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. SHAHRUMs 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 SHAHRUMs
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.
His second stepmother meanwhile died of tuberculosis and around 1950 his father took a
fourth wife. The stepmothers, with whom SHAHRUM lived during holidays from Ipoh, gave him
no warmth of love or understanding. On the contrary, he remembers being ordered to stay in
the home and do the housework while his stepmothers went out; "I had no time to mix
with the boys and to play," he says regretfully.
His long hours alone in the house did, however, give SHAHRUM time to study, which
enabled him to receive on graduation the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate, Grade One,
with a Credit in English. These honors earned him a Perak Malay Scholarshipoffered
by the State of Perak Fund Boardto further his studies in the United Kingdom. Having
learned more about primitive peoples in high school, SHAHRUM chose anthropology as his
course of study in England, with the intention of eventually working with the orang asli
to help them improve their living conditions.
The University Tutorial College in London, where he took the preuniversity courses
required for a General Certificate of Education (1955), was located not far from the
British Museum. Although he had never been near a museum before he went to England, he
visited the British Museum frequently and was impressed by his discovery that people from
all walks of life were equally comfortable within its walls.
SHAHRUM continued his education at Leeds University in England, specializing in
anthropology, history and geography; he received a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in 1960.
While at Leeds he was approached by Haji Abdul Mubin Sheppard, an Irish Muslim-convert
with the government of Malaya, who had been charged by the Malayan prime minister with
setting up a national museum in Kuala Lumpur, the federal capital. It was to replace the
old Selangor Museum which had been accidentally bombed by the Allied forces at the end of
World War II. Sheppard asked SHAHRUM to join the project. Feeling that the museum offered
him a prospect of working with the orang asli, SHAHRUM accepted the offer, which included
a scholarship to take a postgraduate course in museology at the British Museum. His study
of the arts and crafts of the Malay peninsula, and museum administration and related
subjects, culminated in his receiving a diploma from the Museums Association of Great
Britain in 1962.
When he arrived in London in 1955 SHAHRUM had met Maureen Shakesby, whose mother
managed the rooms where he stayed. The couple were married in January 1959 while SHAHRUM
was still at Leeds, and they returned to Malaya in 1962 with their daughter Yasmin.
SHAHRUM immediately joined Sheppard's team as Curator of Ethnology of the incipient Muzium
Negara (National Museum).
During these early years while SHAHRUM was working with Sheppard and developing his own
dynamic concept of a "museum for the people," Maureen struggled to adjust to
Malay customs and climate. That she succeeded admirably is evidenced by her husband's
expressions of gratitude for the warm home she provided for him and their three daughters,
Yasmin (born at Leeds at the end of 1959) and Sarah and Deborah (born in Kuala Lumpur in
1963 and 1965 respectively).
The team of which SHAHRUM became a member was faced with the exciting challenge of
creating a museum from the ground up. The old prewar Selangor Museum, which had been built
in 1900, was primarily a natural history museum which displayed a few ethnic Malay
objects. "Its architectural style," according to a current National Museum
guidebook, "was Flemish, and the display methods were Victorian." Between 1945
when the old museum was destroyed, and 1952 when a small (30' by 60') building was erected
on the museum site to display a few national treasures, the capital was without any museum
at all. The only government museum then in Malaya was the Perak Museum in Taiping,
established in 1883; it is now under the jurisdiction of the National Museum. Six other
museums under the jurisdiction of their respective statesMalacca, Negri Sembilan,
Kedah, Penang, Sarawak and Sabahwere established between 1954 and 1965.
When Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman (Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Community
Leadership in 1960 "for guidance of a multiracial society toward communal alliance
and national identity") commissioned artist and architect Ho Kok Hoe to design a new
museum in 1959, he gave instructions, at Sheppard's suggestion, that the building should
incorporate Malay design and Malay motifs. The final plans were submitted to the prime
minister only after Ho and Sheppard had made an extensive tour of northern Malaya studying
The new museum, as designed and completed, is a three-storied structure, 362 feet long
and 124 feet high at the central point, with 37,000 square feet of floor space. Located on
a verdant and neatly landscaped slope at the entrance to the botanical gardens near the
heart of the city, it provided the capital with its first public building of notably
oriental design since the central railway station was built 50 years earlierand the
latter was of Moghul, not Malay inspiration.
The first floor appears to be supported on 26 concrete pillars extending the length of
the building, as in a typical raised Malay house. Other Malay features include the high
two-tiered roof over the narrow north-south axised central hall, and sloping roofs over
the long east and west wings. Decorative woodcarving in traditional patterns are
incorporated in the entrance doors and in the interior, and Malay designs were adapted to
the precast-concrete entrance screen and the giant wrought iron grills.
The building was constructed with a government allocation of M$1.5 million
(US$500,000), but generous private contributions financed the mosaic tiles of the long
flight of stairs leading to the main doors and the enormous glass murals on the building's
east and west facades (each 115 feet long and 20 feet high) which were executed by local
artists and depict the history of the Malay people from the 15th century to the present.
The ground floor of the museum houses laboratories, a library, administrative offices
and a gallery which was originally used for natural history exhibits. The building's
entrance is on the first floor. One walks into the central gallery, a large hall paved
with blue and white tile, a gift of the government of Pakistan. It is used for
temporaryand frequently liveexhibitions. The west gallery is devoted to
Malaysian culture, represented by life-size tableaux and dioramas, the east gallery to
Malaysian history, prehistory, artifacts and crafts. These rooms were ready for the
museum's opening in August 1963. Later under SHAHRUMs directorship the second floor
galleries were opened for permanent displays, the west gallery for natural history on
February 8, 1968, and the east gallery as the Economic Activities Gallery on December
Anxious to avoid the unimaginative display arrangements of the old museum, Sheppard
enlisted the aid of UNESCOthe United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organizationwhich sent L. P. Witteborg, formerly of the Museum of Natural History in
New York, to advise on the building's floor plan. Permanent displays were designed with
the aid of UNESCO advisers John Irwin and John Lowry, both of the Victoria and Albert
Museum in London. The latter's "ubiquitous and unassuming proficiency" was so
prized that when his term as UNESCO adviser was up, he was kept on as a
"supernumerary officer" and was the only trained museum official on the staff at
Sheppard was determined to open the new museum on August 31, 1963, Malaya's national
day. Having refused suggestions of advisers that the institution open only one gallery at
a time, his goal was to fill both halls on the first floor. Most of the exhibits from the
old Selangor Museum had been lost so the museum mounted a publicity campaign to collect
artifacts, especially Malay crafts. A difficulty was that, although Malay culture goes
back several centuries, books and wooden artifacts, crafts and buildings have decayed in
the heat and damp of the tropics and little remains that is even 100 years old.
One of SHAHRUMs tasks was to register objects as they were received. With its new
acquisitions, most of them gifts, the museum was able in the west hall to create tableaux
of a royal wedding and circumcision ceremony, and to re-erect a traditional Chinese-Malay
house, complete with furnished bridal chamber, which had been moved to the museum from the
old port-city of Malacca. Dioramas showed Malay court and folk dances and plays, an
ancient court orchestra and boys spinning giant Kelantan tops. The whole was assembled
with the extensive aid of volunteer Malay, Chinese and European advisors.
In the east wing SHAHRUM was asked to set up a section on the orang asli. This entailed
his collecting artifacts from their settlements and designing displays. Along with the
history of aborigine cultures, Malay weapons, currency, medals, arts and crafts were
The natural history section, which had been so prominent in the old museum, was almost
omitted because of lack of an experienced taxidermist. But fortunately a scant eight
months before the opening the museum acquired the services of Arne S. Dyhrberg, a Danish
citizen, who provided training and direction in creating natural-habitat dioramas of
Malayan birds and animals. The Natural History Gallery was further enhanced by donations
of Malayan seashells, corals, insects and animal photographs.
