Monday, October 10, 2005

Installment #11

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah



HANG TUAH is the central figure. He is the hero whose character and achievements embody the grand scheme of this Malaysian epic. Yet he is by no means the greatest creation by the ‘author’. There is too much officialness in his heroism. This is not, however, a criticism of the feudal conception. The feudal conception is a historical reality and must be reckoned with. But to make the hero demonstrate his absolute loyalty to the extent of appearing superhuman (1) only reduces, not enhances, his great qualities.

Hang Tuah is introduced with some particulars of his origin (2). It is difficult to say exactly what the social significance of the honorific title ‘Hang’ is. It seems to be widely used for the common run of men. There is, however, a reference made by the bendahara that the families of Tuah and hs four friends are of “orang berasal juga” (3). We are inclined to think that the title ‘Hang’ refers to the ordinary freeman as opposed to the serf. Why the Bendahara speaks of the families as “orang berasal juga” may be due to the fact that Tuah’s mother is a ‘Dang’ (4).

The word ‘tuah’ means ‘luck’ or ‘fortune’. It is not certain whether the ‘writer’ hand I mind the connotation of this word when he chose it as the name of his hero. It is very likely, although he obviously had not much choice because Hang Tuah almost certainly did exist as a historical figure (5). If so, it was a happy coincidence. Dr. C. Hooykaas suggest that he is a kind of luck-bringer who may be compared to the European Fortunatus (6). At any rate the ‘writer’ himself speaks of him as “bertuah daripada budak yang banyak itu.” (7)

The signs of his coming greatness are progressively displayed with an acute sense of realism (8). First, there is the dream through which the powers on high indicate their choice of a future hero on Malaysian earth (9). When he grows up he helps his father by chopping the firewood that he brings back and, at times, visits the Bendahara’s Kampung “memperhamabakan dirinya.” (10) In this way he learns manners and etiquette. Then, with his four friends (11) who are destined to be associated with him for along time to come, he goes on a boating trip. This gives him and them their first fighting experience and tests their childhood courage.

Next we are told of his sojourn with his friends on a nearby hill to study ascetiscism and the warrior trade under the ascetic Adi Putera. Apparently he has heard it said they would one day become great warriors (12). Adi Putera tells them that they would soon be enlisted in the royal service and would aspire to become great officers in the Malay land. Not long afterwards Tuah meets with his first opportunity to practise what he had learned. A bandit had entered the kampong and was running amuk. Tuah was as usual chopping firewood in front of his mother’s shop. When the bandit tried to molest him, he, to the great surprise of the onlookers, dealt him a death blow with his axe (13). One of the onlookers remarked: “inilah akan menjadi hulubalang yang besar pada tanah Melayu ini.” (14)

Enough, therefore, has been told about Tuah before he goes into the royal service to impress on the reader that there is a personality by no means to be ignored. As one character puts it, he is “bukan barang-barang lakunya dan sikapnya; perkataan hulubalang juga barang yang keluar daripada mulutnya.” (15) This is faint praise or we consider what he had said in reply to the man who warned him of the approaching bandit: “Apatah dikatakan orang mengamuk sekian ini? Bukan negeri tiada berhulubalang dan pegawai akan mengembari, disana juga ia dibunoh orang.” (16)

Tuah is thus, not in any artificial way, marked off from the start. He was discovered because of his extraordinary courage and sense heroism. It is exactly those traits in his character that figures so often (although they are not the ones that distinguish him from Jebat). He is not afraid of anything (17) and cannot resist a challenge. (18) It is appoint of honour that he succumbs to no threat, even his own, (19) and that he be deterred by no difficulty. The Javanese warriors and many other people who come into contact with him remarked on this extraordinary quality of his. (20) That is not all, however. Even inanimate objects react fearfully to the violence of his personality. (21)

Closely allied to this sense of heroism is his sense of absolute loyalty (22) to the house of Seguntang. To that house his entire life is given. There is no compromise or misgivings (23) on that score. For this reason he refuses to act on the Sultan’s order to execute his royal brother, the Raja Muda, for the alleged act of treason. He puts his case thus: “Patik mohonkan ampun dan kurnia kabawah Duli Yang Dipertuan, yang mana mendatangkan tangan patik keatas anak chuchu Raja Bukit Seuntang itu, mohnonlah patik.” (24) It is worthy of note that this is the first and only “no” that he ever gives as an answer to his master.

But it is also because of his strict adherence to this principle that causes the undoing of his closest friend, Jebat, and that precipitates the greatest recorded tragedy of the Malay feudal order.

Tuah is resourceful and wily. When mere physical strength and dexterity cannot cope with the task before him, he does not hesitate to use his wiles and tricks. This is well illustrated in his duel with the famous Javanese warrior, Tamang Sari. He finds that he cannot get his weapon at his opponent’s body and, guessing that it is due to his keris, says: “Hai Tamang Sari, apa juga kehendak hatimu, maka engkau seorang dirimu? Adapun Batara Majapahit itu raja besar, bareng tipunya mati juga engkau olehnya. Adapun jika engkau hendak hidup, marilah kita kedua mupakat mengamuk Batara Majapahit ini dan Patih Gajah Mada kita bunuh dan pegawai besar-besar pun kita bunuh. Sudah itu akan segala penjurit dan perlintihkita perbaiki dan engkau menjadi Ratu didalam negeri ini, aku menjadi Patih. Siapa dapat dapat membunuh kita berdua ini? Adapun kerismu itu kulihat tiada kukuh, ambillah keris pandakkku ini supaya kita kedua mengmamuk kedlam istana Batara Majapahit.” (25) With a flourish he offers him the weapon and Tamang Sari is impressed by it. He in turn suggests that Tuah can use his keris if he likes. And no sooner does he get it than he pounces on a bewildered Tamang Sari and easily overpowers him. (26)

