It’s a name that is renowned in archaeological circles in Malaysia and around the globe, distinguished by unwavering dedication and groundbreaking discoveries. Emeritus Professor Dato’ Dr Siti Zuraina Abdul Majid has been credited for making significant contributions to Malaysia’s historical and cultural heritage, for developing the field of Malaysian archaeology and training future archaeologists, as well as putting our country’s major archaeological finds on the world map.
Among her many accolades include the Women at 50 Yale 150 Award from Yale University, the Research Excellence Award from USM, and induction into the Academy of Science Malaysia. Emeritus Professor Dato’ Zuraina has also served as Heritage Advisor to HRH Sultan Selangor and as Malaysia’s Head of Delegation at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. She was also awarded the prestigious Penang Government Medal, The Order of the State of Perak for the Defender of the Crown, and conferred the title of Dato’ Paduka Mahkota Perak in 1993. Her signature and name have been inscribed on many heritage plaques throughout our country.
She has researched and excavated numerous sites in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak, and has participated in several important excavations of the lower Paleolithic period near Kota Tampan in Lenggong Perak as well as in Thailand and the Philippines. Her work has helped to shed light on Malaysia’s prehistoric past and has given Malaysia a key place in the story of Early Man. Emeritus Professor Dato’ Zuraina established the USM Centre for Global Archaeological Research to train the next generation of archaeologists through the Master’s and PhD programmes.
We can take pride in knowing that this accomplished archaeologist is part of three generations of family studying in Convent Bukit Nanas, starting with her mother who was in the first batch of Malay girls who attended an English school in 1910. Emeritus Professor Datuk Zuraina who was born on 3 October 1944 was in the CBN graduating batch of 1960/61. After CBN, she received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Malaya and her Master’s from Cambridge University. She completed her PhD in Archaeology in 1979 at Yale University. She began her career as Malaysia’s very first archaeologist, working at the University of Malaya as the Director of the Centre for Archaeological Research.
Numerous articles and four books have been written by Prof; one of the most notable is The Perak Man and other Prehistoric skeletons of Malaysia. In 2003 she was appointed as the first Heritage Commissioner for Malaysia and led the Heritage Department of The Ministry of Culture Arts and Tourism. Under her leadership, Malaysia secured UNESCO recognition for Lenggong Valley as a world heritage site on 30 June 2012 and played a key role in the development of the National Heritage Act 2005.”
The following is an interview held between the CBN Exco 2021/22 and Emeritus Prof regarding the heritage values of the Convent Bukit Nanas and the way forward on preserving them.
How did you first become interested in history, archaeology and preservation of Malaysia’s past? Who was the history teacher in CBN who inspired you?
There is a misconception here. I’m not an historian. I’m an anthropologist who studies people of the past using archaeological techniques.
I liked all my teachers. And we kept in touch with several of them. Mrs Koo taught me English, Mrs De Silva taught me Geography, while Mrs Liu taught History. They were all nice teachers including the Nuns. …Since we had some of them as teachers for several years, we became close. Over the years, we still kept in touch, visiting them, assisting them, and even bringing them to a hospital.
Question 2 :
What do you see are the heritage values of Convent Bukit Nanas which should be acknowledged and preserved for generations to come?
There are both tangible and intangible heritage, and I think the intangible heritage is very important and tend to be ignored a little bit because I think all Convent girls went through a special kind of upbringing, a special kind of outlook as well, which other schools did not have.
During my time, the nuns were like our mothers away from home and because they took care of every aspect of our upbringing. They taught us politeness, consideration for others, cleanliness, the way we talk, the way we make friends, the way we treat others, the way we have to be obedient to teachers, and respect others. It was a total education, it was not just books and exams. Truly an education that covered all aspects of living.
The sites intended for protection were recognised by the Heritage Department in 2009 are: CBN Lot 1 & Lot 2 Section 49 Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus at Jalan Bukit Nanas 50250 Kuala Lumpur comprising the I J Provinciale building, Asrama Cahaya, SK Convent 1 & SK Convent 2 ; and Lot 226 Section 49 comprising Nazareth House, of the SK Convent 1 & SK Convent 2. Should we take the whole complex as a heritage status or part by part? And why do we need it?
I think that you will have to leave to the Department of National Heritage (Jabatan Warisan) because they have their own criteria. …If Jabatan Warisan wants to inscribe, they must know which lot they want to inscribe. Jabatan Warisan has engineers, surveyors, architects in the team, …as staff of Jabatan Warisan. So we have these people from JKR for instance, they’re seconded to us.
But you have to have your own contractor. This is an extra layer of advice. The Sisters just have to be assured that they will not be blocked from doing what they want with the renovations, etc. If they change the façade too much or if they break certain walls and buildings, then they will be stopped. They have to be of the same mind and on the same page as Jabatan Warisan, … both parties want to protect the building.
Jabatan Warisan gives you that inscription so that with that inscription, it’s easier for you to get funding. …The heritage status is for the Sisters to leverage, to get funding, to tell even MOE that, look, this is an old school, it has been given a heritage status, please help us with it.
Question 4 :
What were your thoughts when the High Court in 19 April 2021 made a judicial review application to challenge the government’s decision to not extend the school’s land lease as the school sought a stay against the authorised decision?
I was really happy and relieved to hear about the land lease extension.
Do you have any words of advice for the future of Convent Bukit Nanas? How do we preserve this shared heritage and the memory of our school?
For the preservation of the shared heritage, the memory of our school, you need continuity from one generation to next. I think we’ve been focusing on the tangibles. Yes, that’s important but I think it would be nice to focus on the intangibles. So, we should take the ethos of our intangibles such as the values and disciplines which I’m very happy that CBN values have been handed down, and are still being handed down, despite the Nuns no longer being in the teaching. We need the cooperation of the teachers to help nurture children like the Nuns used to do.