For eight months from early 2022, a dozen Form 3 students from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kampong Selamat in Penang worked after class with their French language teacher to write the story of Mahsuri. Legend has it that the Langkawi beauty was sentenced to death based on a false accusation of adultery. White blood flowed, signifying her innocence, when she was executed with a ceremonial dagger.
Once the French text was confirmed, the students then translated the much-loved tale into Malay with the help of a teacher at the school. Meanwhile, Malaysian artist Sandra Khoo, who is based in Burgundy, France, was approached to illustrate the story for a book.
The bilingual Mahsuri was launched at the Alliance Française de Penang as part of the George Town Literary Festival in November, followed by a similar event at the French language institution in Kuala Lumpur.
Oriane d’Escrivan, then representative of the education department of the Embassy of France in Malaysia, explains that the project was born after she met M Saad Bouri, an editor with Éditions du Jasmin, at the Children’s Book and Press Fair in Paris in December 2021. “They have several collections of bilingual illustrated books or poem collections, mostly French Arabic. I thought it would be nice to create something with French and Malay.”
The department, which promotes the French language among young learners through its social media and events, then invited Malaysian teachers of French to suggest a traditional local tale they would like to work on. Diyana Jasmin of SMK Kampong Selamat proposed Mahsuri. Thus, work on the project began, with her supervising the students.
Khoo designed a tiger mascot and logo for the embassy to personalise its “Jom Français” branding in 2020, d’Escrivan adds.
The embassy will give 300 copies of Mahsuri that were printed here to education institutions where the French language is taught, as part of its efforts to promote multilingualism. The 28-page book will also be sold in France.
For enquiries or to purchase, write to [email protected].
This article first appeared on Jan 16, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.