06 February 2008

Hang Tuah - Man or myth?

Who is Hang Tuah? Warrior, mystical figure or a figment of a writer’s imagination? ALLAN KOAY talks to a historian about whether documentation leans towards man or myth.
Many stories abound, of the great Malay warrior, who – along with his four friends, Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu – upheld and protected the kingdom of Melaka, and who was so loyal to the Sultan that he even killed his own friend who had rebelled against the ruler.
Schoolchildren grow up learning about the adventures of Hang Tuah, older students study them in history lessons. Filmgoers have seen Hang Tuah in many guises, the latest being M. Nasir’s portrayal in the RM16mil epic Puteri Gunung Ledang.
Yet, according to Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Yusoff Hashim, who has written several books and hundreds of articles on Melayu history, there is no solid historical record that could undeniably prove Hang Tuah’s existence. Except for one.
Prof Yusoff, whose books include Persejarahan Melayu Nusantara (Historiography of the Malay Archipelago) and Sejarah Melayu: Persepsi Sejarah dan Kesusasteraan (Sejarah Melayu: A Historical and Literary Perspective), strongly believes Hang Tuah did exist, and that the proof is in the Sejarah Melayu written in 1537.
The main problem, said Prof Yusoff, is that people’s perception of who Hang Tuah is very much coloured by the more fictional Hikayat Hang Tuah.
"Malay literature consists of many genres, such as history, undang-undang (laws), religion and epics. We have to differentiate between them," said Prof Yusoff, who is president and rector of the Malacca Islamic College of Technology. "The story of Hang Tuah comes in two genres – history and the epic."
The only historical record that perhaps could prove the existence of Hang Tuah, portrayed by M. Nasir in the film Puteri Gunung Ledang, is the Sejarah Melayu.
Oral history also plays a part in the story of Hang Tuah, and Prof Yusoff sees that as problematic because oral history can be very speculative.
"People can say anything they want," he explained. "The Javanese say Hang Tuah originated from Java. The Bugis say he originated from Bugis. The Perak people say he came from Perak. These people based their stories on the oral tradition. Of late, they are saying Hang Tuah came from China."
Sejarah Melayu was written much, much earlier than Hikayat Hang Tuah. According to Prof Yusoff, the earliest version of Sejarah Melayu was written in 1537.
"After that, it became a very popular work," he said. "It was copied and re-copied so many times that now, we have at least 29 versions of the Sejarah Melayu."
The Hikayat Hang Tuah is believed to have been written sometime between 1641 and 1726, and as such, the book contains a lot of additions, omissions and interpolations. It is "an epic based on
historical facts" and as such, should not be taken literally as the truth, but should be regarded as truth blended with fiction.
But Hikayat Hang Tuah proved to be the more popular work, as it contains fantasy and romance, unlike Sejarah Melayu which contains facts and records of historical events that, to the layman, may be dull and boring.
In Hikayat, the famous warrior is portrayed as having mystical powers and lethal fighting moves. He even possessed the ability to speak many languages, after being given a magical potion by a prophet. All he had to do was dab his lips with the potion and he would be able to speak the local tongue of whatever locale he was in.
As such, the writer of Hikayat wrote that the warrior was an ambassador sent by the Sultan to many foreign countries such as India, China and Turkey. He is said to have even performed the Haj.
Prof Yusoff said none of this is mentioned in Sejarah Melayu. But he believes the writer probably referred to various written works for ideas. In fact, Prof Yusoff made an interesting discovery in his research.
"The writer also referred to the Bustan’us-Salatin (Garden of Kings), which was a historical and religious work by Sheikh Nuruddin ar-Raniri (a religious scholar from Aceh)," he explained.
"This work was written in the early part of the 17th century. So it was written earlier than the Hikayat Hang Tuah. I found that the writer of the Hikayat not only referred to the Garden of Kings, but also copied certain passages word-for-word, to make up the story of Hang Tuah visiting Turkey.
"And the story about Hang Tuah visiting China was taken from the Sejarah Melayu, from the story about Melaka delegates headed by Tun Perpatih Putih who were sent to China.
"Hang Tuah may have been an ambassador, but he was probably sent to only as far as Indonesia and other places in the Melayu Archipelago."
Hang Tuah, according to Sejarah Melayu, also never met Puteri Gunung Ledang, but it was instead a member of his entourage who met the princess and noted her conditions for marrying the Sultan. Hikayat Hang Tuah also claims that Hang Tuah and his entourage went to Majapahit 10 times, but in the Sejarah Melayu, they only visited it once.
Hang Tuah also never went to Pahang to bring Tun Teja back to Malacca, as written in Hikayat, but it was a court official by the name of Hang Nadim who did so. Hikayat’s immense popularity, said Prof Yusoff, could possibly account for the many discrepancies and variations pertaining to the story of Hang Tuah, and it even prompted some people to claim that Hang Tuah never existed and was just a figment of someone’s imagination. And the many versions of Sejarah Melayu also add to the confusion.
It has been long known that it was not Hang Jebat but Hang Kasturi who was killed by Hang Tuah, and Prof Yusoff said this was written in the original Sejarah Melayu. But the more popular story that involves Hang Jebat prevails in people’s minds. That episode alone has over the years divided opinions.
In the P. Ramlee film Hang Tuah, as Hang Jebat dies in his arms, Hang Tuah (played by P. Ramlee) utters: "Siapa yang bersalah? (Who is wrong?)"
In the 1960s and 70s, the popular opinion was that Hang Jebat was the hero, and Hang Tuah was giving blind loyalty to the ruler. But Prof Yusoff said this view was borne of the anti-establishment mindset of the time.
"To me, Hang Tuah was the hero," he elaborated. "He was the one who really upheld the kingdom. Without this kind of character, the kingdom would have fallen into chaos and collapsed. Whatever happened, regardless of what people said about him, he remained loyal to the ruler, until the day he died.
There was even an anecdote about how, one day, the Sultan’s horse fell into a pool of faeces. No one dared rescue the horse, except Hang Tuah. He jumped into the pool and pulled the horse out. After that he had to clean himself for seven days and seven nights.
"That may be a joke, but the message is about undivided loyalty. The king is the highest, without whom there would be no kingdom. After all, the word kerajaan (kingdom or government) comes from the word raja (king)."
But it remains that no definitive historical record exists to prove Hang Tuah’s existence, except for Sejarah Melayu. Even in The Suma Oriental, by Tome Pires who came to Melaka in 1513, two years after the collapse of the empire, there is mention of a laksamana (admiral) but no specific mention of Hang Tuah by name. But the site claimed to be the grave of Hang Tuah in Tanjung Kling, Melaka, was gazetted by the state government more than 10 years ago as the true Makam Hang Tuah.
And Prof Yusoff remains strongly convinced that Hang Tuah was a real person, of flesh and blood, who lived in Melaka and served under three rulers, and died during Sultan Mahmud’s rule. And his reason is more than convincing.
"I dare say that Hang Tuah was a real figure, and I base my conclusion on the Sejarah Melayu," he said. "If you deny Hang Tuah’s existence, it means you also deny the whole historical text of the Sejarah Melayu."
Sourced from www.tourism-melaka.com/melaka/hangtuah.pdf


