Saturday, August 04, 2007

Rev James Hoover

The Rev. James Hoover (1872 – 1935), the first missionary serving the Methodist Church in Sarawak was a very exceptional man. Hoo Sing Nang, or Teacher Hoo was revered by all the Foochows during the days he spent in Sibu as a Methodist Missionary. In fact he was more than a missionary to all the early Foochows .

He was a true pioneer and for that my family led by Tiong King Kee and Tiong Kung Ping also owed him a great deal.

Today, Sibu remembers him through a memorial park which occupies a two-acre land. which was officially dedicated on 27th July, 2007 by YB Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh, the Finance Minister(ll) and Minister of Urban Development And Tourism Sarawak and Rev. Dr. Su Chii Ann, the President of the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference, the Methodist Church in Malaysia.

How did Rev. Hoover come into the history of New Foochow or Sibu? In 1901, Wong Nai Siong led a group of Foochow Chinese leaving China for Sibu to open up the swampland after negotiating with the then Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke for an agricultural project to be set up. The two first met in Singapore.

Wong Nai Siong was a Chinese businessman and a middleman and I believe that he never wanted to settle down in Sibu as his heart was in China. So he was quite happy to find a very dedicated replacement in the person of Rev. Hoover.

It was through Rev Hoover that Sibu benefitted from the stringent project management of an American man who had the foresight to be innovative,financially sound,proactive and sensitive to the needs of proper development. His basic instincts also called for the building of schools and churches which provided the basic impetus for proper human and social development. Thus Rev Hoover hit the nail onthe head when he started the settlement in such a manner. Being a Foochow speaking church minister he was truly highly regarded by all. that he was able to stay for so long in the settlement was also because he was an honest man.

A leader who was honest and sincere could provide the kind of leadership that the Foochows needed then. And it was the only way to go.

Rev. Hoover lived as a Foochow leader for thirty-two years along the Rejang River and died in Sibu. In his rich and endearing life time, he helped build 41 churches and 40 schools, all along the Rejang River. His heart was that of a true disciple.

His work was recognised by the then government and the third Rajah of Sarawak Vyner Brooke erected a copper tablet (monument) in remembrance of him:“The Rev J.M.Hoover arrived at Sibu in March, 1903 and was responsible for settling the first Foochow colony in the Rejang River. In 1904, His Highness Sir Charles Anthony Brooke G.C.M.G. Second Rajah of Sarawak, officially appointed him the head of all the Sarawak Foochows, entrusted him with their welfare and made him their official represantative in all their dealings with Government. From then until the day of his death on 11 Feb 1935 Mr Hoover loyally fulfilled this trust.”

The Rev. James Hoover was a pioneer in many fields:he brought to Sibu the first batch of rubber seeds;he imported the first steamboat;he set up the first rice mill;he organized the first girl's school;he installed the first electricity generator;he set up the first agricultural school;he imported the first ice maker;he was the first to use the chain-saw;he introduced the use of wireless telegraph machine.

It is timely and only honorable that Sibu commemorates his contribution with a memorial park. This park is located at the estuary of Sungai Merah(which is now commissioned by the local government as a historical and cultural river.)where Rev. Hoover first set his feet on when he first arrived in Sarawak

A black marble wall recorded Rev. James Matthew Hoover’s life history in Chinese, English and Bahasa Malaysia.

Throughout the 50's,60's and 70's the people of Sibu were blessed by the education initiated by Rev Hoover through the Methodist Primary School which was erected with the help of finance from Americans who sponsored the project. The Hoover Building, The Masland Methodist Church and the Hoover House, now all gone physically, will forever remain in our minds.

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