Hang Tuah symbolises many good values

Scene: Syed Bistro, PJ.

MOHAN: So Azman, did Hang Tuah exist?

Chong: You mean Hang Tu Ah?

Mohan: Ya, I've heard of that one. It's possible. Yes, he could very well have been. But did he exist? Did he truly walk the streets of Malacca when it was a trading emporium of the 15th century?

Azman: Difficult to say.

Mohan: Would you say he probably existed?

Azman: Yes, I would. However until it is established that his existence is a fact we should not say in our school history books that he existed. But when telling the history of Malacca we could mention that the Hikayat Hang Tuah tells a story of a legendary warrior and how he served the empire.

Mohan: So he didn't exist?

Azman: I am not sure whether we should categorically deny his existence in history. Otherwise how do you explain the strong influence this Malay warrior figure has in Malaysian and Indonesian history and literature. For instance there are navy ships in Malaysia and Indonesia which carry his name just as there are several roads in both countries named after him. There is a Univesiti Hang Tuah in Surabaya. They must have been inspired by a memory of a real exemplary warrior of the past. There is a bronze mural of him in the Muzium Negara.

Chong: Inspired by his legend.

Mohan: True. But most legends had basis in something real. Like the semi-mythological heroes of ancient China for instance. Or like some warrior kings of India. Like King Arthur and his knights of the roundtable. Arthur's existence is still being disputed despite the stories that have been written about him and his knights. The stories have spawned other stories and films. And they are still digging for his Avalon.

Chong: There are also all kinds of legends based on historical figures. For instance King Frederick Barbarossa died while on a crusade in Palestine. His death caused such grief in his homeland that his people refused to let him fade away. Thus stories abound of him not being dead but sleeping on his throne surrounded by his knights in a cave in Germany. It used to be believed that he would come out to save Germany should it be threatened.

Azman: What about Boudica?

Chong: Ah yes, the warrior queen of Britain who was killed while fighting the Romans in 60 or 61 AD. She is a historical figure because she is mentioned in Roman records. She was such an inspiring figure that so many stories exist about her exploits, many of which do not exist in any record. During the English Renaissance there was a resurgence of Boudica's legendary fame. She became so inspiring that at the height of British power Queen Victoria was portrayed in paintings and statues as the warrior queen.

Azman: Similarly couldn't Hang Tuah have been mentioned in Chinese records?

Chong: Some say no. Some say that when the Tianshun Emperor (who reigned from 1457 to 1464) died all records about him were destroyed by his enemies. Hang Tuah could have been mentioned in them.

Azman: What about other records? Has the search been exhaustive? That's why I hesitate to categorically say that he didn't exist. Just like one day archaeologists may discover Avalon. Where will the naysayers hide their faces then?

Chong: Of course there will still be debate on whether what was discovered was really Avalon or some other ancient settlement?

Azman: Have the Javanese records like the Nagarakretagama been scanned for mention of the warrior statesman? Has a careful look been taken of the Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals instead of hastily dismissing it as containing nothing more than genealogies of rulers. In those days people also took liberties when writing history. Records of the Tianshun Emperor, for instance, simply disappeared. Sejarah Melayu was edited many times and probably altered several times to suit the ruler of the day. That's why there are so many versions.

Mohan: It contain anachronisms too. We generally accept that Malacca was founded as a city in 1403 or thereabout. It tells of Sultan Mansur Shah (1456-1477), accompanied by Hang Tuah, visiting Majapahit when Gajah Mada was its prime minister and at whose insistence famed Majapahit warrior Taming Sari challenged Hang Tuah to a public duel. But Javanese records say that Gajah Mada, the general and warrior, lived much earlier, between 1290 and 1364. Difficult to explain away the disparity. That's why the historicity of some of the events mentioned in Sejarah Melayu are disputed. Isn't it so, Cikgu?

Zain: Whatever it is, whether he truly existed or not, Hang Tuah as portrayed in the epic Hikayat Hang Tuah, was an exemplary warrior. A general and a fighter on the battlefield and a skilful diplomat at the negotiating table. Yet he was a humble person. He was a ksyatria (a member of the warrior class) and lived strictly by its code. The Hikayat tells us that after failing to procure the Puteri Gunong Ledang to be one of his sultan's many wives, he shunned public life and palace politics by living as a recluse in the forest. There are quite a few things our politicians can learn by reading and rereading the Hikayat Hang Tuah.

Mohan: Since it contains many good values why not make the Hikayat required reading in school?

Azman: Ya, why not?

Zain: Not as a history, of course. Not yet.