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

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