Sunday, October 30, 2005

Installment #15

Appendix 1 – An Abstract of Exercise (in Malay)



DI-KEMUKAKAN bahawa Hikayat Hang Tuah ada-lah salah sabuah hasil sastera Melayu/Indonesia kelasik ynag mengandongi unsora perwatakan yang menarek sa-kali. Karangan ini boleh di-golongkan ka-dalam katagori yang umum di-namakan “sastera kepahlawan” (heroic epic). Tujuan mengkajikan-nya ia-lah untok mempelajari ka’edah perwatakan-nya sa-chara kasar dan juga untok mempertimbangkan watak2 Hang Tuah dan Hang Tuah.

Kedapatan bahawa yang di-titek-beratkan ia-lah sa-bilangan yang lechil daripada para watak (HangTuah, Hang Jebat, bendahara Paduka Raja, Tun Teja, Raja melaka); ynag lain-nya (sabilangan yang berjumlah lebeh daripada sa-ratus) di-likiskan sachara samara sahaja.

Watak dan peribada di-tunjokkan sa-chara langsong. Pengarang-nya boleh di-katakan tidak pernah menchampor tangan di-dalam hal ini. Ka’eddaha yang banyak di-paksa ia-lah uchapan (speech & dialogue) dan aksi. Terlihat tandan hendak melukisakn sa-suatu sa-chara tiba2 (dramatic). Pemborontakan Hang Jebat ia-lah suatu chontoh yang terang. Pada umum-nya perkembangan peribadi dan watak di-tentukan oleh faktor2 yangluar dari diri para pelakun sendiri.

Pada keselurohan-nya penggambara watak di-dalam hikayat ini menarek danpenting dari dua sudut. Watak dan peribadi yang di-lahirkan-nya ada-lah tulen (Tuah, Jebat, Teja masing2 watak yang betul2 melayu). Dan para pelakun-nya (terutama Susltan, Bendahara dan Tuah) mewakil aliran social yang kuat pengaroh-nya pada zaman itu.

Tuah dan Jebat mendukong dua prinsip yang bertentangan. Pertikaman mereka bukan hanya merupai suatu sengketa persenderian, tetapi bahkan suatu pertikanian social yang melibatkan seluroh anggota masharakat. Oleh kerana sikapnya yang jujor dan progresip maka kita anggapkan Jebat sa-orang pahlawan yang lebeh utama daripada Tuah di-dalam cherita ini.

Installment # 16: Appendix I1 – A Synopsis of Hikayat Hang Tuah

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

[I interrupt this serialization of the Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah to post this bulletin. A Bahasa version will bepublsihed onThursday and the serialization will resume on Sunday. MBM]


At present, the world is at an important crossroad: between the old way of life with oppressive, colonial-neo-colonial-feudal-fascist system, and a new way one that is democratic, republican and humanist.

The communist ideology and system have collapsed; the liberal-capitalist system has also reached a dead end and fast collapsing; so is the religious theocratic system. A new way of life is emerging, demanded by the majority of mankind on all continents. This is the age-old dream of mankind, and the moment has come to act. As patriotic and concerned Malaysian citizens, we have to be aware of this development and take the necessary steps to discover and bring into being this new world.

From time immemorial, mankind has struggled to achieve the dream of a just society. Everywhere and in all ages, two groups struggled against each other: the oligarchical group which believes in the concept of empire and the existence of slaves, and the humanist group which believes in the concept of man as vicegerent of God on earth, and in a just society. In this post-colonial era that began at about the 1970’s, the colonial system lead by the Anglo-American oligarchy has reached its highest point, with the collapse of the Soviet communist system collapsed and with Anglo-American aggressors attacking and invading Iraq. In Iraq and Afghanistan, this colonial group is meeting its military end, and in America itself as well as throughout the world, its politico-economic world system is coming to ruin. We are part of this system and are suffering under its yoke. We are seeing increasing corruption and abuse of power in our country.

What is the new ideology, system or policy that will replace the old moribund ideologies, systems and policies? In general, we want a system and a world that is just. This is the demand of the peoples of the world. In modern political vocabulary, it means a system that is democratic, republican and humanist. In the Quranic this is referred to as “The Straight Path,” a path that does not deviate towards the individual (liberalism) versus the collective (communism), or the side of materialism (liberalism/communism) versus empty spiritualism (theocracy).

This system combines the material and spiritual requirements (or worldly and other worldly) in a unified and harmonious whole. It synthesizes religious, philosophical, scientific and artistic knowledge.

In the old world, all societies including Muslim ones live in a dualism: between the religious-moral demands and the material and worldly ones. Our leaders and intellectuals must quickly make reforms in both the religious and the secular so that the two can exist in a unified and a harmonious whole.

Can we make this reformation? Are there past examples we can refer to? We believe so. All past civilizations and societies went through these struggles between the oligarchical and humanist forces. From the time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. and several generations after him, the period between the 7th and 13th centuries, was an age of renaissance for the Arab people. The European renaissance was from the 15th right up to the 17th century. We have similar periods of renaissance occurring in China, India and Japan. We have to study these various renaissances so we could identify the forces that brought about those positive changes.

The time has come for concerned and patriotic Malaysians to combine our efforts to study all aspects (political, economic, and social) of this new world and bring about a new consciousness among our people to enable them to contribute in the struggle to bring about this new world. The movement need not recruit many members initially, between 30 to 100 should suffice. It should be open to all Malaysians who share and support this new philosophy; its principles, aims and policies. We should aspire for the straight or middle path to a peaceful and just society. We should increase the consciousness of our people that that such an ideal is within our collective grasp in Malaysia.

The activities that will be carried out by this association are: a) to conduct the necessary studies; b)to publish and disseminate such studies and the new thinking thorough the media and as well as through discussios, dialogues, seminars, etc.

Although this movement does not intend to recruit many members, it is by no means elitist as its philosophy and policies are democratic, republican, and humanist. At this beginning stage of one to three years, the activities are principally research and publication, which in principle require mainly intellectual exertion. However, the time will come when this movement will evolve into a political form. That time will be decided by the people themselves.

This project will be financed by Malaysians through contributions from the well-to-do and generous members.

Undoubtedly this movement will meet strong opposition for the oligarchycal group and its supporters. They control the levers to the economic, political, religious and media power in our country and are supported by the international oligarchy. We must remember that this neo-colonial-feudal- fascist system is rotten to the core and is not at all strong. It has been able to maintain itself this far only because of the lack of consciousness on the part of the people and by divisions among the people planned and instigated by those in power. They can be defeated only by the consciousness of the people and their desire to change and to build a just world. We must be the engine to trigger this consciousness.

