Monday, January 23, 2012

Did Hang Tuah ever lived? Was there a historical Jesus?

The season inside the hollow of history remained. In another reversal of Malayan history Professor Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, an emeritus of the subject, reportedly want removed from the textbooks the spirit (semangat) of the Malay warrior (satria) the indomitable Hang Tuah, saying he is nothing but a myth. The folk hero, however, long grown into a geist though he was not mentioned in the Ming records, is appearing like he refuses to go.

Hang Li Po was a Chinese princess Sultan Mansur of Melaka (Malacca) was said to have taken as a fifth wife. Nothing else about her was significant and hence, fact or fiction could not and cannot matter more than a dime. Prof Kay Kim wanted her out too.

But Hang Tuah is a folk spirit, a zeitgeist of the Malay, him declaring ‘Never shall the Malay disappear from the face of the earth,’ making the Melayu an eternal substance, i.e. if they can find themselves apart from the Arabic religion that has damned, in their own society, most things Malay as khurafat (superstition).

It’s a lasting confusion Malays face. The Malay Muslim has an obvious religious problem about accepting the pentacle in the Hindu epic, the Pandavas, which Hang Tuah and his four compatriots, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir, Hang Lekiu and Hang Kasturi obviously reflect.

The same five is to be found in Prophet Mohammad with the four Khalifah Rashidun (Rightly Guided Caliphs), Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali mentioned every Friday in the mosques of Malaysia.

“Rightly Guided Caliphs”? Where’s the line between the fact and the fiction?

To be Malay or to be essentially Muslim had been and still is an existential choice the Malays must make to find self and the “I AM”.

When they finally made it they insisted constitutionally the Malay must be a Muslim and compressing that into power they refused themselves the freedom of religion. It’s sad.

Sadder still, Hang Tuah and his friends enjoyed their drinks (hic!) and thus became inadmissable to the hardening sinews of Islam in Malaysia. Islam damns alcoholic drinks as haram (forbidden). How do we appreciate Hang Tuah and his comrades who have been described occassionally drunk?

Yesus Kristos!

Yes. Yesus Kristos would pose a larger problem to Khoo Kay Kim. The wondrous Son of Man has hardly any documentary evidence to support the belief that he was indeed a person that had walked the earth, preached, taught, healed, is The Way to more than a billion Christians in the world and miraculously turned water into wine on one occassion before the heart warming stuff was forbidden centuries later by Muhammad. But it is evidently not a historical fact, making for a twain between history and religious belief and so Jesus may stand a chance in a Shariah Court.

Here in Malaysia you can go to jail drinking miraculously made wine, beer or stout if you are a Muslim. Therefore, choose!

Hang Tuah

Hang Tuah was a myth when this writer was in school. Growing up he found the mix of facts and fiction a common grace in the Malay Hikayat. It’s folk history but devised for good purposes, like the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, which was about Muhammad Hanafiah who was a son of Ali and as real as you or me.

But the said Hikayat was mostly fictitious, used as a means to keep up the struggle of the Prophet’s family for Islam following the demise of Ali and his sons, Hasan and Husayn from Fatimah Zahrah al-Batul.

It became a description of heroism, of glorious fights and fighters, a little bit on the art of war and the excellence of Jihad the Malays themselves had required for a time.

Later they devised their own in the romances of Hang Tuah and of Jebat the alternate Ego. But the Malays were never able to decorate their own group of five as well as the Javanese had done with the Pandavas in the Kakawin.

No Vote

The good professor’s view isn’t going to affect a single vote in the awaited general elections and is therefore free of political perversion. It is unlikely the Ministry of Defence will rewrite the names of our frigates either, from KD Hang Tuah, KD Jebat and so on to Michelle Ma Belle or something like that.

As for the Ministry of Education wanting to remove the name of Hang Tuah from our history text books, this writer suggests we take a deep breath, count to ten and stay as we are. Hang Tuah was and is real.

Hang Tuah was Laksamana Bentan, once the capital of Johor-Riau-Lingga. Megat Seri Rama who krissed Sultan Mahmud of Johor was also Laksamana Bentan, himself from the island of the Orang Laut, once before written as Sea Gypsies but who must be billed as a great people who had led the other Malays through the thousands of islands and intervened decisively in Malay history time after time.

One of them, having had enough of the extravagance and the debauchery of the court in Jambi, stormed the palace and raped the queen before the eyes of her consort, the king, a fitting justice indeed for a ruler who had no control of his wives spendings and himself kept raising taxes till the taxes surpassed 30 per cent of trade items on top of port charges he levied at will.

And you would have read about Lapu Lapu, of course.

How do we treat the stories we read about the exploits of these great seafarers and warriors? Is there no place for a little romance for them like those we have in volumes about Alexander The Great?

“History must be based on empirical records. Historians must only accept written records,” Khoo Kay Kim was reported to have said, adding that empirical records available here were at best “scanty”.“There is no evidence in the Malaysian records,” he said. “These are stories. Early Malaysian history is based on stories.”

The “stories” Professor Khoo meant must be the Hikayat, a genre that is well-known to any and all students of our history. But the “written record” thingy has a kink in it. Because we are a story-telling community, we have to consider using oral recordings to augment the need for tangible evidence in the study and writing of history.

The Malaysian National Archives in 1972, led by Datuk Alwi Jantan and Datuk Zakiah Hanum, deliberated over the question of “oral history” and decided to keep oral recordings to provide for the gaps in the written documents.

This writer then worked on the Aziz Ishak Archives and after reading through the documents and letters in the former Minister’s files, the National Archives decided to have the points in them clarified and augmented in recorded interviews, starting what Professor Zainal Abidin Wahid of University of Malaya had termed “essential oral documentations”.

