Friday, September 23, 2005

Installment #7

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah



The Major Characters (excepting Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah)

Patih Gajah Muda

Patih Gajah Muda dominates the court of Majapahit. He seems to be the villain in the story. But he does not come out so well as such. The pattern of his scheming is so uniform that it bores. His dogged persistence to kill Hang Tuah withers all of a sudden after the death of Seri Batara; it looks as though he has undergone a drastic change. But the change, if it occurs at all, is not shown.

He is ambitious, ruthless and jealous of his power. The image of ambition and ruthlessness in his character is effectively built up before the reader actually comes in direct contact with him. The reader first gets a glimpse of his scheming through the report of the pirates taken prisoners by Hang Tuah and his four comrades.[i] Then the Bendahara makes a reference to it in a conversation with the headman (batin) of Singapura.[ii] Then before the royal mission to ask for the hand of Sri Batara’s daughter departs for Majapahit, the Bendahara warns the officers about the character of Patih Gajah Mada.[iii] Again before the subsequent departure of the Sultan for Majapahit in order to marry Raden Mas Ayu, the Bendahara gives the royal escorts another piece of his mind about him.[iv] The reader is thus prepared to meet this ruthless and ambitious man.

There seems to be no doubt that he dominates his king. A very respectable and honest Javanese courier, Radin Aria, twice testifies to this.[v] The king must therefore be in league with him because it is he who first suggests to the Patih the idea of molesting the Malay envoys as they proceed to the court.[vi] When Hang Tuah comes again with the Sultan on the second visit, it is he who also brings up the question of killing the Laksamana.[vii] It looks as though both of them are working together. Nevertheless, their power relationship is none too clear. On the one hand we find the Seri Batara completely identifying himself with the Putih’s policy toward Melaka; on the other, we find him putting his first minister to shame before Hang Tuah and the other members of the Malay party and indeed before the whole court of Majapahit.[viii]

It is difficult to explain the situation. That Patih Gajah Mada dominates Seri Batara is, in my opinion, a fact. The irregular behavior of the latter is to be attributed to his stupidity and simple-mindedness.[ix]

His character is blurred by the similar pattern of his techniques to trap Hang Tuah. He appears to be inhumanly dogged in his efforts. Amidst this, however, comes a new convincing trait: jealousy. He resents the Temenggung because it is he who hits upon the brilliant idea of attacking the Malay party as it comes from Tuban.[x] He must have recognized the soundness of the idea although he does not acknowledge it. Seri Batara is in favour of it and the fact that it is not carried out further shows the extent of his power.

The motivating force in his character is ambition. But the end of his days is shown to be quiet and pious. After so much evidence of tenacity and optimism in works of sabotage and conspiracy, he turns out to be a comparatively good man.[xi] What has taken place? We are told that his master has died and that his grandson Raden Bahar, has been installed the new Seri Batara.[xii] These are happenings too inconsequential to have wrought such a change in a character like Path Gajah Mada.

Tun Teja

Tun Teja, the daughter of Bendahara Seri Buana of Inderapura, is a very interesting,[xiii] though a rather puzzling personality. She might pass for the heroine of the story. Possessed of a strong character, she has decided views on marriage. These views, however, are not quite clearly resolved in her mind. She has the characteristic aloofness of a princess, but can be a very passionate lover. As a woman she displays well the feminine contradictions in her character. She is intelligent and makes a wise counselor.

We are first introduced to her as a beautiful princess whose hand is being sought everywhere, but who refuses to marry.[xiv] When the Sultan of Melaka asks for her hand, she refuses him too, against the wishes and advice of her father and the Sultan of Inderapura. Her reasons would appear to be social.[xv] But later on in the book, a conversation among her attendants on the subject of her undoubtedly forced engagement to Megat Panji Alam gives the impression that she had refused Raja Melaka because she thought him not good enough for her.[xvi] This impression is confirmed by what she says herself to Mak Inang in a flood of rage.[xvii] These incidents make it difficult for the reader to get a clear idea of what she thinks of marriage. It may be that the ‘writer’ is right in stating that she does not want to marry.[xviii] If so, she protests to her father and the Sultan were mere excuses and her violent outburst to Mak Inang was just an extreme expression of her feminine pride and contradiction.[xix]

The change comes when Tuah applies his love-charm to her.[xx] This is not an impossible development in a society where belief in magico-ascetic power holds sway. She falls passionately for him and thus – it is interesting to note—she becomes Hang Tuah’s first and ultimate deliverer, the instrument by which he regains favour from the Sultan, the first sacrifice of his feudal loyalty, and indeed, the first stated sacrifice of the Hikayat Hang-Tuah feudalism itself.[xxi]