At this stage the movement is essentially intellectual and social rather than political. As stated earlier, our present goal is to conduct studies into this new philosophy and disseminate them among the people. Nevertheless, our stand on various important issues is clear. We stand for:

a) A democratic and just government;
b) Economic growth for the progress of the nation and welfare of the people;
c) Economic and social justice;
d) Religious freedom;
e) Eradicating corruption and abuse of power;
f) Eliminating wasteful expenditure;
g) Ending poverty;
h) A national system of education in the national language to produce a society that is knowledgeable, rational, progressive, dynamic; scientific and creative;
i) Private sector involvement in Education on the condition that the national language is taught as a compulsory subject for Malaysian citizens;
j) An affordable and good national medical care system;
k) Good and cheap public transport system;
l) Adequate, good and cheap housing for the lower income groups;
m) Upholding human rights;
n) An independent and just judiciary;
o) Separation of powers between the Executives, Legislative and Judiciary;
p) Promoting a free, independent and responsible press;
q) Encouraging the development of a national literature in the national language as well as allowing creative writing in other languages;
r) Nurturing the development of science and technology;(s) Fostering the arts;
t) Upholding high moral standards;
u) Pursuing an active foreign policy to promote a peaceful and just world.

In the past we have often seen that however good laws and policies may be on paper, they are not implemented. This is due to the existence of two different outlooks on the nature of man. The oligarchical faction regards humans as not more than beasts of burden qualified only to be slaves. The humanist faction regards humans as vicegerents of God on earth and therefore have to be freed from this slavery. If the oligarchical philosophy is adopted by the Government, then even the best constitution could be manipulated to serve the evil objectives of the oligarchy. The only guarantee that the people can have an honourable place in the country is the philosophy of the humanist. The people must be conscious of this philosophy and make it their own. This will prevent them from being controlled once more by the oligarchy.

To achieve these goals, we must cooperate with all groups that will cooperate with us, within as well as without.

The first step is to form a protem committee to draft a constitution and register the association. Ad Hoc Committee For the Association of Malaysian Patriots. Georgetown, Penang9th October, 2005.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Installment #14

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah



It does seem quite obvious to us now that characterisation forms an important aspect of Hikayat Hang Tuah. If it is possible to talk in terms of the highest event in the story, that event is surely the rebellion of Hang Jebat. And this rebellion would not have taken place had there not been the revolutionary character of Jebat, the conservative character of Tuah, the rashness of the Sultan, the jealousy of the courtiers and the wisdom and flexibility of the Bendahara. The event, in its entire movement from the jealousy-inspired plot (its personal level) to the ideologically determined duel (its social level), in indeed directed by an inspired hand. It is a masterly combination of isolated incidents (when the plot was made, Tuah was not in court (1) and when Jebat avenged his friend, his friend was not dead) and the character-tendencies, which in the end achieves an integrity of its own. (2)

But, as we have said before, it is in the nature of the epic narrative, on the whole, to concentrate on the happy few and neglect the others.(3) Tuah is the most exhaustively treated character, we follow him form the beginning to the end. Jebat’s character is concentrated in the last few, but most exhilarating, pages of his life. Then come the Bendahara, Tun Teja and the Sultan. These form the company of the happy few in the epic. The others – more than a hundred of them – are simplified and standardized human beings who make up the vast and vague background against which the entire movement of this drama is placed.

Many of the characters are derived from historical content sources. A number of them, at least by their names and titles, are recognizable historical figures. Tuah, Teja, Bendahara Paduak Raja, Jebat, Kasturi, Patigh Gajah Mada are all mentioned in Sejarah Melayu. (4) But it is not on historical considerations that they are of interest in this story. In this story they have been re-created , they have assumed a few artistic life of their own, quite independent of their original historical one. Hang Tuah in Sejarah Melayu is a hurried , badly-done character sketch; the lines are broken in many places. (5) This is in the nature of things. Sejarah Melayu is a kind of historical work. It does not represent people artistically, integrating all their actions and activities around an inner logic of human development. Hikayat HangTuah on the other hand, is an artistic work, essentially possessing a unity, if somewhat crude (most probably because of improvisation and later interpolations), of artistic conception. (6)

The characters reveal and express themselves directly, with practically no intervention by the ‘author’. Speech and action are the dominant means. There is a tendency to be dramatic. Except for Tuah, virtually none of the characters is presented gradually. This is probably due to the fact that characters express themselves only on the heroic plane. Their private lives, to all intent s and purposes, are not shown. (7)

The practice to portray merely on the heroic level may also account for the general lack of inter-character influence. There is no clear evidence that characters exercise an influence on each other. The flexible attitude of the Bendahara towards royal commands does not seem to have any visible effect on Tuah’s own. Jebat does not show evidence of being influenced by Tuah’s moderation, or Tuah by Jebat’s revolutionary leanings. In short, it may be said that the characters tend to develop not so much from within as from without. (8)

But all the major characters in the story depict indigenous traits and portray the social consciousness of the age. Tuah, Teja, Jeabat – they are unmistakably Malay characters. And in the characters and doings of the Sultan, the Bendahara and Tuah, we see projected the major social trends of that bygone epoch. This book is thus, in truth, a remarkable piece of social history, as most works of fiction are.

In our discussions on Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah we have not been able to spot the real hero of this story. The book obviously tries to state – more implicitly than explicitly – that Tuah is the hero. But, almost unconsciously, it nearly succeeds in making out Jebat to be the man we are looking for.

In our opinion, viewed objectively, this story has no hero. Obviously Tuah is heroic; and Jebat is heroic too. But each perform his heroism from a post slightly off the central position which is the hero’s own. The central position is, therefore, left vacant. To describe the situation in modern terminology, Tuah is to the right of the ideal, while Jebat is to the left. The only major character who seems to be nearest the ideal centre is Bendahara Paduka Raja. But the Bendahara is not endowed with the necessary heroic qualities to enable him to express, to the highest level, this near-ideal that he embodies.

