed with pictures of a younger Natrah.

For Rokayah, who grew up with Natrah during their formative days more than 50 years ago, it was an emotional reunion.

“You look just like your grandmother,” an emotional Rokayah told Van Gastel.

She also recalled the night Natrah returned here on the eve of Hari Raya Aidilfitri in 1998, saying she was overwhelmed, seeing her adopted aunt after 48 years of separation.

“Although it is the first time I am meeting the grandchildren, I feel close to them as I have a strong connection with their mothers who visited us earlier this year,” the retired English teacher said, adding she hoped to visit the Netherlands where Natrah spent the rest of her life before she died of leukaemia two years ago.

The grandchildren and Rokayah exchanged gifts. Van Gastel and Smol also tried on some tudung and posed for photos with Rokayah and other family members.

Their visit here was made possible through the joint-cooperation and full sponsorship of the Hague and Terengganu branches of Tourism Malaysia via their building bridges programme, which aims to promote tourist arrivals from the Benelux (Belgium, Netherland and, Luxemberg) region to the country.

State tourism director Mohd Nasir Kushairi said the granddaughters were among a group of student participants who would speak about their Malaysian experience during university talks once they return home.

Hertogh was at the centre of a controversy which resulted in riots in Singapore on Dec 13, 1950, after the British court there ruled that she be returned to her biological parents despite having converted to Islam and married to teacher Mansor Adabi.

She had been put under the care of Che Aminah Mohamad, Rokayah’s aunt, during the chaos following the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia during World War 2.

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