There have been many conjectures and analysis, claims and suppositions made on the existence of legendary hero, Hang Tuah. Often when I meet with people, and when interviewed, I have been asked the same question, "What do you think of Hang Tuah and - did he really exist?"
There are many levels of existence. Hang Tuah has been in the Malay psyche for centuries. That is a presence which is often unshakeable. In our mind. In our sense of pride. In our sense of self. When someone comes along and say, "Hang Tuah was not a Malay." or "Hang Tuah never existed", there is an actual wound that we suffer, a deep sense of loss. In an attempt to cover this loss, some go into denial mode. Many join the bandwagon and without examining old resources, without giving deep thought, readily admit, "Yes! I am not one to believe in legends and folklores. It is true. Hang Tuah never existed."
To me, this is a tragedy. Because we miss the true value and opportunity to learn from Hang Tuah - legend or hero, and from the history of an era of significant importance to our country.
The existence of Hang Tuah is difficult to support and prove. But then so is the existence of molecules to someone not educated in Science. The existence of history to a cynic. The existence of God to an aethist. And yet, I will attempt to at least point you in the right direction. You can make your own conclusions.
There are two sources that featured the exploits and achievements of the man Hang Tuah. This is not exhaustive, but certainly the most prominent. One is the Sejarah Melayu (written between earth 1500 to 1611) and the other, Hikayat Hang Tuah (circa 1712 - 1758). Both are renowned works, acknowledged by UNESCO as Memories of The World.
In Sejarah Melayu, Hang Tuah is one of the many figures mentioned. He is an important subject of the Sultan, but not the focus of Sejarah Melayu. After all, Sejarah Melayu or Sulalat us Salatin is the Book of Kings. The reason it was written was to record the rise and fall of the Malay Sultanate. It was written for record purposes, albeit in the style that regaled the kings. Certainly, only important figures who affected the course of history - good or bad, deserved mention in Sejarah Melayu like Demang Lebar Daun, Tun Perak, Tun Perpatih Putih and of course Hang Tuah.
Firstly, a question of style and purpose. As mentioned, Sejarah Melayu is written to record memorable events. The narration was almost a verbatim recollection of incidents. Therefore, Hang Tuah did not really receive special attention, when compared to other characters in Sejarah Melayu. Those who were loyal, and disloyal equally, were mentioned and duly rewarded, or as the case may be, punished, killed and family obliterated, serving as an example to others. This would suggest, in spite the lack of actual dates, that Sejarah Melayu was what it had always claimed to be, a historical record. And Hang Tuah was part of that historical record.
This is different in the case of Hikayat Hang Tuah. HHT was written in the style of Hikayat, which was primarily a work of astounding literature in the classical style. It fused fact and fiction to lend credibility and aesthetic value to the book. This is similar to the popular genre of historical fiction today. In HHT, events attributed to others in Sejarah Melayu were credited to Hang Tuah. For example the kidnapping of Tun Teja which was credited to Hang Nadim, the wooing of Puteri Gunung Ledang to Tun Mamat in Sejarah Melayu were adapted to be the deeds of Hang Tuah in HHT. The battle between Hang Tuah and Hang Kasturi in the original Sejarah Melayu was expanded to an epic struggle between the loyal Hang Tuah and righteous Hang Jebat. A question of Hang Tuah's all encompassing acceptance of Daulat against tHang Jebat's right to question this authority. There is a need to examine the psyche of the Malay people and the palace during the 18th century to understand the rise of this thought. Tanah Melayu had been torn apart by the power struggles between Portuguese and the Dutch, with the Malay Sultans keeping to torch alive to reclaim their land. A Malay hero was needed - which kind? Or perhaps - both kinds of heroes were what the Malay kings were looking for? It would appear clear then that while Hikayat Hang Tuah is based on the earlier records, there was a need in the 18th century to create a hero. With this background, Hikayat Hang Tuah was reconstructed. Nevertheless, again, the evidence strongly suggest that the HHT Hang Tuah was based on the real Hang Tuah and real events mentioned in the earlier Sejarah Melayu to lend credence.
Often, there are those eager to discredit the name Hang Tuah. In Sejarah Melayu, alongside Hang Tuah, there was Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir, Hang Lekiu, Hang Khelembak, Hang Ali and Hang Iskandar during the reign of Sultan Mansur and later Hang Isa Pintas, Hang Hassan Cengang and Hang Usuh, and the popular Hang Nadim during the reign of Sultan Mahmud. As a point of contention, there were statements made that in Malays, names are not carried down the line, refuting the fact that Hang Tuah was the son of Hang Mahmud. That is not true. The Niks, Megats, Wans and of course the Tun, Teuku, Tengku and Raden all carried names of the family from generation to generation. This is the same with Malays in other regions, like Champa, whose names are preceded with Po. If we examine this further to study the Mon, the Malays of Indonesia, in Southern Siam, we can find many instances and examples.
In conclusion, I hope this article helps to spur rational thinking and analysis to the subject of Hang Tuah. Again, when I am asked about the Laksamana Hang Tuah's existence, I am quick to point out that Hang Tuah has outgrown the man he was. He is now an icon of the Universal Malay man. In a world where corporate giants spend millions creating, promoting and branding their iconic celebrities, I am grateful and proud that we have our own authentic icon who is a source of pride and who withstands the test of time. To remain in the mind and hearts of the people for centuries is a monumental feat in itself. Who among us today can claim such reverence and passion in the next generation like Hang Tuah had done?
Hang Tuah was depicted as a learned scholar, a diplomat, a warrior of the highest level, a man of principle and character as required by the times. For me, Hang Tuah then appears to be the perfect example of what ALL Malaysians should aspire to, not just the Malays.
Those who know me have heard me say this time and again. Our heroes and hikayat belong to all of us.
It is an essential part of our heritage and sense of self.
Embrace it and never let it go.
If I could turn back the clock
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