Therefore, after there strictest consideration, this hikayat lacks a hero – the man who is the highest and best representative of the ideals and aspirations of his age. But perhaps we have little ground to be so strict. This story is not perfect in its conception. That it has brought out such a mighty character as Jebat (to challenge the very ideal that its chosen hero upholds) must be enough. To satisfy us. There is certainly no hidden trick hero to deceive the reader. If there is any, it had rather deceived the ‘author’. For Jebat has come u in spite of him. It looks as if Jebat, once conceived and launched into the world of artistic existence by the ‘author’, gets out offhand and leads a dangerously independent life of his own. For this reason, for the one thing that he did – the rebellion which is the crucial event in the story and which subjects the two heroes to a test of true heroism – Jebat secures a glory of a higher order, a glory that at once discounts Tuah’s many and varied achievements. Viewed thus, Jebat is the man to whom we must give priority of place in our attempt to find the hero of this Malaysian epic.


1) He had taken the whole of his family to Ulu Melaka for a holiday. (Cf. p. 304).

2) The Sultan soon learned that the Laksamana had not been at court for some time, but that did not seem to matter to him. The mere mention that somebody had dared to encroach on his most royal and private rights of relationship with his ‘gundik’ was outrageous. That person deserved to be condemned. As for Jebat, when Tuah suddenly turned up to fight him, he was not sorry for what he had done. The Sultan’s decree on Tuah was most unjust and ungrateful anyway and deserved to be challenged. And if Tuah thought that he had done wrong and wanted to fight him, Jebat could not, not on a point of hour – which is a heroic cult – surrender to him. The jealous courtiers, of course, had by their action, brought about an inversion of their selfish desires. Their plan had been to oust Tuah in order to to get more royal attention. Jebat came and snubbed them all. In the end they got Tuah back, thus putting them again in the position where they had begun. Viewed as whole, therefore, this episode is a complex of personal and social interrelationships, the conception of which indicates a remarkable insight into human life.

3) The phrase is Brown’s. (Cf. footnote 1. p. 23).

4) Cf. Sejarah Melayu: Chapter 14, 16 &28 (Tuah); chapter 14 (Jebat); chapters 13 & 16 (Bendahara); chapter 29 (Teja); chapter 14 (Patih Gajah Mada).

(5) Ibid, chapters 14 a& 16.ole of his family

(6) A study of the summary that we have prepared (Appendix II) would make this evident.

(7) Tuah is a probable exception. His activities in Inderapura (pp. 180-212) may not pass for private, but his holiday with his family up in Ulu Melaka while a serious accusation was being made against him at the court can certainly be seemed so.

(8) Towards the end the Sultan shows a tendency to develop from within. Tuah’s deteriorating health and that of his own, the loss of the crown, the experiencing of the “getting-into-the-grave” incident all play their part in determining the development of his character in the last years of his life.

Installment # 15: Appendix 1 – An Abstract of Exercise (in Malay)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Installment #13

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah



To judge Tuah’s character is not as easy as it first appears. Definitely he is a good man. He possesses many typically fine qualities: he is loyal, brave, generous, clever. Yet a man can be all these and still lack something human that can make his name evoke powerful emotional responses in fellow human beings. Tuah is such a man. There is something sinister about his sense of absolute loyalty to his master. It is well-nigh blind. It brings him into the most tragic conflict of his life. It brings him into a head-o clash with his greatest friend. Yet did he regret it? There is no evidence and, judging from our understanding of his character, he could not have regretted it. To remove Jebat who had sinned against his master (whatever the reasons), was his sacred, almost religious, task. He had no doubt in his mind that Jebat, by his rebellion, had committed a crime against God. (1) Even if it had been he himself who was guilty of the crime, he would have gladly surrendered his life. (2)

It is true that he made one conciliatory gesture. He told Jebat that he would certainly appeal for him had the crime been of a lesser magnitude. (3) But of what use and significance is such a gesture? It needs not take Hang Tuah to appeal on such term. It is exactly that we should expect him to be able to do something much more far-reaching.

At any rate, what justification had Tuah to adopt an inflexible attitude? It is historically true that absolute loyalty to one’s master was the overriding feudal principle. But when it comes to such a concrete case as this and when it involves more than just the killing of a human being – for the killing of Jebat was truly the killing of a great human principle – then the situation demands a closer analysis. (4)

Jebat was guilty of high treason – that is the classical – feudal charge. How far, then, does this charge embody the objective historical concept of the times? The Sultan, the Bendahara and those directly under the Raja employ (except Jebat, of course) can safely be marked off as believers and defenders of the feudal principle; they would certainly uphold the charge. But for all their power, the handful of people do not, and cannot, objectively represent the general feeling and consciousness of their age.

Have we, however, have any evidence of that? It seems extraordinary – and it surely speaks volumes for his hikayat – that there should be any, even a shred of it. (5) The common people, so far as they appear in the book, certainly do not take the attitude that Tuah does towards Jebat. They are quite detached. (6) This is understandable, for how can these simple folk be moved by such an abstract concept of feudal loyalty? They probably cannot even understand it. (7) For those groups whose very living depends on the continuance of the feudal institutions, the concept is real and meaningful. So, generally they are prepared to fight in order to preserve it, whether or not they are conscious of the significance of such an action.

But the attachment of the ordinary people to the idea is artificial. If, then, they expressed the desire to see Jebat removed (8), it is not because they saw the necessity of preserving it. They were concerned with the more concrete consideration that Jebat’s rebellion was causing them trouble (9). But this trouble had not arisen merely from Jebat’s personal desire to avenge an innocent friend. Its roots lie deeper; whether any of the characters involved realized it or not is a different matter and quite beside the point. In this discussion. The important thing is to recognise that this trouble issues objectively from a deep-rooted social conflict. In this conflict Jebat represents, on the highest level, the new democratic idea, while Tuah represents, on the highest level, the traditional absolutist one. These ideas are brought to a clash by a certain combination of circumstances – the jealousy of the courtiers towards Tuah, the sultan’s unscrupulous judgement issuing form his position of absolute authority and Jebat’s revolutionary character and his attachment to Tuah. These circumstances certainly do not point to Jebat s the criminal. In fact, there is no criminal to speak of. People are caught in a clash of ideas. The only person who can be said to be guilty is the Sultan because he had acted in a most irresponsible and rash manner. But the Sultan acted so, essentially because of the feudal conception that he was not responsible to nobody. It is the feudal conception that is at fault. Therefore if the rebellion could be perceived in those ideological terms, in its total scheme of the idea-conflict, there should be no doubt, then, that the uncommitted groups (to which the unnamed characters whose remarks we have quoted must have belonged) would view it with sympathy.

