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Malay Myth and Changing Attitudes towards Nationalism: The Hang Tuah/Hang Jebat Debate Perhaps the Malay political consciousness also recognizes something enduringly compelling in the idea of the rebel ... I am not, and never have been, "Malay" enough to fully understand the complexities of Malay heroism. A few years after the episode of which I'm writing now, the director of the Police Special Branch, while interviewing me for possible subversive tendencies, would pose me the conundrum: "Who do you think was right? Hang Tuah or Hang Jebat?"It was a question that seemed to strike to the very heart of matters; the true "Malay Dilemma." — REHMAN RASHID, A Malaysian Journey, 1993 National myths continue to hold a strong currency in Malaysian popular consciousness. Perhaps the most renowned among them involves Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat and the question of which is the greater hero. These two were warriors and childhood friends during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah of Melaka in the fifteenth century. Their exploits, specifically Hang Tuah's, were recorded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals) and Hikayat Hang Tuah (Epic of Hang Tuah), two semihistorical classical Malay literary texts that are seminal for encapsulating Malay identity. The central story in the Hikayat Hang Tuah (HHT) goes something like this: the sultan made Hang Tuah his Laksamana (admiral) after he 22 2 proved his bravery by defeating a man who had run amok in the kingdom.1 Hang Tuah's four childhood friends also served the king but Hang Tuah was his majesty's favourite. However, due to court jealousy, Hang Tuah was accused of socializing with a palace courtesan, an act of high treason. Without investigating Hang Tuah's "crime," the king hastily ordered his execution, but the cautious Bendahara (prime minister) hid the admiral in a village instead of carrying out the king's orders. The sultan's unjust ruling provoked the anger and rebellion of Tuah's childhood friend, Hang Jebat, who ran amok and took over the palace after receiving Hang Tuah's magic keris (a Malay dagger with a ridged serpentine blade) - and symbolically, hisposition asthe king's favourite. Hang Jebat refused to duel with his three childhood friends Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir, and Hang Lekiu, whom the king sent to kill him. Moreover, no one was worthy of defeating him except Hang Tuah, for it had been predicted that Hang Jebat would die at the hands of his best friend. When the king discovered that Hang Tuah was still alive, he ordered him to kill the traitor, Hang Jebat, which Hang Tuah dutifully did. The Tuah-Jebat conflict has been reinscribed in many ways. It captures the tension between loyalty to the state as represented by Hang Tuah and loyalty to friendship (setiakawan) as represented by Hang Jebat. These two characters symbolize the contrast between the feudal hero and the modern hero, and replicate the Muslim debate over the hadith (sayings and traditions of the Prophet) about blind loyalty (taqlid) and individual judgment (ijtihad).2 Because Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat signify and reflect Malay concepts of politics and custom (adat) as well as Islamic debates about taqlid and ijtihad, it appears that adat and Islam may not be mutually exclusive or opposing categories. In fact, there is significant overlap between the two, and the same goes for adat and modernity. What may seem like "modern" ideas of individuality may already be embedded within adat, in the figure of the Malay rebel, Hang Jebat. (In fact, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who began the "Look East" policy in the early 19805, the TuahJebat dichotomy also projects "Asian values" of group rights versus Western individual rights.)3 Finally, Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat may stand as opposites in the Malay psyche, representing the rational ego that is always in control and the emotional, sensual, excessive id. The Hang Tuah/Hang Jebat antagonism resurfacedin real Malaysian politics in the late 19908 when the tension between Mahathir and the former deputy prime minister and heir apparent, Anwar Ibrahim, became an outright power struggle.4 These men differ in personality and political vision. Mahathir is a shrewd, authoritarian leader known for his anti-imperialist rhetoric and The Hang Tuah/Hang Jebat Debate 23 ambitious nationalist projects. Anwar, a charismatic former student radical and leader of the IslamicYouth Movement (ABIM), which was popular in the 19705 and 19808, was imprisoned in 1974 for his involvement during...


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