Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Book Review Contest: Hikayat Hang Tuah (reviewd by Siti Awanis Othman)

Hikayat Hang Tuah is a Malay epic and work of literature that tells the tale of the legendary Malay Muslim warrior Hang Tuah. This book tells the establishment of Malays Sultanate that started in Malacca, the height of the reign that spans over 600 years of the Malay Peninsular's history and the end of the sultanate era on the 24th August 1511. Hikayat Hang Tuah pictures the Malay socio-cultural system during the feudal era.

Hang Tuah himself is a legendary warrior during the reign of Sultan Mansur Syah, the greatest of all admirals, ferocious fighter and held the highest regard in the Malysian Malay culture until today. The subjects covered in the work included the founding of Malacca and its relationship with neighbouring kingdoms, the advent and spread of Islam in the region, the history of the royalty in the region as well as the administrative hierarchy of the sultanate.

This book potrays Hang Tuah as a warrior with an absolute loyalty to his sultan. However, in his blind loyalty to the sultan, he bacame the envy of a few noblemen. It is a social fate where feudal principle of absolute loyalty to the Sultan may contradicts justice. This is why another legendary warrior, also his childhood friend and best companion, Hang Jebat avenged his death believing Hang Tuah was innocent. However, when the Sultan was told by the Bendahara (in modern parlance, the Prime Minister) that Hang Tuah was still alive ordered him to kill Hang Jebat. Being unquestioningly loyal to the sultan, he killed Hang Jebat after a long gruelling fight that lasted for seven days.

I would describe Hang Tuah as a Malay legend, embodying the values of Malay culture where allegiance and loyalty were paramount above all else. His famous quotes, “Takkan Melayu Hilang di Dunia’ which literally means “Never Shall the Malays Vanish from the Face of the Earth” is a rallying cry for Malay nationalism until present day.

On the other hand, I think Hang Jebat should be respected for his braveness to turn against the sultan he served to avenge his friend’s death. He believed in justice and wanted justice to be served even if it means going against the sultan’s orders. Hang Jebat's famous quote was "Raja adil raja disembah, raja zalim raja disanggah" which literally means "A fair king is a king to obey, a cruel king is a king to fight against".

The setting of Hikayat Hang Tuah is described in great detail, for example, as an admiral, Hang Tuah was assigned to the task of being the sultan’s ambassador to countries like Majapahit, China, India, Siam and Turkey. China was one of the biggest allies of Malacca and his trip to China has fostered closer ties between the two counties. The Emperor even offered his princess, Hang Li Po to be Malaccan Queen. Since then, the two countries has been in good terms.

The book made me realised that history forms part of us that should not be forgotten by the present and future generation. It made me think that it is not easy to preserve our culture, tradition and beliefs if we ourselves have no inner strength to do so. We should be grateful of what our country has achived so far and we have to maintain and improve the ties we have in the multi racial country.

The authors should be appreciated for this well written book that comprises Malay annals, legends and epics together with good moral values about loyalty and justice.

I think it is important to say that the book should be read by everyone, not just Malaysians. It should be translated into English as this would attract more readers to read and understand history. It is an interesting read although at the beginning I thought that reading a book with a historical theme might be bored.

Overall, I would recommend this book to everyone!

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