If the attitude of the uncommitted majority towards Jebat rebellion is indifferent, as we have seen (and there is a possibility of its turning sympathetic, as we have argued), then Tuah’s position becomes equivocal. Though he may have been accepted for centuries as the hero of his people, and one who embodied and expressed the sum-total of their attitudes and aspirations, viewed objectively, his heroism is qualified. For he lags behind, rather than leads, the thought of the times as expressed here by his great protagonist Jebat. We cannot, therefore, uphold him, as this story implicitly does, as the highest and best classical representative of Malay aspirations and endeavour.

What is he then? Against the wider social background of this epic he emerges as a fighting conservative. However, his conservatism is not a reflection of his own vested interest. Reared as he has been under the shadow of the Sultan’s palace, his conservative outlook undoubtedly is the true, if unconscious, reflection of the feudal mentality. At any rate, the attitude is honest and sincere, sanctioned above all by his own religious conviction. He appears to believe in the divine right of kings. The ruler is, to him, “ganti Allah didalam dunia ini.” (10) This is, of course, the Malay version of the Muslim concept: “alKhalifatu zilful-Lahi alf-ardi”. (11) There is scarcely anything wrong with this concept, to be sure. But once in Tuah’s feudal mind, it becomes inverted to read: “the raja is God on earth.”

Tuah is thus not only a conservative but also a man who devotes the finest in him towards a dubious cause. He fights magnificently, but nevertheless blindly, to preserve an illogical order. For that order, therefore, he is the champion and hero. And his triumph over Jebat, on the wider social plane, constitutes a triumph of that order, a triumph in short, of conservatism, if not of reaction. (12) It is most probably for this reason, for the reason that he champions the conservative cause, that his heroic stature seems to diminish with years.


(1) He told Jebat: “…Adapun pekerjaan durhaka pada tuan mu berapa dosanya pada Allah….” (pp. 334-5).

(2) On both occasions when the Bendahara communicated to him the royal decree of death on him, his immediate reaction was surrender. He considered this as his final expression of loyalty. (Cf. pp. 179 and 305).

(3) “Jika lain daripada dosa ini tiada engkau mati, barang tipu dayaku, ku perlepaskan juk engkau ….” (p. 338)

(4) After all, the Bendahara’s attitude towards his concept had not been so inflexible. In fact on the latter occasion (Cf. p. 305) his decision was greatly influenced by what can be termed as “public opinion” (saolah olah jadi nama beta disebut orang).

(5) Cf. pp. 331 & 326.

(6) This can be gathered fromtheir remarks when they saw Tuah set out to fight Jebat. One said: “Alahlah kita melihat temasha akan Laksamana bertikam dengan si Jebat itu. Maka sekali ini barulah si jebat beroleh lawan sama berani dan sama tahu,kerana Laksamana pun banyak tahu-nya”; another “Si Jebat pun tahu bnayak maka ia tiada dapat dilawan orang” and yet another: “Apatah kita perhantahkan, kita lihatlah sekarang siapa mati dan siapa hidup pun bertentulah,kerana Laksamana hulubalang besar, sudah ia berchapak DuliYang Dipertuan masakan ia kembali saja.”

(7) Perhaps further light can be thrown on this matter if we compare the situation with the present-day circumstances. Even in Malaya today we cannot help noticing the typically modern preoccupation with the concept of individual freedom. But it is obvious to us that this anxiety is shared only by a few people, if a very articulate few. To the larger section of the population (farmers, fishermen and rubber-tappers), this concept is practically devoid of meaning. What has meaning for them is better crop (for the farmers) or better catch (for the fishermen) or higher wages (for the tappers). As such they are not moved by this modern idea of freedom as the folks of Tuah’s time may be said to have been unmoved by the feudal idea of loyalty. Just as the modern idea does not express the sum total of aspirations of the people of Malaya today, so may we deduce that the feudal idea did not express the sum-total of inspirations of the people of Tuah’s time. In both cases the relationship of the uncommitted majority to the idea is merely ideological, that is the relationship is maintained by both the conscious and unconscious spread until propagation of the idea through various channels.

(8) Cf. p. 326.

(9) When Tuah reappeared, they welcomed him with “Hiduplah kita sekalian lepaslah daripada si Jebat itu kerana bapa kita yang mati itu hidup pula.” (p. 325). Their use of the words ‘hidup kita’ gives no doubt whatever as to what they mean.

(10) H.H.T., p. 246.

(11) “The khalif is the shadow of God on earth.”

(12) Compared to Jebat, who, if unconsciously, embodies the new democratic spirit, Tuah is certainly a reactionary.

Installment # 14: Chapter V Conclusion

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Installment #12

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah


HANG TUAH (Cont'd)

The traits which mark off Tuah from Jebat are caution, restraint and diplomacy. He is fond o fhis words ‘bichara’ and ‘pikir’. One night in Majapahit the Malay party was discussing things among themselves when Tuah warned Jebat and Kasturi that a Javanese warrior was at that moment lurking in their compound. Jebat and Kasturi, therefore, offered to stand guard at the door. Tuah cautioned them to be patient, saying that in all matters they should think carefully.(1) Likewise while in Inderapura Tuah was a restraining influence on Jebat who then had proposed to kill Megat Panji Alam in the audience hall itself.(2) And during the great duel when Jebat , with deep feeling, told him the reasons why he rebelled, Tuah concurred but added “tetapi akan kita diperhamaba Rajja ini, hendaklah barang sesuatu pekerjaan itu bicharakan sangat.” (3)

Tuah has a gift of a ready tongue. He can bluff his way in a convincing manner. Once he flattered the Seri Batara so well that the latter was pleased to reward him most handsomely. (4) He is never at a loss for words. (5) But he can be sharp and to the point while still remaining polite. Patih Gajah Mada and Seri Batera are frequently made the objects of his deadly repartee. (6)

In spite of these great qualities, he is never haughty or boastful as are all the Javanese warriors with whom he has fought. Unprovoked, he never challenges and if he does challenge or undertake to do a thing, he is bound to act on it in all seriousness. Otherwise, he is a humble and kindly man., well liked by many people. (7) He does not take advantage of his superior power and position. To the weak and helpless he is very considerate. (8) Teja once remarked on this humble and kindly aspect of the man (9) and the jealous courtiers dearly found it out when they had already got rid of him. (10)

