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Kampung Pictures Daily Hang Tuah: Beyond the Black and White
Hang Tuah: Beyond the Black and White PDF Print E-mail
Written by straits-mongrel   
Sunday, 27 September 2009 08:52


Enter Hang Tuah the Warrior - the one we know from the primary school texts and media. The ever-reliable Budak Raja, who with Tamingsari in hand, killed his best friend Jebat in an epic battle in the royal court. It is the ultimate show of loyalty to King and Country, and nationalist themes constantly remind us of it.


Yet it is but half the story. A Hang Tuah in black and white, malnourished if consumed only in itself.

Historian Farish Noor wants you to know that there's the other side to Hang Tuah which needs to be given its full colour. The other side which, the historian argues, defines the complete Malay if not Malaysian.

Drawing largely from Kassim Ahmad's 1962 magnum opus of the Hikayat Hang Tuah (two volumes, 523 pages), Farish delved into the complex life of the folk hero on Saturday at the Annexe Gallery. It was the eighth of his Other Malaysia series of lectures.

In front of a capacity-filled audience, the Hang Tuah of the hikayat was given a rendering beyond the abridged versions. One that showed the figure as a multi-layered personality transitioning from palace brawn to cultural bridge.




Enter Hang Tuah the Wanderer. "Yet he is always at home; centred," explains Farish.

Tuah is despatched to Vijayanagar and meets the king of Kalinga. He comfortably speaks the language, visits the temples and their rituals and makes incisive observations about them.

He is despatched to the Middle Kingdom and meets the emperor of China. He comfortably speaks the language, visits the temples and their rituals and makes incisive observations about them. He goes to Siam, Persia, Egypt and Mekah, each time comfortable in the language, setting and customs.

Undoubtedly, Hang Tuah is the Nusantara's embodiment of the Universal Man.



Enter Hang Tuah the Halus. The man who journeys inside, and who willingly strips himself of worldly power and possessions, each step refining the muscled layers of machismo into quiet spirituality.

It is freedom that Tuah discovers, says Farish, and within that freedom, a larger Immensity.


"Tak kan Melayu hilang di Dunia - we have all heard of that saying," Farish adds.

In light of these fuller texts within the Hikayat, the scholar asks that we reflect on its semantic meanings.

"The word 'hilang' can be read twofold. There's 'hilang' as in missing or absent. Extinct. That's the reading that's been propagated for decades. It has even been used by communalist factions to stir fear over the loss of power.

"And then there's 'hilang' as in lost, where one loses his way.

"I like to believe in the latter; the Hang Tuah who was always at home in all his wanderings, the Hang Tuah who constantly enriched himself with the ways of other cultures and appreciated them without judgment. And the Tuah who finally saves himself by renouncing power and control for a sublime truth."


In Farish's eyes, this reading is one of self-assurance and spirituality, not skepticism: Tamingsari the keris would remain whole, the blade never separating from the sheath.


Hang Tuah the Malay was found, not lost. A quality we could all aspire.


Farish Noor's writings can be accessed at The Other Malaysia.

An earlier essay on this theme can be read here.

Kassim Ahmad, who edited the most comprehensive version of Hikayat Hang Tuah, blogs here.

Pictures / Nandakumar Haridas and Suatu Ketika

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Only registered users can write comments!
Eric  - Tq for the report |2009-09-30 19:21:07
It's very good for those of us who missed the inspiring talk.

That's the respect


Daphne  - Inspired |2009-10-02 13:43:54
I found the talk quite inspiring and timely, personally as I've started a children's and YA book imprint with a friend, and I think Hang Tuah's story is crying out to be written as a historical fantasy for Malaysian youth.

I read the Hikayat for spm sastera (1980s) and remember those tales about Hang Tuah's travels, especially the kang kong episode in China.
Last Updated on Sunday, 27 September 2009 16:04

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