Where Have All the Heroes Gone?


Sculpture of Hang Tuah

Every country needs its heroes. For most countries, they have adopted heroes that best reflected their national character or aspirations. We have the freedom fighting heroes like William Tell for Switzerland. Then there are defenders of the helpless and oppressed like King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table for England. Then there are the heroes of ideology and the revolution like Che Guevara for Cuba. Robin Hood may also be considered an anti-capitalistic hero since he “stole for the rich and gave to the poor.” However, Robin also fought for the oppressed. There does seem to be a lot of oppression going on in England.

Some countries like Australia have some strange national heroes. One of them is Ned Kelly the infamous bushranger which is a polite way of describing a murderer and a robber. However, he has become an icon of resistance against an unjust establishment. In some cultures, the cultural heroes can even be con men because trickery and even treachery is highly valued.

Malaysia celebrated its 52nd National Day today and I feel that we could do with some new heroes to inspire us. When I was growing up and even today, all the children are taught about the ultimate Malaysian hero, Hang Tuah. Hang Tuah was by all accounts the greatest Malay warrior ever. He became an admiral and champion for Sultan Mansur Shah of the glorious Sultanate of Melaka in the 15th century.

Hang Tuah defended Melaka from pirates, rival Sultanates and invaders. He helped represent Melaka on diplomatic missions and generally was intrumental in building the greatness of Melaka while having amazing aventures. He was brave, a warrior, a wise administrator and a stalwart of the Sultanate.

So far, not a bad hero figure for young minds. However, there is one virtue that is often said to be his greatest which was his faithfulness and loyalty. The following story is the most famous of all the romantic legends of Hang Tuah. After reading it, please share your opinion on whether he remains the right hero for the youth of today.

The Fight with Hang Jebat

Hang Tuah was part of a group of warriors who served the Sultan of Melaka (not unlike the knights of the roundtable of Camelot or the Three Musketeers of France). Hang Tuah was particularly favored by the Sultan because of his bravery, wisdom and services to the Sultanate. He eventually is promoted to the post of Laksamana (Admiral) which is very prominent and influential.

However, some in the Royal Court was not happy with his ascendancy and start rumours that Hang Tuah was taking advantage of his post to gain access to the Sultan’s concubines. The Sultan hears of these rumours and he grew very angry and without seeking out any evidence, sentenced Hang Tuah to death by execution.

Hang Tuah was arrested by men led by the Bendahara (Chief Minister). However, the Bendahara only pretended to execute Hamg Tuah so as to buy some time to find evidence to exonerate hang Tuah. Instead, he smuggled Hang Tuah to a remote forest in the Kingdom.

Hang Jebat was Hang Tuah’s childhood friend and closest colleague and brother in arms. After Hang Tuah, he was probably the best warrior in Melaka. Thinking that his friend had been unjustly accused and executed, he was wracked with grief and took to drinking. In a drunken fit, he took revenge on the Sultan by attacking the Palace. Running amok, he killed all that he met and took over the throne when the Sultan fled the palace.

The Sultan and his advisors was at lost of what to do until the Bendehara told the Sultan that Hang Tuah was still alive. The Sultan was happy at the news and regreted his earlier haste judgment. He offered Hang Tuah a full pardon and ordered him to kill Hang Jebat.

What followed was a duel with keris (curved daggers) between Hang Tuah and his friend Hang Jebat. When Hang Jebat saw Hang Tuah, he was very happy to see his good friend and invited Hang Tuah to join him to teach the Sultan a lesson but Hang Tuah refused saying that there is no excuse to ever go against the Sultan and to be unfaithful or disloyal.

After a titanic struggle, Hang Tuah kills Hang Jebat and proved his faithfulness and loyalty to the Sultan.

What do you think? It seems to me to promote some very feudal values such as loyalty to the leader above all else including justice and friendship. I think we need some new heroes.

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One thought on “Where Have All the Heroes Gone?”

  1. Indeed – It was dishonourable to kill his friend at the order of the Sultan who had once sought his death – blind loyalty to a person/cause/country is the root of many wars …

    No, he’s not a hero in my eyes.

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