He has great respect for personal property and is generous to the poor. The two instances of large-scale robbery in Melaka by Patih Gajah Mada’s agent afford ample evidence of this. (11)

The characterization of Hang Tuah, on the whole, is convincing. There is an obvious attempt to present him as a human character and not as some supernatural being. The great events in his life – the fight with Tamang Sari (as a result of which he gets the magic keris that is destined to play so important a part in his career)., the adventures with Tun Teja (who is the means by which he regains royal favour after the first disgrace), the duel with Jebat (the elimination of whom delivers him from his second disgrace), the loss of the Tamang Seri keris (12) – are wholly credible. It is exactly for this reason that he merges from the vast and crowded cosmos of adventures and exploits essentially a convincing and live person. But the destructive effects can nevertheless be seen. The more extravagant experiences through which his human personality is made to pass, those impossible happenings (13) that are attributed to him, have combined to dull the edges of his character for us. Without these incredible achievements his heroic stature would have stood much more imposingly. That is why the reader gets a less vivid image of him than he does of Jebat, even though he occupies much more space than the latter. The mistake lies in the attempt to make him out more hero than a human hero is.

The development of his character is logically and adequately depicted. He is, of course, singled out from the very beginning as someone destined for glory. (14) But this is not without good cause. There is, as we have seen, the propitious omen in the dream, the self-reliant traits developed early in the childhood, the remarkable evidence of boyhood courage, dexterity and ingenuity in the face of an enemy – all these are strong foundations for greatness. And over and above these are the his own determined efforts to elevate himself to a heroic position second to none in all Melaka and Java. He acquires all the then available knowledge on matters pertaining to the warrior trade and the ascetic discipline. When, therefore, he gets the Tamang Sari keris his heroic stature achieves it highest fulfillment. Heroically no one is superior to him now. Thus it is only natural and logical that the loss of this magic keris (15) should mark the deterioration of his power. He himself realizes it. (16) Never again is he in good health after that. (17) Soon he retires form the active service and devotes himself to the study of asceticism. (18)

It is interesting to note the part played by the magic keris in his life. Much of his later more striking achievements are partly attributable to it and, at the final count, it determines his whole fate. He first secures it by trickery (19) – we can almost term it treachery – from a renowned warrior who fought him, but whom, with this very keris, he kills. And then with it too he kills Jebat – also after having played a trick on the latter in order to get back the weapon (which was then rightfully in Jebat’s possession). This episode saves him from the disgrace which would otherwise have ended his heroic career.

But Tuah’s fate, in turn, has a significant bearing on the fate of Melaka itself. (20) His decline also marks its decline. (21) At the time when he is ill, Melaka is threatened by the Portuguese and when his magic hand is withdrawn from the administration of affairs, Melaka is occupied. Thus it seems that he has, unconsciously, become a symbolic of Melaka’s power and greatness and the story of his end, as that of Melaka’s, has a sadness of its own.


(1) Cf. p 289. (2) Cf. p. 231.

(3) p. 338. (4) Cf. p. 114.

(5) On one occasion the sultan of Melaka received a letter from Majapahit inquiring why he had not sent any delegation to Seri Batara for a long time. The Raja was completely concerned ; he could not think of an excuse to offer to the Javanese envoys. Tuah, however, came out with a brilliant reply.

(6) One example is when Seri Batara pretended to apologize for having sent him to fight against so many odds, saying that he thought there was only one man running amuk. Tuah retorted: “Adapun pada bichara patik yang hina ini, jikalau ada seribu atau dua ribu sekali pun tiada patik indahkan, mudah juga kepada patik akan mengembari dia jika orang berani berhadapan; akan orang penakut membuai didalam diamnya, inilah sukar patik akan menggambari dia, banyak budi bichara hendak mngenai dia.”

(7) Cf. p. 347

(8) Two examples testify to this. On one occasion he spoke otthe Bendhara and the Sulatn for the luckless officials on whom the wrath of both had fallen because theyhad deserted the former when a group of bandits intercepted as they were escorting him home (Cf. pp.34-42). On another, he defended the escorts of Adipati Solok before his ruler-father , Adipati Agung, with the consequent result that the order to execute them for deserting was repealed (Cf. p. 403).t re

(9) Cf. p. 309. (10) Cf. p. 311.

(11) Cf. pp. 301 & 356.

(12) The keris was lost in the sea off Singapore while Tuah was in the water trying to retrieve the Raja’s crown (Cf. p. 446).

(13) We list here a few; the fight in Seri Batara’s garden (Cf. pp. 1717), the “horse saving” incident (Cf. p. 215), the fighting with the Portuguese (Cf. pp. 452-4), the journey to and adventures in Istanbul while he is supposed to be sick (Cf. pp. 456-97), and the “getting-into-the-grave” incident (Cf. pp. 500-2).

(14) This is a characteristic feature of the epic hero (Cf. Brown p. 95).

(15) Cf. footnote 1 p. 55.

(16) “Maka Laksamana pun tahulah akan alamat dirinya itu….” (p. 447)

(17) He is said to be “gila gila sakit kepala dan tubuhnya pun demam”. (p. 447).

(18) Cf. p. 504.

(19) There is no doubt that it was thought sothen as no expression of disapproval is heard. Brown cites several examples to prove that craft and strategem were valid means by which a hero secures his code. (Cf. Brown, pp. 100-2).

(20) The same is the case with that of the Sultan. Their fares appear to run parallel and to exercise a strange influence on the fate of Melaka.

(21) The Sultan, on the eve of the first Portuguese attack, made a prophetic remark: “Alalhlah Melaka ini oleh Perinngi karena Laksamana lagi sakit.” (p. 450).

Next: Installment #13: Chapter IV Hang Tuah (Cont’d)

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

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Installment #10

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah



The rebellion is now obvious although the motive is yet unrevealed. The Bendahara, the Temenggung and the elder officials no longer attend the Court. When Kasturi somewhat rhetorically questions him on his unpopular administration, he says: “…..jika perbuatan Bendahara dan Temenggung tiada suka rupanya akan hamba karena Paduka Raja ini, hulum-nya durhakalah Bendahara dan Temenggung, baiklah hamba sembahkan kelak.” (1) Whether or not the Bendahara and the Temenggung approve of him is clearly a matter of no importance to him. His tone bears this out. However, there is a significant hint in his use of the word ‘durhaka’. It looks as if he is harping on this theme. If the Laksamana could be killed because he was supposedly guilty of ‘durhaka’, why cannot the same rule apply to the Bendahara and the Temenggung? The implication is that the whole system is illogical.

