Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Installment #5

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah



The Minor Characters

The minor characters are those whose role in the story are not vital. There are many of them. It is pointless to treat them all because they can be considered under a few broad types. There is the ruler-type which may be represented by Seri Batara or the Raja Muda of Melaka. There is the prince-type like Megat Panji Alam. Tun Bijaya Sura can be taken to stand for the court-official type; Petala Bumi for the warrior-ascetic type. Then there are the ladies-in-waiting (dayang) characterized by Dang Ratna, better known as Mak Inang. There is the simpleton Pak Si Molong who is both pathetic and comic at the same time. And there is the little spirited loyalist son of Hang Tuah, Tun Kadim.

None of them emerge as convincingly as Hang Tuah or Hang Jebat. They are not altogether flat characters, although among them Seri Batara and Tun Bijaya Sura come nearest to being so. These also are personalities most involved in officialdom. Seri Batara is a little confusingly drawn.[i] He is stupid,[ii] succumbs to flattery[iii] and spends his time agreeing to whatever suggestions his powerful Prime Minister, Patih Gajah Mada, makes. He does no t surprise the reader; rather he bores.[iv] Tun Bijaya Sura is the orthodox, respectable court official who goes about unnoticed doing the bidding of his master.[v]

The most interesting character in this category is Dang Ratna, better known as Mak Inang. She is Tun Teja’s chief lady-in-waiting. She appears only on a few pages, but she is entirely free from the trappings of officialdom. Her character comes out very well both as an individual and as a typical Malay woman. She displays the talkativeness and soft heartedness[vi] of women in general and possesses the politeness[vii] and modesty[viii] characteristic of Malays.

She was quite taken in by Hang Tuah’s good manners and humility, adopted him as her own son and soon grew very fond of him. When, therefore, Tuah asked her to convey his love to Tun Teja, she faced the crisis of her life. To comply was to court disaster; but to refuse was to disappoint someone whom, as she herself said, she would even venture into “a sea of fire”.[ix] Out of sheer love for Hang Tuah she had to comply and the description of her indecision, confusion and fear while trying to accomplish this hazardous undertaking is very realistic and superbly done.[x]

The warrior-ascetic characters[xi] also come out well. Their non-involvement in officialdom explains this fact. But because all of them follow generally the same pattern, their portraiture becomes a little blurred. Their characteristic trait is haughtiness.[xii] However, Petala Bumi, whom we have chosen to characterise this type shows something more. He is not only boastful, but also a bully.[xiii] Nevertheless, he is honest enough to admit that Tuah is a much better warrior than he is. He knows that he cannot cause any harm to him; rather, he would be destroyed at his hands. Still, he has the integrity and courage to go and fight the man because he has given his word to Seri Betara.[xiv]

Megat Panji Alam , the son of Terenggano Raja, is princely type of character. Only one side of him comes up and no doubt it is the dominant side of this social type: extreme haughtiness and arrogance.[xv] Because of this he loses the reader’s sympathy even the cause for which he goes to fight the Sultan of Melaka and his Laksamana is valid and reasonable.[xvi] Being the son of a king, he naturally leads a protected and pampered life. Whatever he asks for would not be objected by his royal father. This makes him arrogant and boastful. There is no wonder he meets his end with not much of a fight[xvii] to match his early boasts.

A character that draws pity from the reader is Pak Si Molong, the fighting-cock trainer (juara ayam) of the Terenggano Raja. He is the simple and straightforward common-man type. He possesses the characteristic resignation of the Malay peasant. In his simplicity and straightforwardness he suffers[xviii] but his suffering does not embitter him:[xix] it causes him to resign to his fate. It is this situation in which he gets caught, and to which he is sacrificed, that makes him to a tragic and lovable character.

Another minor character that ought to be mentioned is Tun Kadim, the son of Hang Tuah. He seems typical of a child brought up in the heroine tradition. At about nine years or so[xx] he is already well acquainted with court manners and etiquette. He also has acquired that feudal mentality and sense of heroism[xxi] that is so much the mark of his father. As such he serves to show and explain in the deeper terms of social environment the dominant heroic traits of the age.

Next: Installment #6: The Major Characters (excepting Hang Tuah and Hang Tuah)

[i] Sometimes he appears to be in complete agreement with the aggressive policy of Gajah Muda; sometimes he appears to be just a puppet; yet at other times he is quite capable of acting on his own.

[ii] The two incidents when Hang Tuah’s keris was stolen illustrates this quality (Cf. pp. 156 & 255, and also footnote 3, p. 26). Furthermore , in most quarters his thinking is done for him by Patih Gajah Mada.

[iii] Tuah knows this weakness and often exploits it. Once he was so pleased because Hang Tuah said he was the descendent of a great king sent down by Allah to rule Majapahit that he ordered the Patih to make his presents of gold, clots, keris, buffaloes and rice (Cf. p114).

[iv] His tenacious persistence in conspiring with the Patih against Hang Tuah has the effect of flattening his character.

[v] At one point he shows some signs of character. He was reporting to the Sultan on his unsuccessful mission to Inderapura to get the hand of Tun Teja. Hang Tuah, who felt that the refusal of the royal offer of marriage was mud thrown at his master’s face, made a deadly remark (p. 101). Bijaya Sura felt slighted. Later when he was passing through Inderapura on his return voyage from Siam, he refused to take Tuah with him on learning that the latter was bringing along Tun Teja (p. 212). However he acquiesced whenthreaned. He does not seem to have takenpart in the subsequent plot against Tuah.

[vi] 1. 181.

[vii] P. 181.

[viii] P. 189

[ix] “….jikalau tuan suroh ka-laut apa sa-kali pun bonda pergi….” (p. 197).

[x] Cf. pp. 198-200.

[xi] Examples are Petala Bumi, Tamang Sari, Sang Wirana Semantara, Merga Pakai, kerlala Sari, Sang Tangso, Sehirang.

[xii] Cf. pp 155, 159, 254, 258,. Incidentally, the boasting of warriors is another characteristic of heroic poetry or saga (Cf. Chadwick, H. A., p. 326).

[xiii] He threatened to knife Barit Ketika should the later refuse to accompany him into Hang Tuah’s compound (Cf. p. 288).

[xiv] Cf. pp. 289, 291.

[xv] Cf. pp 223, 230, 234.

[xvi] The Sultan of Melaka, through Laksamana, had taken away and carried Tun Teja who was then his fiancée.

[xvii] Cf. p.235.

[xviii] With the consent of his master, he exchanged cocks with their opponent because he was impressed by the looks of the latter’s bird. However, his eyes had deceived him and the Terenggano’s cock lost to Raja Jolan. For this the master ordered his eyes to be taken out (Cf. p. 422).

[xix] When his master asked him to look for a new fighting cock that could match that of his opponent and promised him four concubines if he could find one, he undertook to do so but he said that ‘gundiks’ would be useless to him as he would not be able to see them (Cf. p. 423).

[xx] At this time he is said to be a little smarter than his father when he entered the royal service (p. 320), that is, when he was at the age of ten (p. 24).

[xxi] Already at this young age he was asking to be allowed to fight the ‘traitor’ Jebat (Cf. p. 322).

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