The new museum was described by a reporter as "the fruit of an intensive effort by
a small group of devoted amateurs who have toiled tirelessly to replace the rages of
war." "Toiled tirelessly" was apt, but the term "devoted
amateurs" was not entirely correct. Although, with the exception of Lowry, the museum
lacked an experienced staff, many of the volunteers had specialized training or knowledge
that they could impart. So useful have volunteer specialists been that the museum now has
10 to 15 Honorary Curators whose expertise it enlists; most now are from the faculty of
the University of Malaya.
In the first 17 days it was open more than 100,000 people visited the new institution.
Foreign experts were astonished at the orderly behavior of the people. Despite the throngs
the 15 attendants, dressed in specially designed Malaya tunics, had little to do but keep
an eye on the children. "One must, of course, make allowances for children,"
Sheppard is reported to have said cheerfully; "their curiosity is almost
instinctively allied with their urge to touch."
Two months after the museum was opened Sheppard retired and was replaced by Lowry
(1963-1967). In June 1964 SHAHRUM was appointed Acting Director of Museums, and in 1967
Directorhis responsibilities including the nation's museums at Kuala Lumpur and at
Taiping in Perak. As the first Malay to hold such position (the other directors had been
British) SHAHRUM was determined "to prove that the Malay race could do something good
for the country." He therefore threw himself into his work with vigor.
SHAHRUM wanted the museum, first of all, to be a place for all people, an obsession he
attributes to his own humble background. In the past when museums were being established,
they catered to a few serious scholars and the privileged few of society. By the time
SHAHRUM became involved, however, the attitude among museum personnel worldwide was
changing. It was understood, he says, that museums were "also important for the
general public." Today museums are engaged in what he calls "three-dimensional
education." One of their major tasks "is to bring before the eyes of the visitor
the story of man, his art, his culture and civilization." Although such knowledge can
be learned from books, a three-dimensional object, SHAHRUM believes, makes a greater
impact and "leaves an indelible mark on one's mind."
The problem of a museum director is how to draw the general public into the building
and once there, how to interest it in a "dull and lifeless object, yet an object
which is part and parcel of the culture and civilization." The key to the latter,
SHAHRUM learned in studying museum techniques in Britain, is the use of modern display
methods, particularly the use of color. For example, color is essential in displaying a
stone ax, which has no intrinsic beauty or attraction, but may be vital to understanding
the development of a primitive people.
The colorful displays in the Malayan Culture Gallery have helped the Muzium Negara
educate the public to understand how their ancestors lived and "better appreciate
their artistic and intellectual heritage." In this multiracial (Malay, Chinese,
Indian and aborigine), multilingual, multicultural and multireligious nation the museum
has helped give the citizens of the Federation of Malaysia a sense of national identity,
an identity based upon recognition of their composite society. As one of the staff has
said, "we show too that there is no such thing as a 'pure' culture untouched by other
Mingling with the crowds in the exhibition galleries SHAHRUM notes with delight how
members of one ethnic group admire the beautiful artifacts of the others. "This is
where the museum has succeeded and will continue to succeed," he told an interviewer,
"making various races understand and appreciate one another's cultures." For
example, the exhibitions he himself mounted on the orang asli have shown that, even though
they live a more "basic" life and are technologically primitive, the jungle
people have intricate and meaningful religious and social customs.
Since his student days in London's popular museums SHAHRUM has understood that the
permanent exhibitions can not fulfill either their educational or cultural functions
unless people of all races and social levels are attracted to the museum and made to feel
comfortable there. His beliefs were poignantly brought to the fore when, as acting
director, he saw an elderly woman laboriously climb the steps to the museum, and then
remove her shoesas in a holy placebefore entering with obvious trepidation and
uncertainty. This experience reinforced his determination to make the museum less
formidable to the common people, primarily by sponsoring a series of special programs
designed to appeal to the general public.
