Saturday, November 22, 2008

Who Was Right & Who Was Wrong?

When I was a kid, I used to love reading the tales of our (Malay) legendary warriors, one particularly being the folk story of Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat. I was watching this story of Hang Tuah last night, with the legendary hero played by P. Ramlee, and suddenly the memories of my childhood came rushing back.

When I first read about the legend, like every other kid who did, I idolized Tuah for being the ultimate champion of Malay loyalty, chivalry and obedience to tradition. Tuah represented that absolute loyalty - and the streak of loyalty to the ruler that ran deep in the Malay psyche. If there were three things important to the Malay of old, they were loyalty to the ruler, loyalty to the religion and 'adat', and the accompanying sets of values that come with them. However later on I began to understand Jebat a bit better, his sacrifice to fight injustice and cruelty. To others, Jebat may represent that consequence of breaching a fragile covenant, to me he was simply misunderstood.

Tuah might be the hero of many, for having portrayed the absolute loyalty to his ruler. But in reality, like the flaws reflected by the actions of Jebat, his actions were also actually far from idealistic.

Tuah took loyalty to the point of blind servility, a trade I have never agreed with. According to the Hikayat Hang Tuah, even before the incident where the Sultan had ordered his execution, there was an occasion where Tuah was actually exiled by the Sultan to Inderapura. There Tuah took it upon himself to kidnap Tun Teja Menggala, the Bendahara's daughter, knowing that the Sultan lusted after her. Through bribes and deceptions, he succeeded in bringing Tun Teja to Melaka and presented her to his ruler. The Sultan was so pleased, he pardoned Tuah and promoted him to the rank of Laksmana. His loyalty to his Sultan evidently superseded any ethical considerations. Nonetheless, he was my hero for his absolute obedience, and for always trying to do the the right thing, even if it meant going against his own will.

To me, Jebat is the symbol of true friendship, courage and justice. He stood against a ruler who practiced injustice and cruelty, to avenge the death of his dearest friend. The flaw to his noble intention was reflected when he went in a rampage at the royal palace, in anguish to the injustice done to his friend. He later found out that Tuah was still alive, but the joy at seeing his dearest friend brought to life turned to despair when his friend lunged at him with a keris, declaring his loyalty to the Sultan and hatred for traitors. In the ensuing clash, Jebat was wounded by Tuah. He later went amok for three days, killing thousands of innocent people until he finally died in Tuah's arms. Of course it would be absurd for me to think that it was right for him to slaughter innocent people, but perhaps he was raging over the fact that the sole reason for his treachery, had turned against him.

So who was right, and who was wrong?

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