08. PETTY ARGUMENT | The May 13 Tragedy

The racial disturbances in the Bukit Meitajam district were sparked off as a result of a minor case of assault which took place at the Bukit Mertajam market on the morning of 11th July, l964. A Malay market employee was hit with a changkol by a 15-year-old Chinese vegetable vendor over a petty argument. When the Malay employee went to his superior's office to report the matter, about forty Chinese appeared. Three of them entered the office and assaulted the market employee.

Dissatisfied with police action following his report of the assault the Malay, accompanied by UMNO party officials, made various efforts to inform the Chairman of the District Council and the District Officer about the incident, but both of them could not be located until ten o'clock the following morning when the employee managed to forward the complaint to the Chairman of the District Council. By then racial tension had built up and, about half an hour later, a fight broke out between approximately thirty unarmed Malays and Chinese at the Bukit Mertajam market, resulting in one Chinese and one Malay injured. The latter died the next day. Subsequent to this a spate of assault cases and arson occurred in the Bukit Mertajam area A Chinese was killed and a number of others injured.


The assault on the Malay worker, who was an official of the local UMNO branch, was interpreted by some Malay extremists as a challenge to the Malay population. Passions were quickly aroused and. to deter trouble-makers from manipulating the situation, curfew was imposed throughout the district on 14th July, 1964. and was not lifted until ten days later. A number of people were arrested for being involved in this incident.

There is no indication that this episode was instigated or exploited by any political group or subversive elements. However, secret society agents were known to have exploited the situation by playing on the fears of the local inhabitants in order to collect "protection" money.


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