Jebat is mightily pleased when the Sutan moves out to take up residence at the Bendahara’s house. He now reigns supreme in the State Place.(2) The Sultan pronounces him a traitor (3) and several forces are dispatched to kill him. But all of them fail. When Kasturi goes after the failure of the first force, Jebat, for the first time, reveals his motive. He says: “….Adapun akan darah Laksamana itu akulah membalas dia pada Raja Melaka dan segala pegawai yang dengki akan dia. Sekarang menggapa segala pegawai yang dengki akan Laksamana tiada dititah Raja membunoh aku supaya kau penggal lehernya? Ada pun saudaraku yang tiga ini bukanlah lawan padaku, aku pun tiada mau mendatangkan tangan kepada saudaraku ketiga; demi Allah danRasulnya bahwa aku tiada mau bertikam dengan saudaraku.” (4) When Kasturi insists on fighting he comes down from the palace and kills a few of the men. The rest fall out and flee, leaving Hang Kasturi “terdiri di-halaman itu dengan kerisnya menantikan amuk si-Jebat.” (5) But, true to his word, Jebat does not touch him. (6)

It is clear now that he wants to avenge Laksamana’s death. (7) He means to kill not only Patih Karma Wijaya and his accomplices, but also the Sultan. (8) The latter thought is almost incredible in the feudal scheme of things. It would not have sounded so strange if the motive had been less altruistic. Sejarah Melayu quotes a case where a Sultan was murdered, but this happened in a struggle for power. (9) The idea of killing a master for no other reason than to avenge an innocent friend is, in the feudal conception, a revolutionary one. It is no wonder that practically none of the characters understands him. (10)

The reappearance of Tuah brings from Jebat a characteristic reaction. At first he feels deeply anxious (11) and then surprised. (12) For a moment he could not believe what he sees. He is almost stunned and confesses somewhat naively: “Hai orang kaya Laksamana, karenamulah maka aku berbuat demikian ini. Pada bicharaku bahwa engkau tiada didalam dunia lagi. Jika aku tahu akan engkau hidup, demi Allah dan Rasul, tidak aku berbuat demikian ini.” (13) But after a while he regains his balance. The reckless and fatalistic element in his character returns. He accepts his fate (14) and becomes cynical of the whole affair. (15) Even then he cannot believe that Tuah is seriously intending to kill him. (16) It appears to him to be a thoroughly thing. He expresses it with much anguish, “Chih! Si Jebat dengan si Tuah, hulubalang Raja Melaka, mati tiada berguna….” (17)

The revelation of his entire motive reaches its clearest exposition when he says, “Aku pun karena melihat engkau dibunoh oleh Bendahara tiada dengan dosanya, sebab itulah hatiku sakit, istemewa pula orang permainan tiada dibunuhnya, karena Raja ini membunoh tiada dengan pareksanya. Maka pada bichara hatiku, sendang engkau bnayak kebaktianmu dan jasamu lagi dibunuh oeh raja, istemewa pula aku. Maka dengan sebab itu-lah kuperbuat demikian ini; sepala-pala nama jahat jangan kepalang….” (18) He simply has to act in the way he has done even though it means for him “mati dengan nama yang jahat” (19) because he is the man who “tiada memberi air muka sahabatnya binasa, sehingga mati sudah-lah.” (20) Like a hero he fights and in the true spirits of ‘Jebatian” recklessness (21) he dies.

The characterisation of Jebat all through this grand but tragic episode is superb. He emerged like the fierce glows of a magnificent sunset. In three out of the twenty-four chapters in this version of Hikayat Hang Tuah the ‘writer’ forges the character of Hang Jebat in unforgettable outlines. As far as we are aware, there is no piece of characterisation in the whole Malay classical literature comparable to it.

How then are we to judge his character? Jebat is no ordinary man. Mighty powers move within him. Yet it is our opinion that the “writer” has done justice to him. He has presented him in a very penetrating and objective manner.

That Jebat fails and Tuah triumphs is no accident. Neither is it a piece of artificial fiction. It has its roots in the deeper truths of social reality. It is surely a misrepresentation of things to attribute his failure to any defect in his character. His character is not perfect, of course, but this does not adequately account for the tragedy. To argue from the standpoint of character is to argue in a circle. It is because he was Jebat that he rebelled; is it again because he was Jebat that he failed?

His failure was written, so to speak, on the face of his times. (22) He wanted to serve two ideals at once: that of loyalty to one’s master and that of faithfulness to one’s friend. The ideal of the time was absolute loyalty to the master; to the friend one could be faithful only up to a point. Jebat made the mistake, or rather the revolutionary gesture, of carrying the latter concept to its logical conclusion. He therefore came up against the wall of social reality and social consciousness and was destroyed at its foot.

Jebat then is not the hero of his times, yet there is abundant heroism in what he has done. He touches the reader as he must have touched the ‘author’. The case he puts up to Tuah was and remains unanswerable. (23) Somehow he seems to have sensed the sickness of his times and he describes the contradictions in which he is caught with deadly accuracy. (24)

Jebat is a rebel. He rebels against the existing feudal order. He is the herald of a newer age. This age belongs to a completely different category. It is the age which, in relation to the last, represents a leap forward from the absolutist to the democratic plane. (25) But Jebat’s concept of democracy does not belong to the revolutionary thoroughgoing Marxist-Leninist scheme. It does not even belong to the democracy of the modern Western type. His democratic principle, it would seem, is meant to apply only within the body-politic to which he belongs. (26) He is thus a rebel of the nationalist turn of mind. We may, therefore, term him a prophet and hero of Malay nationalism.

His tragedy, then, serves to demonstrate artistically and concretely that nationalistic ideals and aspirations are unrealistic within the feudal social scheme.


(1) P. 312 (2) Cf. 314-5.

(3) Cf. p. 314. (4) pp. 317-8.

(5) p. 318.