Forthright and unorthodox though she is, she does not like Jebat’s behaviour in court when he assumes the office of Laksamana. Most probably she, like the Bendahara (and also Hang Tuah) does not realize, much less appreciate, Jebat’s motives. At first she does not seem to object very much to the presence of Jebat in court in place of Hang Tuah.[xxii] Later when her husband-sultan complains, she mildly rebukes him for not having listened to the advice of his senior minister.[xxiii]

There is a characteristic feminine touch in the way she obtains what she wants. She appeals to her natural weakness. The incident of her father’s death illustrates this clearly.[xxiv] She is thus not only an interesting character but realistically depicted.

Next: Installment #8: Patih Karma Wijaya

[i] While still I Bintan and not yet in the royal service, Hang Tuah and his four associates one day went out on a boating expedition. On the way they were attacked by a group of pirates. In the ensuing flight they managed to outwit the pirates and took ten wounded prisoners. It was these prisoners who gave out that they had been induced by Patih Gajah Mada to go on a campaign of brigandage (Cf. pp. 22-27).

[ii] Cf. p.28.

[iii] Cf. p. 104.

[iv] Cf. p. 124.

[v] Cf. pp 140 & 253.

[vi] Cf. p. 106.

[vii] Cf. p. 133

[viii] We refer to two similar incidents when it was contrived to steal Hang Tuah’s keris while he was in attendance at the Majapahit court. On both occasions when the Laksamana realised that his keris was gone from his waist he, in turn, by some mysterious power, got hold of the Patih’s keris (the Patih was sitting beside him). As soon as Hang Tuah’s keris was handed over to Seri Batara by the paid stealer, Seri Batara (on the first occasion) asked to see the Patih’s keris, with the intention probably of asking to see the Laksamana’s after that, thereby making him realise that his keris was lost. In this way the Patih was put to shame (Cf. p. 156). On the second occasion the Batara asked to see the Laksamana’s first. When the latter produce it, he foolishly went to ask for the poor Patih’s thus putting the old man to shame again (Cf. 255).

[ix] This quality of his has been referred to in our discussion of his character.

[x] Cf. pp. 278-279.

[xi] There was no attempt at treachery when Hang Tuah came again ro escort Raden Bahar (Cf. pp. 394-395).

[xii] Cf. pp. 393-395.

[xiii] It is worth noting that the most interesting character in the minor category is also a woman.

[xiv] Cf. p. 97.

[xv] She suffers from a class-inferiority complex; the Sultan of Melaka belonged to a higher stratum She argued that only “birds of a feather flock together” (yang enggang itu sama enggang juga; yang pipit itu sama pipit juga – p. 99).

[xvi] That is, when Tuah sends his salaam to her (Cf. pp. 200-201).

[xvii] Cf. p. 97.

[xviii] Cf. p. 97.

[xix] The fact that she said she would drink poison if forced to marry the Megat tends to substantiate this view (Cf. p. 191) because of the Sultan of Melaka is too high for her, then the Megat is surely her match.

[xx] Cf. p. 203.

[xxi] The Bendahara, of course, delivers him temporarily in this first occasion as he also does on the second. On the latter occasion it is Jebat who ultimately saves him and who is the second stated but more tragic sacrifice of that same feudal world.

[xxii] Cf. p. 309. Here she reflects that if Jebat persists in behaving in such a presumptuous manner, he would not last long either, indicating that she accepts the Sultan’s judgement of Hang Tuah.

[xxiii] Cf. p. 313.

[xxiv] She had sent Jebat’s son, Hang Madim, to see her father at Inderaputera. It happened that this time the country was being harassed by sword-fish (todak). Hang Madim suggested a bright idea which consequently saved the lives of many people. For this the Sultan awarded him the title of Orang Kaya Sang Si-Tuah. The other ministers and officials became jealous and conspired to bring disgrace eon him. But so long as Teja’s father, the Bendahara, was alive they dared not carry out their evil plan. Soon, however, the Bendahara died. Immediately the Temenggung who wanted the Bendaharaship led the conspirators into the Sultan’s presence and informed him that Snag Si-Tuah had been flirting with a certain court-lady. Thus Hang Madim, Teja’s messenger, was executed. The news of his execution and of her father’s death reached Melaka and Tun Teja complained to her husband , saying that if she were a man, she would know how to act. Thereupon the Sultan ordered a force under Laksamana to subjugate Inderapura (Cf. 436-439).

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