Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Installment #6

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah



The Major Characters (excepting Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah)

The Sultan of Melaka

In terms of historical perspective the Sultan is an impossible character. He is Sang Maniaka, the first son of the fabled Sang Purba, the King of Bukit Seguntang. He becomes the ruler of Bintan, emigrates with his whole court and subjects to found the kingdom of Melaka, lives practically throughout the whole book till the eve of the fall of Melaka and then disappears somewhat mysteriously.[i] However, as we have stated earlier, our interest is rather on the human plane than on the historical one.

Form the point of view of his position he is, of course, the most important figure I the book. But as a character he is of no great consequence. He comes out virtually flat and presents a blurred personality. Apparently he is the person most immersed in official matters as he is the head of state, but because of this he is also above the law. As such he should have shown evidence of freer expression of his personality.

He possesses many characteristics of a good leader. He is able, kind, generous and, to a large extent, just.[ii] He depends very much, of course, on his wise bendahara and also on the Laksamana but he does not seem to be dominated by either of them. H e is very sensitive about his authority and reacts quickly and violently to an attempt at insubordination.[iii] This is his weakest point and it neatly becomes the cause of his ruin.[iv]

He falls in love with Tun Teja after the fashion of those days. He has not seen Tun Teja himself; he only hears of widely acclaimed beauty.[v] But when he fails to get her and is told by Patih Karma Wijaya, a senior minister of his Javanese origin, that he would undertake to get for him a more beautiful princess in the person of the daughter of Seri Batara, he immediately forgets and orders plans to be made for the dispatch of a mission to Majapahit.[vi]

This weakness in his portraiture lies in his reactions to Patih Karma Wijaya’s accusations to Hang Tuah. It is conceivable that for the first time he should, without prior investigation, order the execution of his most trusted servant when thus accused. But when he repeats the same pattern of reaction at a second similar accusation brought up by the same man whom he knows has lied on that first instance, the whole matter looks incredible. At least he should have investigated the case first. Even granted that the matter touches the softest spot in his heart and that at such moments the possibility of his forgetting what has gone before is great, one thing he can still do. He can dismiss or disgrace the Patih for slander. This he does not do.[vii]

The main motivation of his character seems to be self-interest. His own brother, the Raja Muda, is sacrificed. Hang Tuah is, on many occasions, held out to death.[viii] Only towards the end of his reign when he has grown quite old does he appear to undergo some change. This change must have been brought about, in some degree, by the loss of his ancestral crown.[ix] The first manifestation of the new development is seen in his desire to know the life beyond the grave.[x] The effect of this dubious discovery on his attitude towards life is great. He decides to give up the world. Distributing his wealth among all his subjects, he abdicates and goes wandering in mystic style.

Bendahara Paduka Raja

The Bendahara is quite an interesting character, convincingly portrayed, although he does not appear as intense as Jebat or Tuah. He is a wise, brave and devoted minister., we; beloved by the Sultan and those below him. He becomes especially exciting when faced with crucial issues. There are three such occasions. On the first, the sultan orders him to execute the Raja Muda for alleged disloyalty.[xi] He refuses as he has pledged absolute loyalty to the royal descendent s of Bukit Seguntang.[xii] The other two occasions involve the fate of Hang Tuah. At both times he refuses to carry out the royal death sentence even though Tuah himself insists that he should d so.[xiii] He even makes passionate appeals for Tuah’s life on the second occasion.[xiv] These are difficult acts indeed to do; that he does them shows his strength and individuality of character.

His relationship with Patih Karma Wijaya and his attitude towards Jebat’s rebellious behaviour also afford interesting insight into his character. He distrusts the Patih even before the latter shows his untrustworthy nature.[xv] He never expresses it to the Sultan and he is very diplomatic on this point.[xvi]

Although quite forthright in his advice to the Sultan, he is very loyal servant. He does not agree with Jebat’s actions. It would seem that he does not realize Jebat’s real motive for rebellion.[xvii] Even f he does, it is doubtful whether he would appreciate it. He thinks the Sultan is wrong, of course, for not having decreed rashly against Hang Tuah, but it does not enter his head to rebel against his authority. The idea is simply incredible. Logical though his mind is, it still operates within the feudal scheme.

Next: Installment #7: Patih Gajah Mada

[i] At first (p.305) it is told inhte middle of his wanderings as a darwish, he simply disappeared “never to be heard again.” The (p.308) it is said that he had retired to a life of hermitage on Mt. Jugara together with the bendahara, Temenggong and Laksama.

[ii] Throughout the whole book there are only three occasions when he acted unjustly (see footnote 1 p.21).

[iii] No sooner had he installed his younger brother as Raja Muda, than the jealous officials begin to frame a case of treason against the latter. When the Sultanheard of it he flew into a rage and immediately ordered his execution (Cf. p. 74). The same pattern of reaction is repeated twice when Tuah was alleged to have encroached upon the royal prerogatives by entering into illicit relations with his ‘gundik’ (cf. pp. 179 & 303-304).

[iv] We refer to the “menderhaka” episode of Jebat which came about as a result of his inability to bring sober judgment to bear on a case of alleged disloyalty.

[v] Various princes had sought her hand, but failed. Her beauty is described thus: “Maka rupu-nya terlalu elok, saperti bulan purnama, empat belas haribulan kilau-kilauan, tiada dapat di-tentang nyata.” (p. 97).

[vi] Cf. p.101.

[vii] He did indeed chide the Patih and his accomplices when their doings had led Jebat to rebel against his authority. He even threatened them with death if they could not remove Jebat (Cf. p. 320) but it seems that the threat was not carried out.

[viii] Apart from the duels and fights Hang Tuah has to undertake on his account, there are the “Coconut-climbing” incident (p. 340), the “horse-riding” incident (pp. 243-4), the “horse-saving” incident (p. 245), the “getting-into-the-garve” incident (pp. 500-2).

[ix] The crown fell intothe sea when he was traveling on a pleasure trip to Singapura. The loss seems to have affected his health. Since then, he is said to be constantly “gila-gila saki keala dan tuboh-nya demam” (p. 447). This loss seems also to be symbolically linked into the fate of Melaka because it was from this point onwards that Melaka began to decline.

[x] Cf. pp. 500-2.

[xi] He was accused by some jealous courtiers of planning to overthrow the Sultan.

[xii] Cf. p. 74. See also p. 67.

[xiii] Cf. pp 179 & 305.

[xiv] Cf. pp. 304 & 305.

[xv] Cf. p. 124.

[xvi] When the Sultan was preparing to visit Majapahit the second time, the question of who was to accompany him came up. The Temenggung suggested that the senior officers should also go because the Laksamana was young and inexperienced man. This would include Patih Karma Wijaya. The Bendahara retorted by asking who the officers were besides the Laksamana. At this juncture the Patih offered himself. The answer the Bendahara here gave is characteristic of his diplomacy (Cf. p.273).

[xvii] He said that Jebat acted thus because Tuah was no longer alive (p. 310). This would imply that Jebat was a coward.


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