(6) He likewise does not touch the Temenggung, Tun Utama and Tun Bijaya Sura when they in turn come to fight him. He states hs case to them in a verymoving speech. He syas, “Hai Temenggung dan Tun Utama dan Bijaya Sura , saying engkau hulubalang tua di negeri Melaka ini, lagi pula bukan engkau yang dengki akan Laksamana dan berbuat petenah akan dia. Adapun jika engkau dengki dan berbuat petanah akan Laksamana itu sekarang juga engkau kuberi malu, kuperbuat seperti kawan kambing, tetapi engkau kasih akan Laksamana, apalah dayaku mengamuk. Maka Patih Karma Wijaya dan segala pegawai ynag dengki dan berbuat petenahkan Laksamana itu tiada dititahkan oleh baginda suruh membunoh aku. Hai temenggung, pergilah engkau kembali, persembahkan kebawah Duli Yang Dipertuan suruh Patih Karma Wijaya dan segala pegawai yang dengki akan Laksamana itu suruh membunoh si Jebat durhaka ini supaya kuberi balas darah Laksamana ituoleh bekas tangan si Jebat durhaka ini”. (p. 319)

(7) That he believes the Laksamana to be dead is almost a certainty, although in an earlier remark to Kasturi he expressed doubt; thus: “…dalam pada itu pun entah hidup, siapa tahu, karena Bendahara itu sangat kaseh akan dia,” (p.312). This remark is however, in its context, more of a playful sarcasm than a serious statement. His confession to Tuah later confirms this (Cf. p. 333; the passage is quoted on pp. 41 & 42).

(8) When Jebat is awakened by the tremendous sound weapons and men on the day Tuah goes to fight him, it occurs to himthat the Sultan has at last turned up. He prepares for the slaughter (Cf. p. 332).

(9) Cf. Sejarah Melayu, ch. 12\

(10) The Temenggung seems to be the exception (Cf. p. 319). However, even he cannot appreciate the idea.

(11) Cf. pp. 332-3.

(12) Cf. p. 333.

(13) p. 333.

(14) The manner in which he describes his fate is immensely interesting. Quotes the proverb: ‘rusak bawang ditimpa jambak’ (p. 333) to illustrate the relationship between and his situation. This is very aprt indeed. The ‘bawang’ refers to him and the ‘jambak’ to hi situation, that is, the social system. Whether or not Jebat is aware of what he is saying , he is surely uttering here a geat truth. Where there are contradictions in the social system, then the men living in it suffer, as he now suffers because the system in which he finds himself is wrong.

(15) Seeing that even the Laksamana does not appreciate what he has done he syas: sekali-kah tiada menyesal dan takut akan mati … tetapi tuan hamba lihatlah tikamana si Jebat durhaka ini empat puluh hari orang membuangkan bangkal didalam negeri Melaka dan tiada menderita bau busk bangkai. Sepala-pala nama jahat jangan kopalang….” (p. 333)

(16) He asks: “Hai Laksamana, sungguh-sungguh rupanya engkau hendak membunoh aku?” (p. 337)

(17) p. 338 (18) p. 338.

(19) p. 338. (20) p. 338.

(21) For three days he ran amuk “daripada suatu kampung kepada suatu kampong, daripada suatu lorong kepada lorong, keluar masuk membunoh, saperti gila” (p. 343).

(22) Even Tuah, who is heroically superior to Jebat, would have failed had he been capable of such rebellion.

(23) Cf. p. 338. It has already quoted on p. 42.

(24) Cf. footnote 2 p. 42.

(25) Jebat’s utterances like “karena raja ini membunoh tiada dengan pereksanya” (p. 333) and “tetapi si jebat tiada memberi air muka sahabatnya binasa se-hingga mati sudahlah” (p. 338) are anti-absolutist and democratic.

(26) His speech, “Jika Jebat dengan si Tuah gernagan dititahkan Raja Melaka menyerang negeri orang, aku dua orang ini pun dapat mengalahkan.” (p. 338) indicates this.

Next: Installment #11: Chapter IV Hang Tuah

Monday, October 03, 2005

Installment #9

Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah



HANG JEBAT is the most intriguing person in the story. His character immediately gives the lie to any preconceived ideas about the feebleness of characterisation in this literary work(1). He is not the hero in the feudal conception: neither is he the traitor. Yet he has the characteristics of both. The ‘author’ takes a surprisingly objective (2) view of him, not stating him to be either this or that. Essentially he is a rebel, a revolutioner, a man whose ideas are too radical for his own times. He is, in truth, a hero of another age.

Jebat appears almost at the same time as Hang Tuah. He becomes the latter’s best friend and, until the ‘menderhaka’ episode, he moves quietly and faithfully by his side (except when Tuah exiles himself to Inderapura) and is always overshadowed by him. His violent outburst, when it comes, therefore, takes the reader by surprise. It is almost a shock. Yet it is not incredible. Of all the main characters in the story he alone is capable of such a dramatic performance.

We are introduced to him as one of the four boys (3) with whom Hang Tuah develops a very close friendship. We are told that they go about together like brothers (4) There is only one brief reference to his physical characteristic. A character in a conversation remarks thus: “…. Itu pun baik juga sikap-nya, tuboh-nya puteh rambut-nya ikal….” (5). His clothes, manners and mannerisms are nowhere described. We have tried to account for this general tendency to omit descriptions of this nature in the last chapter.

The bold, almost foolhardy, and reckless traits in his character show up quite clearly. When Tuah suggests that the five of them go on a boating expedition “merantau barang kemana pun menchari makan”, he immediately answers: “Mengapakah maka tiada boleh kita kelima melayarkan sebuah perahu?” (6) The challenging form of his answer seems to reflect his basic nature which persists and develops throughout the book and which logically and inevitably leads him up to the final dramatic event. The same character cited earlier describes him aptly when he says, “….segala perkataan-nya keras” (7).

Although Jebat shares the heroic motivation of personal glory (8), he shows a sense of group responsibility. He is prepared not only to lay down his life in the service of his master but also to go through thick and thin with his friends. One night while in Majapahit Tuah was telling him and Kasturi of how forty Majapahit warriors attacked him while he was bathing and of how he deliberately did not kill them outright. Jebat rebuked him for having the matter lightly, saying: “Benarlah saperti bichara orang kaya itu, tetapi lagi-nya, jika orang kaya hendak ke sungai mandi, maka di-perhamba kedua saudara tidakkah boleh mengiringkan orang kaya? Karena kita ketiga saperti telur sesarang, jika pechah sebiji pechah kesemuanya….” (9) On another occasion when Tuah set out to the palace of Sri Betara to retrieve his stolen magic keris, Jebat and Kasturi were preparing for the worst. Should Tuah not find the keris Jebat’s plan was “esok hari kita masuk mengamuk kedalam istana Seri Betara supaya nama yang jahat jangan kepalang.” (10)