Since “History must be based on empirical records [and] Historians must only accept written records,” we have now to ask whether the National Archives had done wrong to allow for oral recordings?

We need to question that again. Do oral recordings of witnesses to an event betray the purity of history?

I had gone to Beruas, Perak, to interview a few living witnesses of the 1944 Sino-Malay clashes and especially when Sheikh Osman and his men had gone there to free the son of Panglima Hitam who had been taken captive.

Then, as the story went, when I followed a thread on Datuk Bahaman after some people had thought Tok Guru Peramu was the great warrior of Pahang, I found Hang Tuah still alive in some spiritual exercises in Pahang, which led me to trace the same in some Malay [and Orang Asli] villages along the Pahang, Bera and Serting rivers, involving members of the Semelai and Temuan tribes.

In short, in Hang Tuah we may be dealing with a Malay archetype, like Arjuna of the Mahabharata who was and still is to some Malays in Jawa a warrior archetype.

To the Malays (including Asli of course) Hang Tuah was born in Kampong Sungai Duyung, Melaka, to Hang Mahmud and Dang Merduwati. There are still families in the kampong who believe they are descendants of Hang Tuah.

There he grew up with his four comrades. Their teacher was Adi Putra. Many among the Asli of Serting and Bera said he had studied some silat from them too.

He learned to meditate and had his meditation cleft on the seaside of Cape Rachardo (Tanjung Tuan). That samadhi has since been demolished by the religious authorities because it was deemed as khurafat (superstition).

He had had a girlfriend or fiance in Melor, daughter of his Asli teacher in Ledang and of course there is a Hang Tuah mausoleum in Tanjung Kling, Melaka.

Are these notifications of the legendary figure real or are they merely incurred by the story-tellers for special effects?

But Hang Tuah is about blind loyalty. Why oh why do we need such a myth or an archetype of such an extraordinary loyalty?

There has been a lively debate about who ought to be the hero, Hang Tuah or Hang Jebat, a question raised by the Bugis, Raja Ali Haji, in the 19th century.

That question, raised in Tuhfat al-Nafis, still resounds in our classrooms and even across tables in coffee shops.

Why would such a debate be deemed unhealthy? Because it is about a myth?

As for Hang Tuah's terrible sense of loyalty, it is understood in Malay tradition as undivided loyalty to the Palembang House that founded the kingdom of Melaka, a matter that was to test Perak in later times when the Sultanate was contested by Tun Saban who had been Bendahara of Melaka, with his sister, Tok Temong, and the Temusai Nakhoda Kassim from Johor on his side. Perak was hitherto ruled by the Haluan, Tok Masuka(here) and not by a king (Raja) or Sultan. A contest against the Palembang House occurred in Johor as well.

It is essential to understand the context of the Hang Tuah romances before an opinion is structured, certainly. But we know little of our history because the research had been scanty, not because of scarcity of sources.

But other than the Hikayat, Babad, Kakawin, Teromba etc. which contain reflections of native histories, the written sources would be Ming records, some Indian inscriptions, colonial writings or sourced from the palaces. Can we then avoid oral sources

As long as we know the Hikayat, Kakawin or Teromba are a mix of history, ideological reflections and romances, do we really have a reason to hollow out Hang Tuah from the history textbooks? ----a. ghani ismail, 21 January, 2012


Anonymous said...

The obvious answer is that we cannot construct our lives based on a lie. If Hang Tuah was a myth. Let it be so. We can use the Hang Tuah story to educate our children. But lets not lie about it!
The history of most "kings" or rulers are based on the greed, ruthlessness and often cruelty of the kings themselves. BUt the story is changed when their offsprings found that it was hard to rule if everyone knew that your father was a crook. So the story is retold. Robbers became saviors. Murderers and thiefs became heroes. HIstorians and witch doctors as well as priests and imams were recruited to do their bit for a piece of silver.
So when did the emeritus learned that Hang Li Po or Hang Tuah was a myth? Yesterday? 2 weeks ago? Or 40 years back when he was anointed Professor? And so...why make the announcement now? For a piece of silver?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Owhh. I would like to praise her there were some facts or document has been rcorded even thousand years before. We beleive that alquran tells us every thing on the past history and to be a lesson for next generation.
For hang tuah, its a true and not history. I suggest blogger to visit melaka state museum that make everyone knowing by themself

Anonymous said...

Interesting eh, Jebat or Hang Tuah, BN or PKR, Mahatir or Anwar.

Anonymous said...

The life of Christ is not a myth. Roman historian Josephus has records on the Nazareen. Yesus Kristos is an historical figure.

Raja Singa said...

There are PLENTY of historical documents mentioning a person Jesus who lived in the times of the Jewish upheaval. The link given by anonymous above are just some of the more well known documents.

I find the “facts” presented in your article highly speculative.

Anonymous said...

If there is no record in Ming dynasty, then it didn't exist? Can a good historian use that argument? I think that is bull, Ming dynasty also human with weakness, some record may not be recorded due to oversight, or "intentionally" not recorded. For example in case of Hang Li Po, due to "face" or jaga muka, they might not like to record that one of their princess have to be given to other kingdom. I believe Hang Tuah exist as a human, but his ability has been over hyped.

Remember that Sri Vijaya was only discovered by the westerners in the early 1920s but Malay annal have been talking about kingdom in Sumatera 500 years before that, but none of the so called "modern" historian care to bother. Why? Because its comes from Malay's work and when it comes from Malay, its not worth to be considered?