HIGHLIGHTS

  • Indicative of SHAHRUM BIN YUB’S broader concept of a museum’s popular and creative educational role are the more than 26 million visitors to Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur since he assumed leadership in 1967.
  • The first task of a museum is to teach, in the view of SHAHRUM and his associates. Although the Muzium Negara is not large but rather intimate in arrangement, the four galleries—featuring the cultural past, prehistory and the arts and crafts of aboriginal peoples, natural history and key segments of the nation’s economy—afford a comprehensive view of the nation.
  • Just as the museum is SHAHRUM’S life, he has made it part of the life of fellow Malaysians. Together with able co-workers trained around the world, he is giving his people an educational institution that carries the heritage of the past into their modernizing society.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his making a living museum an enlightening experience for all ages, fostering a national cultural awakening.”

 CITATION

Traditionally museums have proven valuable for collecting, preserving and displaying artifacts and other historical evidence of civilization and natural history. Chiefly they have been centers of research and repositories, serving serious scholars and the intellectually curious seeking to understand the origins and evolution of cultures.

Indicative of SHAHRUM BIN YUB’S broader concept of a museum’s popular and creative educational role are the more than 26 million visitors to Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur since he assumed leadership in 1967. His philosophy that visiting the museum should be as natural for children and adults “as wearing shoes” has had extraordinary results. A nature conservation exhibit drawing 90,000 viewers in the first five days was only one of some 24 annual special exhibits for which the doors are open until six and sometimes ten in the evening. In addition, a mobile van carries museum exhibitions, including traditional shadow plays and folk dramas, to rural schools and villages throughout peninsular Malaysia.

The first task of a museum is to teach, in the view of SHAHRUM and his associates. Although the Muzium Negara is not large but rather intimate in arrangement, the four galleries—featuring the cultural past, prehistory and the arts and crafts of aboriginal peoples, natural history and key segments of the nation’s economy—afford a comprehensive view of the nation. Colorful, three-dimensional settings enliven awareness and appreciation of the rich diversity of the land and the multiracial society. In the central hall and under open sheds outside are held well-publicized changing demonstrations of weaving traditional textiles, woodcarving, rigging fishing vessels and native games, like top spinning contests between villagers. Stamp, coin, currency and international children’s art exhibits, and a history of boxing with live participation, are interspersed with presentations on contemporary problems such as drug abuse.

The eclectic entrepreneur of this unique cultural enterprise was born in Perak, Malaya (now Malaysia), 44 years ago. After his schooling in Malaya, SHAHRUM studied anthropology at Leeds University and museology at the British Museum. Returning in 1962 to become museum Curator of Ethnography, he did field work among aborigines and rural Malays and, since appointment as Director General in 1967, has encouraged scholarly research on folk customs, rare flowers and birds of the federation and traditional musical instruments. Archeological excavations are now supervised by the museum and national treasures are better protected under an amended antiquities ordinance he helped write.

The Museum holds regular courses for preschool children on painting, animals, birds and early history, while teachers study such skills as taxidermy. A symposium in Kuala Lumpur on neurological science occasioned a display of traditional Malay medical practice at Muzium Negara. The museum staff also readily helps others mount exhibits.

Just as the museum is SHAHRUM’S life, he has made it part of the life of fellow Malaysians. Together with able co-workers trained around the world, he is giving his people an educational institution that carries the heritage of the past into their modernizing society.

In electing SHAHRUM BIN YUB to receive the 1978 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his making a living museum an enlightening experience for all ages, fostering a national cultural awakening.

 RESPONSE

I am deeply honored and grateful for this Award. I am honored because it has been made in the name of so great and popular a leader of your country, Ramon Magsaysay. I also am honored to be among the illustrious personalities who have received this prestigious Award in the past and to be with those of my distinguished contemporaries who are to receive the Award today.

I like to think that the Award is not only a personal honor to me, but more importantly to the institution for which I am responsible—the National Museum of Malaysia—and to my loyal staff who have no less dedicated themselves to its service. I thank God the Almighty and the Government of Malaysia for the privilege given to me to serve my country in my humble way in the service of the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

What is most gratifying in receiving this Award is the recognition which the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation has given to the importance of museums in the life of the community. We find the concept of a museum as an instrument of education present in human society as early as 300 B.C. Then, in Alexandria, Egypt, was created a museum as an institution of learning.

The term museum conveys the image of an institution that has on display, in three dimensional form, the artifacts of man from the earliest of times to the present day, giving the visitor a sense of realism and participation. These artifacts are testimony of the strivings of men’s minds with the problems of life and destiny through the ages. They furnish evidence of how man has attained an ever increasing degree of mastery over the inclemency of nature.

We learn from these artifacts, that man, while struggling for survival, has also taken time to reflect on his lot. We learn of his search for the significance of the world and his life within it—a quest which he has never ceased to pursue. We learn of his illuminating discovery that all creation must have had a beginning, that there was a creator—his realization that there must be God.

We find that man has always endeavored to make his implements artistic as well as utilitarian. The three major visual arts—architecture, sculpture and painting—and the minor arts—decorative and functional crafts, such as the making of furniture, crockery, apparel, rugs, carpets, and vases—have very much been infused with the cultural and aesthetic values and the religious and philosophic concepts of man. They illumine man’s yearnings of yet higher attainments.

In times such as ours we, who cherish a liberal and tolerant society with freedom of worship and the democratic process as the basis of rule, can draw strength from our rich cultural heritage to awaken and enlighten our fellowmen. In this, our task is lightened as man’s desire to understand rather than just obey is innate.

A museum should be able to make a distinctive contribution to enriching man’s understanding of himself and his environment. A museum should be able to give men the opportunity to better appreciate his aesthetic inclinations and his spiritual aspirations and thus guide him to a richer living.

This then is the message a museum conveys to all mankind and the Foundation’s recognition of this important role has been demonstrated by the Award made to me—a recognition which will be appreciated by the museum world, particularly in this region.

 BIOGRAPHY

SHAHRUM BIN YUB was born April 21, 1934 in the small town of Tanjung Malim, Perak, Malaya (now Malaysia), the fourth child of Yub bin Rawan, a music instructor at the Malay Teachers’ Training College. SHAHRUM’s mother died when he was two years old and his father took another wife by whom he had one daughter. At the age of three the boy was sent to stay with his stepgrandparents who lived first in Tanjung Belanja and then Pulau Tiga, rural villages along the Perak river. There he attended Malay-language primary schools. His family was poor, as was the area. The villages he lived in had no piped water or electricity, and he was expected to join the other children, taking his turn in the paddy fields, tending the goats or gathering vegetables to sell in the market.

In these years SHAHRUM first heard people speak of the orang asli, the aborigines, who led relatively primitive lives in the jungle. The villagers spoke pejoratively of them, calling them sakai (dog), and looked down on them, saying that they “didn’t have religion” and bragging about how they cheated them in barter trade. Far from absorbing this general opinion, SHAHRUM instinctively felt that it was wrong; instead he gradually developed an absorbing interest in the jungle people.

When the Japanese occupied Malaya during World War II, they abducted SHAHRUM’s young stepmother. His father took a third wife from Pulau Tiga where SHAHRUM was then living. After the Japanese surrendered in 1945 SHAHRUM returned to his father’s house in Tanjung Malim to attend the Methodist English School which had reopened after the war. In 1947 he was sent to the Anderson School in Ipoh, the capital of the state, for intermediate and high school (1947-1954). Here, studying in English, he became aware of the Chinese community that makes up part of Malaysia’s multiracial society.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)