In those early years, with a small staff, SHAHRUM, whom one observer described as
projecting "an aura of disheveled, feverish, slightly disorganized activity,"
enthusiastically staged as many as 24 temporary exhibits a yeara workload which
necessitated the appointment of a special curator of exhibitions. Always asking himself
how to make a museum come alive, SHAHRUM saw that as many exhibits as possible were
accompanied by live performances. When he presented an exhibit of snakes, for example, he
invited a snake charmer to perform. Soon the museum began to stage live demonstrations of
traditional games and pastimestop spinning, kite flyingas well as shadow
plays, traditional dancing and demonstrations by skilled craftsmen. In 1969 he arranged a
70 day program that prepared pilgrims for the procedures they would face on the hadj to
At the same time he was seeking to involve the public in museum activities, he also
began to develop the museum as a research facility, deeming it necessary to serve the
scholar as well as the man in the street. To make it possible for students to study
Malaysia's ancient arts and crafts in Malaysia and in one place (the major collections
were abroad or scattered throughout the states) SHAHRUM helped the museum acquire an
excellent collection of artifacts for research purposes. He accomplished this by
continuous requests and diligent search. Major artifacts which were donated were given
extensive press coverage in the hope that they would trigger other giving. On one occasion
SHAHRUM himself was so zealous in his search for museum items that he nearly caused a
scandal. In March 1968, armed with permission from the prime minister's office, he
explored an all but abandoned palace in Jugra and took away a 100-year-old iron box,
containing nothing but newspaperswhich he considered of antiquarian interest only.
The receptacle, however, turned out to be highly revered and its immediate return was
demanded. It was dispatched posthaste to Jugra where, according to a newspaper account,
"thousands gathered with their territorial chiefs to welcome back the 'magic'
A new greatly expanded Natural History Gallery was opened the same year in the west
wing of the second floor. The permanent exhibition contains an outstanding collection of
Southeast Asian shells and corals, made possible with funds from Shell (Malaysia) Oil
Company, and specimens of Malaysian fauna which were collected by museum teams between
1964 and 1967. The work of creating the exhibition hall was begun by Dyhrberg and
completed by a Malaysian, Wee Ho Cheng, after the former's contract expired. The old
natural history gallery on the ground floor was converted into space for the Education
In 1972 a gallery on Economic Activities was established in the east wing of the second
floor. It features dioramas of tin mining, rubber planting and forestry, as well as
photographic displays, models and artifacts of various other aspects of agriculture and
industry in Malaysia. Both government agencies and commercial organizations contributed to
the establishment of exhibits.
In 1970 SHAHRUM was made Acting Director General of the Museums of Malaysia, a post
which entailed less a change of function than a change in title, and in 1972 he became
Director General. As such he presides over the Muzium Negara, the Taiping Museum and the
new Archeological Museum in Kedah. He is also chairman of the Malaysian National Committee
of the International Council of Museums associated with UNESCO and based in
Parisand of the Museums Association of Malaysia.
The Muzium Negara is organized administratively into three sectionsMuseum,
Administration and Antiquity. The Museum Section is responsible for exhibitions, displays
and collections, and SHAHRUM continued to expand these to make the museum a place of
interest to the people of Kuala Lumpur as well as to foreign tourists who constitute about
one-fourth of the visitors. Throughout the 1970s his crowd-drawing presentations reached
ever greater heights. Exhibitions in 1971, including ones on world currencies and on the
armed forces, drew a record five million people.
