Tag Archives: folklore

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.

Have Gourd Will Travel



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)