blow to Malaysian history
Farish A Noor
Mon: Malaysia, like all developing countries, has an ambiguous
relationship with its past. We are a developing nation that
is desperately trying to carve a niche of its own in the
international arena. Decades (if not centuries) of struggle
have brought up before obstacles of all sorts.
efforts to industrialise and modernise our economies we
are often thwarted by the nefarious wrongdoings of other,
more developed countries that continue to insist that theirs
is the only model to be emulated.
orientalist biases that remain in the global arena relegate
us to the margins of world history, and our historical achievements
are often consigned to the footnotes of history.
cases we see how these inherent inequalities have pushed
developing countries to the corner. We retreat back into
forms of parochialism, native essentialism and the politics
of authenticity - all in the attempt to show that we too
have a history to be proud of.
instances these flights into the past can conjure up weird
and even repugnant notions of what a purely authentic Asian
past may be like.
But like it or not, one thing we cannot afford to do is
to deny the complexities of our past. Our recent history
is invariably bound up with the history of colonialism and
contact with the West. This encounter has had mixed and
interesting results. Colonialism brought along with it many
questionable developments, but it also brought with it many
introduction of modern public education happens to be one
of them, and we cannot deny that the spread of open, free
and public education was one of the better results of the
encounter between East and West. This led to the creation
of a number of institutions of learning - including schools
like the Malay College of Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), the Sultan
Idris TrainingCollege (SITC), St. Johns Institution, Victoria
Institution, the Convent School of Bukit Nanas and the Bukit
Bintang Girls School (BBGS).
these institutions remain with us as a reminder of the fact
that the encounter with the West was not always a negative
thing. The fact that the Europeans had built such colleges
and institutions spurred on the reform activities of a number
of Malay-Muslim thinkers like Syed Sheikh al-Hadi, prompting
them to build a number of modernist-reformist madrasahs
(like the Madrasah al-Hadi in Melaka and the Madrasah al-Mashoor
in the Penang that was later destroyed) as well.
So the news that the Bukit Bintang Girls School (BBGS) is
about to be destroyed for the sake of commercial development
can only arouse a sense of loss and sadness for those of
us who are concerned about preserving out precious links
to the past.
was founded in 1893 by European missionaries in Brickfields.
It was later moved to Bukit Bintang Road where it is presently
located in 1930. Unlike the elite colleges that were built
for the sons (and never the daughters) of the Rajas and
Sultans, the BBGS was meant for the daughters of the poor
as well as the rich. The school's motto was Nisi Dominus
Frustra - Without God, all is in vain.
BBGS played a crucial role in the education of young women
in Malaysia for nearly a century. Built at a time when Malaysians
were reluctant to send their daughters to school (for fear
that they might be educated, of all things), it provided
one of the very few opportunities for young women to be
educated and thus enter the space of modern civil society.
provided opportunities at a time when they were few and
far between. And whatever we think or say about the politics
of colonialism then, it cannot be denied that the school's
founders had managed to make a positive and lasting contribution
to the development of this country of ours.
therefore ironic to note that their contribution to Malaysia's
development has been rewarded with this - the school is
now to be torn down for the sake of 'development' (at a
time when the entire region is drowning in a tide of over-development
in commercial infrastructure).
of BBGS have now been relocated to a new school building,
purportedly a smart school in Cheras, which is intended
to encompass other schools. The name of the new larger school
is Seri Bintang. So not only is BBGS being demolished physically,
even its name is being erased from the annals of Malaysian
But no development in the future can ever compensate for
the lost of the past. BBGS, MCKK, SITC, VI, St. Johns -
these are names that have been etched in the collective
memory of generations of Malaysians. (I myself was educated
at St. Johns).
attempt to remove or destroy these buildings for the sake
of what may come in the future cannot possibly compensate
for the trauma of loss of the past. Should this development
go ahead (and most likely it will), we would have dealt
another blow to the effort to preserve the history of this
country. Perhaps in time all these schools (MCKK, VI, St.
Johns) will be relegated to the backwaters of the past as
in the void left by their absence, we have built only new
and featureless tabernacles dedicated to the new religion,
Capitalism, instead. How sad it is to see a country like
Malaysia - which continues to present itself as a wellspring
of heterox cultures and histories - reducing itself to a
mere suburb of Los Angeles with its homogenous malls and
shopping centres instead.
school song of BBGS, which soon will pass into memory, echoes
the values of an age which may one day become extinct. And
that can only be a loss for all of us Malaysians:
BBGS, we pledge to thee,
Our love and toil in the years to be,
When we are grown and take our place,
As loyal women with our race.
Teach us to bear the yoke in youth,
with steadfastness and careful truth,
That in our time, thy grace may give,
The truth whereby the nations live.
modified:Monday May 7, 4:21 pm