If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers.

– Doug Larson, columnist and editor

I always thought I was a good reporter until I realised that I was still a novice when compared to the great writers of our times.

And my hero is none other than the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem, who started out as a cub reporter with Sarawak Tribune.

In fact, Tok Nan had always been gifted with the knack of using the English language, thanks to his parents.

His father, Customs officer Satem Sulong, excelled as a civil servant in the British colonial government and received a long service award.

Adenan’s mother Rabiah Usman, who was a religious teacher, was also a great influence.

Both husband and wife believed in the advantage of having a good education and sent their seven children to St Joseph’s school, one of the top schools in Kuching.

Adenan first attended St Anthony’s, Sarikei followed by Sacred Heart School, Sibu and on his return to Kuching, attended St Joseph’s school where he remained until he completed his Upper Six examinations.

At St Joseph’s, Adenan had two mentors — Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub and Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.

After completing his Higher School Certificate in 1964, Adenan joined Sarawak Tribune.

A prolific writer, he wrote several articles, one of which was The Burden and the Glory, on holding public office.

Adenan said that glory always came with a price. “After a while, the glory fades and it is always the burden that remains.”

Little did Adenan realise that 50 years later, “glory” would be bestowed upon him.

Like Taib, Adenan studied law at University of Adelaide, Australia where he became a Queen’s Counsel and succeeded his mentor as the fifth Chief Minister of Sarawak.

Both Rahman and Taib saw the advantages of English if Malaysia wanted to keep abreast with the  international community.

Adenan said that while Bahasa Malaysia would stay the main language in Sarawak, he did not see why this should stop the federal administration from improving proficiency in English.

“I made English the second language in Sarawak. Of course, Bahasa Malaysia is still the main language. We agree and have no issue with that.

 “But what is wrong with us also being proficient in English? It’s the language of science, learning, literature, technology, business, research, communication and international relations.”

Adenan was also an advocate of a balanced education for pre-school children as he was unhappy with the haphazard Malaysian education system involving Chinese, English and Malay kindergartens.

He felt that educating children had to start during the formative years at home, to enable the young ones to be instilled with a good value system.
He said discipline had to be meted out in a fair but firm manner to enable the children to have a healthy upbringing.

Speaking at a convention in 2014, he said: “I believe we want our children to grow up well-rounded. When we raise children, don’t say ‘no’ all the time but rather say yes … to enable them to learn.

“Children are curious and they love to ask why. The old days of (saying no) will not do anymore. We have to keep up with the times and if we don’t catch up (with the successful modern trend of

education), other countries will not wait for Sarawak (and leave the country far behind).”

Unhappy with Malaysia’s flip-flop education policy, he said the downgrading of English was a big disadvantage to the country.

“I want Malaysians to be proficient in their mother tongue Bahasa Malaysia — you know our national language, and in English, you know the international
language.”

When Adenan announced that Sarawak had adopted English as an official language of the state administration, along with Bahasa Malaysia, there was an uproar.

He was accused of being unpatriotic. Still, he quipped: 

“Whether they agree with me in Semenanjung (Malaya) or not, I don’t care. I am just being practical and logical.”

While many from Malaya were unhappy, Sarawakians applauded the decision.
But all is not lost because in Adenan’s successor, Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, we have a St Joseph’s student who shares a similar view.

All the best Datuk Patinggi. May your wisdom prevail for the sake of multicultural and homogeneous Sarawak — our beloved Land of the Hornbills!

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.