30 May 2015: Mission Pioneers of Malaya

mission pioneersThis book pays special tribute to the incomparable legacy of the La Salle and Infant Jesus Institutes in Malaysia and Singapore. With the other Missions, they gave to our cities places of honour. — Keith Tan 

The birth of the Mission Schools are an encapsulation of the very beginnings of formal education itself in the country’s history, including establishing the word which would come to represent schooling in Malaysia – escola. As Tan puts it, the origin of Malaya’s pioneering Mission Schools is tied to that of Portuguese Malacca in 1400. The Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, was one of the first Missionary Orders to visit Asia after the Reformation. A diminutive Jesuit School in Portuguese Malacca laid the foundations for the eventual construction of well over a hundred Mission Schools throughout Malaysia and Singapore.

Malaysian-born Keith Tan’s Mission Pioneers of Malaya is a prequel to his Mission Schools of Malaya, published four years ago. The latter documented the evolution and preservation of historical missionary schools in Malaya and Singapore, among them venerable institutions such as Ipoh’s St. Michael’s and Main Convent, and Penang’s Light Street Convent. In this new volume, the origins of the Mission Schools are traced back to the 16th century Portuguese Mission in Malacca, and then explained via the study of 12 major schools of Portuguese and French origins, which formed the backbone of English-language education in Malaysia and Singapore for over 200 years. While some of the schools are still in existence, several have made way for ‘urban renewal’. In between these antipodes lies the interesting ‘middle ground’ option of adaptive reuse.

The schools are grouped according to their ‘founders’ – Straits Missions, La Sallean schools and Infant Jesus convents. Each chapter narrates in painstaking detail an institution’s past history and present state, the minutiae of its architecture, original use of the building and where relevant, its adaptive reuse.

Mission Pioneers of Malaya is now available in two versions — hardback and softcover from Areca Books.

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