Anonymous said...

uhh...dats M.Nasir..
LuLz =P


Dear Nadzrin

Someone once asked me the existence of a character known as Hang Tuah.

I told him - this :

a) You didn't live during his time so you can say anything you like as it is according to your interpretation,

b) If you say that Hang Tuah is only a legend, then imagine 50 years from now, your great-great-great (and so on) grandchildren would say the same thing about you or silat. Probably :

"I think Silat is only a legend, it is not possible that a normal human being could have ever learnt such an art"

What appears to be myth to us now is because similar person with similar characters does not exist in this era (or even if he does - he would probably be unfit to stay in this era of ours)

Thus, we could almost say, the very same scenario and conversation will happen in the very far future - say 20-50 years from now?

djambu puadovich said...

unless dis blog n its comments are deleted, then d conversation and scenario will be myth. if d blog survives, it's a kind of document too, stating dat we did exist and we are not myths, perhaps legends of our time? [is being legend ok? sounds like too cocky pulak. hehe :P]


Hi djambu

My views serves only as a paradox and quite hypothetical.

I agree to your point that we base our evidence of discussion on hard copies derived from documented history.

In this case, information about Hang Tuah in any history books is very scarce. The mystical part of Hang Tuah can only be profusely found in the Hikayat itself.

Now why wouldn't historians tend not to intergrate myth and facts?

I think myth is something quite difficult to be proven without documented facts.

I agree to your opinion that as long as a blog survives, it's a kind of document too.

But I was really referring to a human character known as Hang Tuah and his abilities and how people vary in views in accepting him - some say myth, some say facts.


Because they themselves are unsure of whether the guy exists or not - not to mention his abilities.

(perhaps during our forefathers time, they would have reacted differently)

Back to my views on silat - Eg. (hopefully not) Assuming silat is no longer being practiced or scarcely practiced in 20 years to come, although history may document it but it may be hard for the future generation to accept unless they see real silat demos.

Still my opinion here is only an assumption cos' I can't see the future.

(but already I'm hearing people are saying that "Give me a gun, I don't need to waste my time on martial arts" or "why must I fly when there are aeroplanes around" even worse.."those are the good old days - let's go through the current and future")

No doubt the blog and its technology will survive and evolutionized further. But even this is the case, any historical discusssions in the blog will usually be deemed as a discussion platform - unless 'hard' historical evidences (relics) are found to support/substantiate such discussion.