His most spectacular innovation concerned the coordination of museum exhibits with
current events that generated a great deal of publicity. This proved a major factor in
drawing people into the museum. For example, after the death in August 1973 of popular
Malaysian actor, director, singer and composer Puteh Ramlee, SHAHRUM organized a
retrospective featuring, along with the idol's personal effects, daily screenings of his
films. Popular singers and film stars were invited to perform and the museum was kept open
until midnight, prompting the Minister of Culture to ask SHAHRUM whether he was running
the city's newest nightclub. The 250,000th visitor to this exhibition, a nine year-old
boy, received five Ramlee records, a copy of the actor's biography and two free passes to
the Ramlee Cinema for the rest of his life. The millionth visitor, a schoolteacher,
received two round trip tickets to Jakarta, Indonesia, and M$400 to spend while there. In
1974 an exhibit on nature conservation drew 90,000 visitors in the first five days.
Included in the exhibit was a 200-pound fetus of an elephant; its mother had been shot at
Sungei Panjang in Sabak Beman. An unusual gift from a grateful museum goer, SHAHRUM
promptly had the fetus stuffed and put on display. The five millionth visitor to the
museum that year received a stuffed bird.
To coincide with the Muhammad Ali-Joe Bugner heavyweight title fight held in Malaysia
in 1975 SHAHRUM staged an exhibition on the history of boxing, complete with demonstration
matches between local pugilists. World famous heavyweight fighter Joe Frazier was invited
to award prizes to that year's millionth visitor. When SHAHRUM had applied to the
government for funding for this exhibition the idea was considered so absurd that his
request was rejected. Nevertheless he went ahead with the project, banking correctly on
the assumption that money would be forthcoming when the exhibit's popularity was proven.
"You have to be a little mad to run a museum," SHAHRUM concedes.
To the inevitable criticism that some of these exhibitions were not of high enough
scientific or cultural value, SHAHRUM answers that the function of a museum is to present
and interpret not only the past but the present. In addition these popular functions bring
more than 100,000 people per month to the museum where they are exposed to the fine
permanent exhibits as well.
The museum is under the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports which must approve
temporary exhibitions. This mild supervision came about after the museum held an exhibit
on the Soviet Union which proved to be a political embarrassment. As for criticism,
SHAHRUM generally disregards it. He was faulted, for instance, for permanently locating
Malaysia's first VIP executive airplane on museum grounds. "Even the mayor of Kuala
Lumpur said to take it out," he says, "but I refused because children liked to
come there [to see it] and from there they would step into the museum." On the museum
grounds he has also installed a steam engine, a 150-year-old wooden palace from Trengganu
State and some cannon.
The museum holds a special exhibition for children each year in October or November,
such as the international children's art exhibit in 1976 and the displays of dolls and
airplanes of the world in 1977 and 1978. It usually includes, as well, the work produced
in the museum's children's art classes which are held throughout the year.
SHAHRUM takes great pride in having succeeded in making the museum thoroughly
accessible to all people, young and old, rich and poor, but he thinks of it particularly
as a source of pleasure for the poor "the settlers and squatters around the
area." What other entertainments or activities do they have, he asks rhetorically;
the rich have many ways to fill their leisure time, but how do the poor "pass the
time during the weekend?" With their well being in mind he consistently refuses to
charge an entrance fee and keeps the museum doors open from 9:30 a.m. (now 9:00) to 6:00
p.m. every day of the year except two Islamic high holy days; as of 1979 he plans to keep
them open every day. During special events the museum stays open until 9:30 or 10:00 at
For the young, under his supervision the Administrative Section developed the Education
Services Division. This unit, which seeks to link the museum with community educational
needs, provides information requested by teachers, arranges for talks on selected topics
relating to museum displays and, on occasion, organizes temporary exhibits for the
schools. Short term courses are offeredbasic taxidermy for secondary school science
teachers and traditional woodcarving for industrial arts instructors and lower secondary
students. In 1974 a Junior Nature Club was established for standard six pupils and art
classes for children ages 3-16. This section also publishes pamphlets, such as guides to
historical monuments and catalogues of specific exhibits. The library is available to
teachers and students.