Another example of his resourcefulness is seen when he had to fight with forty Javanese warriors. He himself had not anticipated such a big number and he was truly alarmed. He thought to himself that the Patih had got him in his clutches now. (27) But a fortunate situation and a quick brain to utilize it to his advantage combined to save him. (28)

These two examples are happy ones in that Tuah’s wiles and ingenuity helped him to destroy the enemies of Melaka. But there is an occasion when his trickery was applied to a tragic purpose. The occasion was the duel (29) with his great comrade Jebat. The latter then was having the Tamang Seri Keris (30) which possessed a magical power of its own. Tuah could not possibly hurt him as long as he had that weapon on him. So he resorted to trickery. Apparently he must have known Jebat’s weakness for being easily overwhelmed by a show of deep emotion. During one of the rest-periods he, therefore, played up the theme of their once great friendship. (31) Jebat cried and was off his guard. Tuah snatched the keris form his waist and, giving him his own, fought on till he was able to inflict a fatal wound on his chest.


(1) Supernatural and mystical elements do form a part of the ingredients of the heroic narrative (Cf. Chadwick, H. A. Chapters VI & VII), but these are more a background then the immediate stuff of which a character is made.

(2) Cf. p. 23.

(3) Cf. p. 36, although the fact that Tuah’s mother keeps small eating shop would tend to show that they belong to the consumer group.

(4) ‘Dang’, according to Wilkinson, is an honorific title prefixed to the name of certain court ladies or ladies-in-waiting.

(5) He is mentioned in Sejarah Melayu (Cf. Sejarah Melayu, chapters 14 & 19).

(6) Cf. Hooykaas, p. 80.

(7) Cf. p. 42.

(8) However, as we have said before, descriptions of his personal appearance are nowhere given. The passage which comes nearest to being such a description is a revealed thought of one of the character: “Siapa gerangan orang itu, terlalau sangat tertib lakunya dan manis muka-nya?” (p. 380).

(9) Cf. p. 23.

(10) p. 24.

(11) Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu.

(12) Cf. p. 30.

(13) There was soon to be another occasion when he and this time – his four friends had the chance to display their courage and dexterity with weapons. This itme the Bendahara himself saw them kill the bandits and indeed it was done in his defence. The incident won for themselves recognition and entry into the royal service.

(14) p. 34. (15) p.29

(16) p. 33.

(17) There are numerous attempts to illustrate his courage whether in fighting or adventures of other kinds. The incident while carrying the royal letter to Majapahit (pp. (18), the “bathing” incident in Seri Betara’s prohibited garden (pp. 169-173), the “horse-valuing incident” (pp. 334-5), the “diving-for-the-crown” incident, (pp. 445-6) are some of the more striking ones.

(19) This is the heroic cult of honour (Cf. Brown, p. 51), the cult of ‘biar puteh tulang jangan puteh mata’. An interesting example is afforded when the royal mission to obtain the hand of Tun Teja failed. Tuah felt insulted and said, “Chih! Bukan orangnya Yang Dipertuan titahkan aku. Jika si Tuah gernagan membawa titah….sahingga putih tulang tiada putih mata.” (p.100). Another equally interesting example is when Teja refused his love. He vowed that “Jika aku tiada boleh Tun Teja itu aku tiada mau kembali ke Melaka dan aku tiada menyebut nama perempuan lagi didalam dunia ini.” (p. 201).

(20) During his sojourn at Inderapura the raja invited him to stay in his kingdom. He declined saying that, “kalau kalau patik ini dipinta oleh paduka kekanda (Raja Melaka) ditangkap patik dan diberikan ke Melaka, alangkah malu patik.” The raja assured him that no such thing would happen. But Tuah wnet into a fit and, with his hand on his keris challenged, “Chih! Siapa dapat menangkap si Tuah? Marah matanya kuhendak lihat saperti orang Inderapura ini?” (p. 187).

(21) Refer Bendahara Seri Buana’s view of him (p. 186), that of the Javanese spearman (p. 261-2), that of Tun Teja (p. 267) & that of Petala Burai (pp. 287-91).

(22) On the occasion while he was carrying his master’s letter to Majapahit a group of Javanese warriors tried to intercept him. His challenge caused the ground to vibrate (p. 253). On another occasion his challenge shook the audience hall “saperti ditiup rebut lakunnya” (p. 284).

(23) “Mempersembahkan nyawa kebawah duli”.

(24) On one occasion Seri Betara offered him a top post in the Javanese court on handsome terms, but he politely declined it (Cf. p. 109). On another occasion the Raja of Inderapura made a similar offer which he likewise refused (Cf. p. 187).

(25) p. 74 (26) p. 143.

(27) Cf. pp. 143-4.

(28) Wah, terkaralah oleh Patih Gajah Mada (p. 234).

(29) Cf. p. 285. (30) Cf. pp.332-41.

(31) When the Sultan ordered to be executed, he confiscated the keris and ask Jebat to wear it.
(32) Cf. p. 340.

Next: Installment #12: Chapter IV Hang Tuah – Cont’d

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