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)

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