Mohd Taib bin Osman (1934-2017)

  The demise of Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Mohd Taib bin Osman, a Life Member of the Society, on 3 September 2017 robbed the field of Malay Studies of one of its most authoritative voices. The loss sustained by the Society, however, was even greater, coming as it did only months after the tragic death of historian Nicholas Tarling - another Life Member - in May. Professor Taib had been elected to the Society as Life Member in 1975. An anthropologist by training, Professor Taib was an undisputed expert on Malay literature, culture, folklore and customs.

Born in Singapore on 13 May 1934, Professor Taib, whose father had been a headmaster, received early education at the Kota Raja Malay School (1941-1945), the Serangoon English School (1945-1948) and Raffles Institution (1949-1952). Between 1954 and 1958, he studied the University of Malaya (UM) – then located in Singapore – and graduated with a bachelors degree in Malay Studies. He then went on to obtain a Masters degree from the same university in 1961. Professor Taib joined the university as an academic in 1959 and served with distinction till his retirement in 1994.

In 1964, Professor Taib left for Indiana University and returned in September 1967 with a PhD in Anthropology and Folklore, with a specialization in Malay customs. A leading Malay daily proudly acclaimed Taib’s achievement upon his return as the first Malay to have attained such a degree. Following his return from the USA in 1967, Taib became senior lecturer before being appointed a full professor the following year, probably one of the youngest professors ever appointed in the history of the university.

Professor Taib will be remembered as the first local-born Malay to head the university’s Malay Studies Department, a position he officially assumed in October 1968 at the relatively young age of 34, taking over the mantle of his distinguished predecessor, the venerable Professor Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana who retired in April 1968. In January 1991, Taib succeeded Professor Datuk Syed Hussein Alatas as Vice Chancellor and held the post till his retirement in March 1994. Honours were heaped on him as his intellectual stature grew. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in 1990 awarded him an honorary D. Litt. while UM conferred on him the much-coveted title of Emeritus Professor in 1995. Professor Taib also received a datukship from the Malacca State Government in 1991.

Among the more enduring works produced by Professor Taib during his lifetime, may be mentioned An Introduction to the Development of Malay Language and Literature (1961, reissued 1986), a useful guide to the history of modern Malay literature based on his bachelors thesis; Malay Folk Beliefs (1982), a penetrative study on the characteristics of Malay folk belief and a reworking of his PhD thesis; Bunga Rampai: Aspects of Malay Culture , one of Professor Taib’s most popular books and Adab Raja-Raja (2006), a unique examination of feudalism and monarchy based on an old Malay manuscript. Older readers of the Malay daily Berita Harian may recall with nostalgia that Professor Taib used to maintain a weekly column in the 1990s on contemporary issues close to his heart such as education and culture, simply titled PTO Menulis..., PTO being the initials for "Professor Taib Osman".

A memorial article celebrating Professor Taib's thoughts and work may be read HERE.

Professor Taib is survived by his wife, educationist Datin Zahirah Zainuddin, whom he met at university when they were both students and whom he subsequently married in 1961, and five children. The Society shares their grief at the passing of this illustrious scholar and offers a prayer for his departed soul. The Council extends its sincere condolences to Professor Taib's family and its appreciation for his continuous support to the Society.

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