The Documentation Division, also under Administration, is a model for the museums of
the area. Every object is photographed, measured, and its price and location in the museum
noted. When an official from Hong Kong came to study basic techniques at Muzium Negara in
1973 he extolled its documentation system, commenting, "with such a catalogue no
items of historical importance can be lost."
Since much of Malay culture has been handed down through dance and drama, slides have
been made of such performances, as well as of fast disappearing traditional pastimes. The
latter includes cock-fighting, a village sport which is now illegal. To photograph
cockfighting for posterity, SHAHRUM slipped both cocks and handlers across the border into
Thailand. The museum is also interested in oral traditions and supported a seminar on the
Collection, Study and Use of Oral Traditions at the University of Malaya in 1973.
For a number of years SHAHRUM advocated legislation to tighten the loopholes in the
laws preventing artifacts of national interest from being exported. The new Antiquities
Act which was passed in 1976 gives him, as Director General of Museums, significant power
to determine the value and antiquity of an object, to prohibit or to license it for
export, and to buy any item "declared necessary to the government." To exercise
these powers he set up an Enforcement Division within the museum, headed by an officer
sent to receive special training in Chinese ceramics (a major object of export) at the
Guggenheim Museum in New York. The unit inspects antique shops to ascertain whether they
are obeying the law or whether they have items of great national or historic importance
for sale. If the latter, the museum buys them with funds obtained from licences and export
fees required of antique dealers, and from private donations and government allocations.
It is not fair, SHAHRUM points out, to tell dealers they cannot export objects of value
unless the government is willing to buy them. "If they're important to the country,
they must be important to the museum," he remarks.
SHAHRUM has also urged, in his official capacity, that museums around the world join
forces to prevent national treasures from being smuggled out of their respective
countries. As a first step, in 1972, he urged the formation of a Museums Association of
The Antiquities Section, the third of the threefold division of the museum, is becoming
more and more important. It is in charge of archeological excavations and preserving
historical monuments. During SHAHRUMs early years with the museum a number of major
archeological sites were discovered in various parts of Malaysia where metal (so-called
Dongson) drums were found which date from the second to fifth centuries A.D. SHAHRUM has
since established a museum at one of these sites (Bujang Valley, Merbok, Kedah) and has
arranged for his staff to receive further archeological training in India, Indonesia, the
Philippines and Australia. In 1974 he announced a program to preserve old forts throughout
the peninsula. Besides their historical value, he noted, they could become major tourist
After the museum began its systematic survey for historical sites, and identified 300
buildings, sites and monuments as important, SHAHRUM advocated that the government amend
the existing laws and declare any building more than 100 years old as historic. In such
case the owner would not be allowed to destroy, remove or extend the building, or
cultivate, change or destroy the site; penalties for vandalism would be strict. The 1976
Antiquities Act, while not automatically declaring all buildings more than 100 years old
historic, gives the Director General of Museums powerwith the approval of the
Minister of Culture and the appropriate state ministers--to publish and amend the list of
ancient monuments and historical sites, and to prevent or to license any alterations to
such sites or buildings.
In 1976 SHAHRUM launched yet another project for bringing the museum and the people
together: he set up a mobile van unit to tour the rural areas during the school year. The
unit has 20 showcases with sections on natural history, coins and stamps, wildlife
protection, stone age implements, the coming of Islam and antiquities. This move to bring
the museum to the countryside received an overwhelming response. In two days in Muar alone
about 10,000 school children saw the exhibits. SHAHRUM now has plans to increase the
number of vans.
Since his personal tour of the prisons last year he also has plans to take temporary
exhibits to prisoners, both men and women. He wants to give them something to look at,
something to think about, to help them pass their dreary days of confinement.
The principal funding for all the museum's activities comes from the government which,
SHAHRUM claims, "is generous with funds." He acknowledges, however, that this
generosity is forthcoming because the museum has proved its worth. SHAHRUM also makes a
point of maintaining excellent relations with individual government officials. A minister
who is invited to open an exhibition, he reasons, is more likely to be sympathetic toward
the museum than one who is not. Similarly, he cultivates the friendship of members of
parliament whose support is needed when the government's budget is debated, and of
treasury officials at all levels.
