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Thursday, 2 February 2012

Hang-ups over Malaysian history

Hang-ups over history

Along The Watchtower By M. Veera Pandiyan

It’s time to correct the inaccuracies and skewed viewpoints of historical events that have been ingrained as part of lessons in schools.

AS the furore over the status of Hang Tuah — historical warrior or mere myth — rages on, a notorious mob is conspicuously missing from the action.

It’s a surprise that the Benteng Demokrasi Rakyat (Bendera) hasn’t joined the fray by claiming him as an Indonesian icon and accuse us of stealing yet another piece of their heritage.

Hang Tuah and his sworn brother warriors (Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu) are also exalted in Indonesia.

While our hero purportedly hails from Kampung Duyung, Malacca, Indonesians believe that he was from Bintan in Riau or various parts of Sumatra.

There are roads named after him in almost every Indonesian city and town, along with universities and hotels. The Indonesian navy even has a frigate named KRI Hang Tuah.

Perhaps, Bendera, which gained infamy for throwing human faeces at the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta two years ago, is too occupied with internal troubles these days.

Its leaders, Mustar Bonaventura and Ferdy Simawun, are being sued for claiming that members of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s inner circle took 1.8 trillion rupiahs (about RM608mil) in kickbacks from the bailout of Bank Century in 2009.

As critics rebuked Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim — who sparked the debate in saying that Hang Tuah and princess Hang Li Po are purely the stuff of folklore — the Bendera bunch were reportedly busy creating a ruckus in a Jakarta courthouse.

But let’s not digress from the ongoing hullabaloo over our mythical or otherwise hulubalang (commander).

In spite of the lack of studies as proof, a host of experts and academics are defending the existence of Hang Tuah,

Archaeologist Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman, for instance, pointed out the existence of Hang Tuah’s tomb in Tanjung Kling, Malacca.

“We can’t deny that it is not. Although there is no specific name written on it, it is from the 15th century,” he said last week.

Though not a historian, I beg to differ. For generations, locals only referred to it as makam tua (old grave).

Based on stories handed down, it was the tomb of a revered Gujerati Muslim who preached Islam in the area.

But in the early 1990s, an overzealous museum curator suggested that it could be the grave of Hang Tuah. Among the grounds cited was, it dates back to the era and a grave facing the sea is fitting for a laksamana (admiral).

He succeeded in convincing the then Chief Minister, who was actively promoting tourism as Malacca’s main industry.

But this is not the only grave of Hang Tuah. The man, said to have vanished after failing to bring back the princess of Gunung Ledang for his Sultan, has “graves” in several places in Sumatra.

Hang Tuah is also famous for wells and footprints embedded in various places.

The most recognised well is, of course, in Kampung Duyung, a thriving tourist site, now set to undergo a RM132mil makeover.

Another legendary well is located in Cape Rachado or Tanjung Tuan, a promontory near Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan.

Along a trek below the oldest lighthouse in the country, is a well reputedly dug by Hang Tuah. Close to it is his supposed footprint embedded in rock.

There was once also another footprint next to Batu Menyabong (cockfighting rock), near Kuala Sungai Baru.

Legend has it that Hang Tuah stomped his foot in joy, leaving an imprint, after his gamecock won. Alas, the area was quarried in the late 1880s, leaving only a village to bear the name.

Many academics believe that the 1537 version Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) offers proof of Hang Tuah’s existence.

But the problem is the people’s perception of him has been coloured by the fictional Hikayat Hang Tuah.
But it still won’t be a big deal if Hang Tuah turns out to just a myth because his legend has grown too big to be wished away.

The bigger issue is the many inaccuracies and skewed viewpoints of historical events that have been included as part of lessons in schools since the 1980s.

The Education Ministry’s 10-member panel to review the History syllabus, set up in May last year, has a crucial role to set things right.

If nation-building is the agenda, the syllabus must be based on veracity and fairness with regard to the contributions of all races and cultures.

The panel should also consider the findings of Kempen Sejarah Malaysia Sebenar (KemSMS), the alternate group comprising parents, academics and non-governmental organisations.

As Datuk Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim, who chairs the group said, our textbooks should portray an inclusive picture of Malaysia’s past and there should not be over-emphasis on Islamic civilisation at the expense of information about other religions.

A glaring example of down- playing important history is the scant attention paid to highlighting Bujang Valley in Kedah — arguably the richest archaeological place in the region.

Researchers believe that there may have been a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom here possibly as early as 110 CE.

Kedah’s name comes from the ancient Hindu kingdom of Kedaram (Tamil), which was also known as Kataha Nagara (Sanskrit). The valley was also called Bhujanga (Dragon or King of Serpents).

History has to be rewritten to give Kedah its rightful place as the oldest civilisation in the Malay Peninsula.

The Kedah Sultanate, dating from the first Hindu ruler Maharaja Derba Raja, also known as Merong Maha Wangsa, is perhaps the oldest monarchy from the same family line in the world.

There were eight successive Hindu Maharajahs of Kedah before the ninth, Maharaja Derba Raja XI or Phra Ong Mahawangsa (1136 to 1179) converted to Islam and changed his title to Sultan Muzaffar Shah.

The Yang diPertuan Agong, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, is the 27th Sultan and the 35th ruler of Kedah, counting the Hindu predecessors.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Oscar Wilde: Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.

Related post:

Malaysian History & Legend; facts & fallacies; myths, heroes or zeroes?

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