There was once a very powerful Sultan who used to control much of the seas through which the great trading vessels of the Arabs, Indians and the Chinese had to travel. The tradewinds were such that the port of the Sultanate became an important harbour for these sail ships where they may spend a few months hiding from the storms or biding their time until the winds became favorable for their onward journey. In their holds, they carried the finest silk cloths, the prized blue porcelain, gems, precious metals and spices. The Sultanate grew rich from trade and taxes and the Sultan was respected by all. Why, even the Emperor of China, desirous of a trade agreement, sent a Han Princess to be the Sultan’s bride.
Perhaps, because of this, the Sultan was particularly angry and annoyed that one of his subject showed him little respect at all. This man was named Tok Pandai. He was considered a wise and upright man but he felt that the Sultan had allowed power and fame to swell his self-importance to an extent that he had become arrogant and uncaring for his subjects. In a number of encounters with the Sultan, he humiliated the Sultan by publicly defeating him in challenges of wit and intellegence. Each time, the Sultan tried to arrest him on some trumped up charge, Tok Pandai was able to talk himself out of trouble with the soldiers or the officials sent to arrest him.
Finally, after an incident in which Tok Pandai insulted the Sultan’s parentage, the Sultan called his most trusted Captain and commanded him to take an elite band of warriors to arrest Tok Pandai at the port at the river mouth and to take him by boat to the Sultan’s palace which was located some distance up river where he intended to torture Tok Pandai. To prevent Tok Pandai from using his sharp tongue to icite the ordinary people to come to his aid as had happened too often before, the first thing the captain was to do was to gag him and place a cloth bag over his head.
The Captain and his warriors paddled a long boat downstream to the port and soon found Tok Pandai drinking with friends at a market stall. The Captain had some of his men stage a fight in the market square. Soon everyone’s attention was diverted to the fight and they were able to gag and kidnap Tok Pandai and return to their boat before anyone knew what had happened.
They placed Tok Pandai at the back of the boat next to the captain. In front of them, twenty strong warriors manned the oars and started to pull away from the port. Once they were some distance from the port, the captain removed the cloth bag over Tok Pandai’s head and took out the gag. He left Tok Pandai’s hands tied though. He and the rest of the crew mocked Tok Pandai and assured him that he would not escape the gruesome torture that now awaits him at the Sultan’s palace.
To everyone’s surprise, Tok Pandai was very cordial and in good spirits. He congratulated the warriors on a well executed kidnapping and even joked about some of the torture he would soon face. As witty as ever, Tok Pandai soon had the crew laughing at his jokes. Even the Captain said “You are a nice fella but make no mistake, we must deliver you to the Sultan or it is on our heads.”
Soon, the sun was beating down on the rowers who were also struggling upstream against the strong current. Now this was a very wide and fast flowing river. There was no way Tok Pandai could escape by jumping from the boat as the current would likely draw him under and drown him. The Captain was so sure of this that when Tok Pandai asked to have his hands untied because “Dear captain, if my sentence is torture when I arrive at the palace, then do not torture me beforehand for the rope is cutting into my wrists.” The captain relented and untied his hands.
Tok Pandai cheerfully said,”Because you have been kind to an old man, I will make my self useful.” With that, he collected all the water gourds. There were ten gourds in all which were placed one between two rowers. These gourds were filled with water for the rowers to drink and because it was so hot, most of the gourds’ water had already been consumed. He collected all the gourds, brought them back to the back of the boat where there was a large water container and began to refill the empty gourds. Both the Captain and the men were pleased with this.
However, before Tok Pandai had even filled up two gourds, he said, “Captain, dear captain. I see that your men tire as they paddle against the current. At this rate, we may not reach the palace until nightfall and I hate to think that the Sultan would have to wait so long to have his revenge on me.”
“What can we do about it?” the Captain asked.
“Let me teach the men a rowing song. It will help them row in unison and revive their spirits.”
” How does this rowing song go?”
Tok Pandai said, “It is very simple. I will lead you in a chant and you will answer with the words ‘let him, let him”. All the men will strain on their paddles whenever they say ‘let him, let him’.” Of course, rowing songs were quite common in those days where you pretty much had to row everywhere and the men understood the concept easily.
“Okay. Here we go. The Captain wants to get a tattoo!” hollered Tok Pandai from the back of the boat.
“Let him! Let him!” the men in front yelled back enthusiastically as they rowed in time.
“The Captain wants an Arab maid for his next wife!”
“Let him! Let Him!”
Tok Pandai found out the names of the rowers and used them in the chant too.
“Ol’man Akir wants to drink potion to increase his libido” he shouted.
“Let Him! Let Him!” The men replied merrily. Their spirits were up, they were laughing at some of the funny chants about their friends and everyone knew that the boat was moving faster.
This went on for awhile and then Tok Pandai picked up the empty gourds, tied them around his chest and shouted “The captain wants to take over the chanting.”
The men replied, “Let him! Let Him!”
With that, Tok Pandai surprised the Captain and jumped off the boat. The gourds kept him from being dragged under and he floated swiftly downstream. He was not out of danger because the captain could easily turn the boat round and with twenty rowers soon catch up with Tok Pandai.
After the initial shock, the Captain tried to raise the alarm. “Tok Pandai has jumped off the boat!”
“Let him! Let Him!” the men replied.
“Tok Pandai is floatig away on the gourds!”
“Let him! Let him!” they chimed in unison.
“No, Tok Pandai is getting away.”
“Let him! Let him!”
“Men! He is escaping!”
“Let him! Let him!”
“Turn around now. The Captain orders you!”
“Let him Let him!”
And that is the story of how the let Tok Pandai escape.(This is a traditional Malay tale as re-told by a squirrel)