When the museum needs money for a particular project, SHAHRUM himself is certain to be
waiting outside the pertinent office first thing in the morning while the official's
"mind is fresh." He always works through channels though. For if you start at
the top and are turned down, he points out, you have nowhere else to go. But above all, he
operates on the theory that fundraising is a question of attitude: if you have a positive
approach, you get what you want. He also maintains excellent relations with the press,
making himself always available to them for questions or interviews.
The museum's annual budget has two entries: running expenses and development costs.
Running expenses amount to about M$2 million (nearly US$1 million) annually. Development
expenses vary, depending on needs: e.g., conservation of historical monuments,
transportation to archeological excavations and the like. In 1978 these expenses also came
to about M$2 million, a figure which SHAHRUM says, compared to other government
expenditures, "is only a drop in the ocean, but that drop is precious to us."
In certain instances businesses will come forward to assist the museum with particular
projects. For example in 1978, when the museum planned an exhibit of the "Living
Crafts of Malaysia," both the exhibition and an accompanying book were funded by
Mobil Oil Company. Other firms to offer their services are gambling firms; they are very
generous, SHAHRUM comments, "because God is being generous to them."
The fact that the museum is a government, rather than a private, institution causes
some difficulty with regard to getting and retaining staff because government salaries are
not as generous as those of the private sector. Moreover, the museum is not an arena from
which to launch another career. It is a "closed service," explains SHAHRUM;
there is no opportunity to move laterally into other government serviceto become a
state secretary or an ambassadoror even to have a private sector job waiting on
retirement. (In only one respect is museum service munificent: a person with a Ph.D.
receives a higher salary from the museum than from the university.) In consequence,
SHAHRUM confides, we inculcate in the staff "the idea that working for the museum is
something more wonderful than money!"
One way to promote this is giving colleagues every opportunity to develop themselves.
Although he himself does not have a doctorate, it is his dream to see that before he
retires each member of his staff earns a Ph.D. This is feasible because the government
provides at least three scholarships a year for foreign study. In this way SHAHRUM hopes
to build a very strong core of personnel. With strength, he asserts, "we will bloom;
now we just build."
In order to keep staff members happy SHAHRUM sees that they get promotions whenever
possible, even if it means creating new posts or higher title designations. Too, he
considers it part of his duty to keep his staff stimulated so that the work does not
become boring and the people do not become stale.
A sense of community spirit, SHAHRUM feels, is also essential to the smooth functioning
of the institution. He treats his staff of 220 (up from the 30 of 1963) as a family.
"We get together often," he says. "We have our society to help people if
there is a death in the family, or if somebody is ill, we visit him. If anybody goes
overseas, we go to the airport and garland him. So we are really a small family in a big
The director and his happy staff have put on 250 special exhibits in the past 10 years
and have lured some 26 million people into the museum18 million in the last four
years compared to 3.5 million in the first four years of the institution's being.
Nevertheless, SHAHRUM, whom a western journalist described as "someone who charges
life leaning forward at a 45° angle," is always busy with plans for the future. In
1976 he began lobbying the government to purchase 4.3 acres of adjoining land to build an
extension to the present building. Two days after the announcement of his receipt of the
Magsaysay Award this request was approved. He is now enthusiastically planning for a new
structure that will incorporate all the most modern facilities. A new edifice has always
been his dream, he confesses. "I work in a building which somebody else has built; I
want to create something of my own."
The new extension will be provided with a theater for lectures, films and live cultural
performances keyed to tourists as well as to the Malaysian public. The displays, SHAHRUM
enthuses, will be modern, didactic, set off by a strong use of color and with press-button
information where needed. He plans to have a room in which children and the blind can
touch exhibits, a ramp for wheelchairs, and a room where collectors clubs (e.g. stamp
collectors) and associations can meet.