This collective spirit is also reflected in his desire that opportunities to perform good service to the master be not monopolised by any one of them alone. In Inderapura when Tuah talked of killing Megat Panji Alam himself he commented thus: “Jangan Orang Kaya Hulubalang berkata demikian karena Orang Kaya Hulubalang besar pada zaman ini. Baik, jika sesuatu peri dikata orang: ‘lihatlah Laksamana, hendak berbuat kebaktian seorang kebawah Duli Yang Dipertuan. Bukanlah ada lagi Hang Jebat dan Hang Kasturi boleh disuruhkan, karena pekerjaan ini bukan sukar sangat pada orang kaya panglima….”(11)

He is forthright and fatalistic. The diplomacy, restraint and caution of Hang Tuah are all foreign to his nature. When the mystic teacher, Sang Pertala, told him that he would meet a violent death through weapons he unhesitatingly answered that “yang kehendak hati hamba pun hendak mati senjata….” (12) He likes to do a thing thoroughly. He was annoyed with Tuah when the latter stopped him and Kasturi from killing all the Javanese spearmen whom Patih Gajah Mada had loosed on them. (13) His code of action seems to be “nama yang jahat jangan kepalang.” (14) He dwells on this theme again and again and it is indeed this trait in his character that turns him into the incomparable rebel that he was destined to be.

For all that the reader knows about him before he rebelled, it is too slight to avert shock. The rebellion comes like the eruption of a volcano. Not that it is impossible, but that it is too sudden. There is a trick in it. Just as a volcano appears as innocent as any other mountain to the casual observer, so does Jebat, among the other like characters, appear to the casual reader. Until the catastrophe the reader indeed cannot distinguish him from Kasturi. On most occasions both of them act and speak together. (15) Nevertheless, the uneasiness that is smouldering within Hang Jebat can already be sensed. That it does not figure too clearly from the beginning may perhaps be attributed to a likely literary fashion of the day, if it can be so called. This contention that the classical tendency was to present big events in a dramatic way is well supported by evidence from this hikayat itself. We can recall the examples of Patih Karma Wijaya and Patih Gajah Mada.

It cannot be questioned, then, that the rebellion of Hang Jebat is real. It is not artificially imposed by the ‘writer’ in order to bring out a moral point. In fact there is indeed a mark of genius here. We have to recognize that Jebat’s rebellion is, under the circumstances, the logical and inevitable culmination of his character.

What is Jebat’s motive for rebellion? Prior to this Jebat has never shown any rebellious tendencies towards the Sultan. In fact he shares with Tuah the motive of service to the master (16). And until the tragic event he has been discharging his duties as an officer in an unimpeachable manner. The first betrayal of the Sultan towards Tuah seems to have had no visible effect on him. It may be because there is little scope to bring this out here as the story follows Tuah to Inderapura to relate his adventures with Tun Teja.

Thus the reader, has, so far, no clue that a rebellion is in the offing. That Jebat is capable of such a thing has already been recognized, but the evidence he will do it is still wanting. Even at the time he takes leave of the Laksamana, his best friend, before the latter is due to be executed he allowed himself only a few tears. Words he has not. It is unlikely that this is a deliberate technical maneuvering on the part of the ‘author’, but it fits perfectly well with Jebat’s abrupt and repressed nature.

The first rather vague indication of his feelings comes when the Sultan asks him to wear Laksamana’s kris. He is immensely pleased and reflects within himself: ‘Aku pula rupa-nya manjadi Laksamana.’ (17) There is a note of scorn here but the motive is not defined.

Then progressively through his behaviour, though not yet directly through speech, he indicates that he means to challenge the Sultan’s authority. First, when he notices that the Sultan does not come out to be attended by his officers and nobles after the disgrace of Tuah, he questions him in a rather mocking tone whether he has regretted his action (18). Then he flirts with his courtladies. He does not pay attention to Kasturi’s protests which he jokingly dismisses as a sign of jealousy (19). Next he becomes more drastic. He forbids the offices and nobles to enter the court. In a terse and sarcastic manner he tells them: Jangan tuan-tuan masuk haru-biru, karena dahulu lain sekarang lain, bukan saperti adat Laksamana dijadikan orang tua itu.” (20) The Sultan, still unaware of what is afoot, honours him with the title of ‘Paduka Raja’. Jebat is not motivated by ambition here: therefore he cares little whether or not he gets favours from the Sultan. We can gather this from what he said to the latter when the latter was about to confer on him the title. (21) But this new title obviously strengthens his position. He goes a step further: it is practically the last step. He makes love to the royal attendants, to the royal singers and finally to the Sultan’s favourite concubines. (22) This is the crime which the jealous officials alleged Tuah to have committed. It is difficult, then, to avoid coming to the conclusion that Jebat does this deliberately in order to see the reaction of those officers and nobles. Yet they dare neither to question him nor to report the matter to the Sultan.


(1) That not all the characaters are adequately treated is recognized and merely contributes a universal characteristic of its heroic narrative which on the whole “concentrates on the happy few and neglect the others”. (Cf. Brown, p. 53).

(2) Objectivity, incidentally, is a characteristic of the heroic narrative; we have referred to it before (see footnote 2. p.12).

(3) Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu are the other three (Cf. p. 24).

(4) Cf. p. 24.

(5) Cf. p. 29.

(6) Cf. p. 24.

(7) Cf. p. 29.

(8) Personal glory is a main quest of the heroic character (Cf. Brown, pp. 102-103). In this hikayat, Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat and also the Sultan of Melaka make frequent mentions of this motive. The motive is stated roughly thus” “supaya mashurlah namaku disebut orang.” (see pp. 85, 151, 231, 263, 339).

(9) P. 263.

(10) P. 365.

(11) P.231.

(12) P. 151.

(13) Cf. p. 266.

(14) Cf. pp 265, 318, 330, 334, 338.

(15) Cf. pp. 24, 171, 231, & 236. See also footnotes 3, p.13.

(16) To Sang Pertala’s prophecy about him he says, “….yang kehendak hati hamba punhendak mati oleh senjata dan mati dengan pekerjaan Duli Yang Dipertuan.” (p. 151) Cf. also p. 174.

(17) P. 306.

(18) Cf. p. 308.

(19) Cf. p. 308-9.

(20) Cf. p. 301.

(21) Cf. p. 311.

(22) Cf. pp. 31-32.

Next: Installment #10: Chapter III: Hang Jebat …Cont’d