Misunderstanding and animosity had always existed between the Chinese and the Malays in Pangkor. Chinese thugs, particularly the secret society elements, and Malay hoodlums on the island who were known to be collecting protection money, did not enjoy the best of relations.
With this background, a fight took place between a Chinese and a Malay youth following an argument at Sungai Pinang on 1st May. 1959. This led to a confrontation between the Chinese and Malays, followed by a skirmish. Three Malays sustained injuries and considerable damage was caused to property. Shortly afterwards about twenty Malays armed with daggers and parangs advanced towards a group of about thirty Chinese who were also armed with assorted weapons, but the timely arrival of the police averted another clash.
On 2nd May, 1959. the local Imam called for a meeting of the Malays at the mosque to plan protective measures. The Chinese, numbering about sixty, on seeing this quickly armed themselves with parangs, sharpened slicks and bottles, and began to gather menacingly about twenty yards from the mosque. The Malays, in turn, rushed to their homes, armed themselves with parangs and returned to the mosque where
the Chinese group met them with parangs, stones and bottles. In the midst of the clash, a Chinese kongsi in the vicinity was set on fire and completely gutted, as were six Chinese houses near the mosque. This further angered the Chinese and they retaliated against the Malays resulting in the death of one Malay and five others injured. The Chinese suffered one killed and two injured. Groups of secret society thugs roamed the island, attacking several Malays and causing much property damage. Tension developed in towns and villages in the vicinity of Pangkor but strong action by the authorities prevented the situation from deteriorating.
Curfew was imposed on 3rd May, 1959. restricting persons from leaving or entering the island of Pangkor. Several ring-leaders were arrested and a quantity of assorted weapons recovered. Goodwill committees were formed and police patrols intensified. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and several Ministers visited the island, and advised the residents to remain calm.