SHAHRUM is a collector himself. He collects matchboxes and he and his wife together
collect artbut we buy "only after the museum's needs have been met" he
assures the interviewer. Of the former, he has almost enough for an exhibition of his own,
Described as a "gay, dashing personality" and for many years fond of wide bow
ties, he also gardens, plays ping pong and considers himself very much a family man. He
travels frequently to visit other museums for ideasfor example his trip to Japan in
1974 to study open-air displays, and he has helped set up three or four state museums in
Malaysia in the past few years, although he has no administrative relationship to them. A
writer as well as a scholar, he has authored a number of articles in both Malay and
English on Malay arts and crafts, and he edits the Federation Museums Journal. Between
1967 and 1972 he taught a course on Malay Culture and Artifacts at the University of
Malaya, and he gives a course now and then to acquaint tourist guides with the Muzium
Negara's permanent exhibits. The museum and the Tourist Association, he says, "work
hand in glove with one another."
SHAHRUM has been recognized for his accomplishments and contributions by society. He
was awarded the Pingat Jasa Kebaktian (Meritorious Service Medal) by the State of Malacca
in 1972, and in 1976 the Federal Government named him Kesatrin Mangku Negara (Knight of
the Most Distinguished Order of the Defender of the Realm).
Aziz, Abdul bin Yahaya. "Malaysia's National Museum," Free World. Manila:
U.S. Information Service . Vol. 16, no.5, May 1967.
Cheah Boon Kheng. "Muzium Negara's Happiest Asset," Straits Times. Singapore.
April 6, 1973.
Government of Malaysia. Antiquities Act, 1976, Laws of Malaysia Act 168.
Joseph, Percy. "Muzium Negara: A Standing Monument to Nation's Culture,"
Straits Times. Singapore. August 31, 1963.
Kassim, Mohammad bin Haji Ali. "The Role of the Museum in Cultural Tourism."
Tourist Guide Training Course. Kuala Lumpur. N.d. (Mimeographed.)
Koffend, John B. "A Museum for the People," The Asia Magazine. Hong Kong.
April 21, 1974.
Malay Mail. October 30, 1963, October 7 and 20,1969; July 14,1970; September 9, 1974;
January 3, 6 and 13 and July 6 and 30, 1976; December 1, 1977.
Morais, J. Victor. Who's Who in Malaysia. 1977-1978. Kuala Lumpur: J. Victor Morais.
Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur: Opening of the Economic Activities Gallery. Program.
December 18, 1972.
Muzrum Negara, Kuala Lumpur: Opening of the Natural History Gallery. Program. February
National Museum in Kuala Lumpur. Brochure. Kuala Lumpur: Department of Tourism. N.d.
Pillai, John. "Preserving Our Historical Heritage," Sunday Straits Times.
Singapore. May 4, 1975.
Salleh, Mohammed. "Museum for the People," New Straits Times. Singapore.
December 17, 1975.
Shahrum bin Yub. "The Challenges of Today's National Museums. " Presentation
made to Group Discussion. Transcript. Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation,
Manila. September 4, 1978. (Typewritten:)
______. Mah Meri Sculpture. Kuala Lumpur: Museums Department. 1969.
______. Transcript of interview for "Malaysia Speaks," aired August 1965,
Sheppard, Haji Abdul Mubin. "Treasure Trove," Straits Times. Singapore.
November 5, 1963.
______. "Opening of the National Museum of the Federation of Malaya on 31st
August, 1963," Magazine clipping. No source and date.
Straits Times. Singapore. June 25, 1964; June 28, 1969; February 20 and March 17, 1973;
May 4 and 25, 1975; July 15, 1976.
Interviews with and letters from persons acquainted with Shahrum bin Yub and his work.
Visits to the Muzium Negara and interview with the Awardee.