(again, this is about history not the blog technology)

Let's say we use photos, people may not accept them fully (unless after tested) as photos nowadays can be tampered/superimposed.

But of course, you and I and everyone here, we have family trees (at least I hope everyone does), and it is highly unlikely people will call us as legends unless the family tree is lost and as a result, the future family members can't even remember who we are and where do they come from, then probably, the same thing/notion may befall us as well.

Just my 2sens worth.

Mohd Nadzrin Wahab said...

Salam hormat,

Arghhhhhh.... nitpicker!

Sejarah Melayu is considered a document and still many believe believe it's parts of it to be mythical.

I agree with your opinion that people don't believe because they have no current example. I had an acquaintance who did not believe there was anyone who did their five daily prayers, simply because his point of reference was himself and his friends.

No one can fathom the amazing minds of Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim or Imam Shafie (he was an amazing mathematician as well, but not very well known), but everyone sees Adi Putra today and they believe.

Strange, strange people, we are.

Salam persilatan,


This is from The Sun 20 Feb, 2008

Hang Tuah and me - Burhan Baki

For many Malay writers, for many writers concerned with the question of Malay itself, Hang Tuah and the four musketeers are figures that still demand to be confronted, either negatively or positively. And I believe that The Great Malay Novel – if such a notion makes sense anymore – must, on some level, speak of the country’s political and historical lineage from the eras of the Malay Sultanates, a lineage that, in turn, cannot help but channel the Hang Tuah figure and the hikayat that bears his name.

A few months ago, I was with a friend at Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, looking for a souvenir to buy for a shared acquaintance. Bored, cheeky and, obviously, a reader of psychology, my friend snickered and said that the finely crafted keris daggers that we were pretending to admire were none other than phalluses.

"And Tamingsari," he said in a solemn Orson-Wellesian voice, as if reciting from a book, "serves as the legend’s totemic object, the fetish that is the source of respect and invincibility."

There was nothing new in his remark – he admitted this. Such psychoanalytical interpretations are too easy – all symbols and significations are phallic, says Jacques Lacan – and usually say less about the objects themselves than about the speaker’s attitude towards them. Still, my friend and I wasted the rest of the evening at the food court upstairs, eating lunch and amusing ourselves with further naive Freudisms, such as trying to explain the meaning behind the dagger’s shortness (perhaps, therefore, a different undercurrent behind Malay sexuality and masculinity, i.e. "It’s not how long it is, but how skilful you are at wielding it"?), speculating whether Hang Jebat’s rebellion was the result of his death drive, or wondering whether his devotion to Hang Tuah was the manifestation of a latent homosexuality. The souvenir that we bought later didn’t take much thought to select: complete with a clock and thermometer at the base, a pewter statuette of the Petronas Twin Towers.

Two thumbs up, my friend said. Or two phalluses.

Reflecting on this scene, another idea: in the same way Tamingsari is for Hang Tuah, the image of Tuah is for me. For it must be confessed – it would be useless to deny it now – that my fixation with the epic was none other than a fetishisation that came out of the complex that I have from being Malay, a complex, I am also sure, shared by a majority of Malays today.

I use the concept of the fetish-object so that I could invoke a matrix of meanings:

The anthropological fetish: Hang Tuah as the locus point (among the rakyat) to which all Malay "culture", power and allure must return, as the alpha-male capable of the greatest mental and physical feats, the knight-cum-scholar-cum-monk who personifies the Malay paradigm in all its esoteric ceremonies, beliefs, loyalties and secrets.

The Marxist fetish: Hang Tuah as a commodity, as cultural and symbolic capital.

The Freudian fetish: my Hang Tuah obsession as something "deviant"

(I simplify things, I know).

And, finally, the Zizekian fetish: Hang Tuah as the "security blanket" that is held in order to be able to succeed in contemporary reality, the reality of urbanisation, globalisation, liberalisation (whatever it means), and multiculturalism.

Neither the ability to believe nor disbelieve – this is what I mean by the Malay complex. With the changes that have been taking place in the country since independence, ties to the old, to tradition and "culture", have lessened, and it has become difficult for today’s Malay to believe in them wholeheartedly. For when we study the hagiography of Hang Tuah today, we cannot help but hasten towards the point that transforms his image into something so utterly extreme that is almost terrifying. His obedience seems ridiculous to some of us, but it is this very absurdity that draws us to him. Jebat’s rebellion was mad. But, today, in the so-called age of liberal democracy, when everything is a matter of choice, there was a greater madness to Tuah’s faith: the madness of "duty" itself and the madness of "being reasonable". He is the impossible in all its allure and nostalgia. We hold on to his image just so that we know that the possibility of faith still exists. Even if we don’t believe in tradition, Tuah believes it on our behalf.

Or rather, our belief or jealousy towards his belief believes it for us.

New Malaysian Essays 1 is now available in selected bookstores including Kinokuniya, Silverfish and Kinibooks.com