This is the story of a person whom I respect the most. His name was Tuah bin Mahmud. I am pleased to tell the story about this towering Malay who had shaped the history of the Melaka Sultanate and became the source of inspiration to thousands of people.
Hang Tuah was a Malay. An ‘Orang Laut’ to be exact. Son of Hang Mahmud and Dang Merdu Wati. Born in Bentan, his family migrated to Sungai Duyung, Melaka when Tuah was still a toddler. He had lived through the reigns of 6 Sultans – Sultan Muhammad Shah, Raja Ibrahim, Sultan Muzaffar Shah, Sultan Mansur Shah, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah and died during the reign of Sultan Mahmud Shah.
He was born in the mid 1430’s. We first met him at a wedding of Jebat’s eldest sister right after the coronation of Raja Kassim (Sultan Muzaffar Shah). He was older than the 7 of us although I suspect Jebat was slightly older than him because his voice broke much earlier than Tuah. Jebat was our group leader then. The rest of us were myself, Lekir, Lekiu, Hassan, Hussain and Iskandar. Jebat’s sister had just married Bentara Hamzah Datuk Bongkok. Hamzah was recently appointed as Bentara in the new Sultan’s court and we all wanted to be just like him.
During the day, we imagined ourselves as the young Melaka heroes who would vanquish the armies of Siam or fight the Javanese pirates singlehandedly and save Melaka from any invaders forever. And at night, all 8 of us would gather at Hamzah’s house and listen to his adventures in the palace.
Through the advice of Hamzah, we were sent to Gunung Ledang to learn martial arts from his former mentor, Sang Adiputra. We stayed there for 2 years. Hassan, Hussain and Iskandar did not come with us as their parents moved to Inderapura (now Pahang).
I remember Sang Adiputra once foretold that Jebat would have been a greater warrior than Tuah but his own recklessness will be his downfall. Jebat was clearly a stronger warrior than Tuah. But he was impatient at times and where Tuah lack in strength, he made it up with tremendous agility and cunning. Thus, a stronger warrior does not mean a better one. It was there in one of the caves in Gunung Ledang that Tuah was made our leader. Sang Adiputra told Jebat to listen to Tuah and never doubt his actions. To Tuah, he adviced him to be sincere and serve Melaka as he sees fit. Above all, he wanted all of us to take care of each other.
Upon our return, Melaka had a new Bendahara whom everyone had proclaimed a hero upon his victory over the Siamese armies up north. Tun Perak was indeed a charismatic Bendahara. He was in his 30’s when he became a Bendahara. Tall and almost regal in nature, he inherited the qualites of his late father, the old bendahara during Sultan Muhammad Shah’s reign.
When a group of ’orang laut’ ran amok in the main market near the docks, Bendahara Tun Perak had just came out from the Syahbandar’s meeting hall. It was unfortunate that he brought only 3 guards with him. Eventhough Tun Perak could easily strike down a few of them, the overwhelming numbers of the orang laut had joined in and started to encircle the helpless Bendahara. All five of us, not more than 16 years old, fought along beside the Bendahara and his guards while waiting for help.
In the end, nearly 20 of the orang laut had been killed while Jebat and myself were slightly wounded in the legs. Lekir lost his little finger in the process. Only Tuah was left unscratched. Tun Perak was so impressed that he appointed all of us as Biduanda and we worked as Tun Perak’s special retinue from henceforth.
We were living in an exciting times as Sultan Muzaffar Shah was the first of the warrior sultan in the dynasty. All his previous ancestors were more of a merchant than a warrior. Melaka was in the midst of expansion and we were swept along with it. We travelled a lot during those days. All of us even followed the younger brother of Tun Perak (Tun Perpatih Putih) to Beijing as part of an envoy to help bolster the diplomatic relations between Melaka and China. Emperor Zheng Tong was so pleased with the eloquent speech of Tun Perpatih Putih and the gifts by Sultan Mansur Shah that he gave one of his niece, Li Poh to become a wife to the Sultan.
At first Princess Li Poh was not pleased and would show her sadness openly during our voyage home. But during the journey, Jebat would use his charm and tell funny stories to soothe her worry. We even called her ’Hang’ Li Poh just to make herself feel accepted as one of us. In later years, her son Paduka Mimat would help Tuah in his adventures of finding the elusive Puteri Gunung Ledang.
One of the best adventures to have been taken place was when we went to Majapahit two years after Sultan Mansur Shah was coronated in 1459. Tuah was already a Laksamana replacing Tun Hamzah Datuk Bongkok who was sent by the Sultan as the Governor of Inderapura. Sultan Mansur wanted an ally to fight off the repeated threats from Siam. He offered to marry one of King of Majapahit’s daughters in exchange of safe trading routes for Majapahit’s vassals. Not pleased with the apparent blackmail, Raja Girisawardhana wanted to test the strength of Melaka warriors first. If our warrior loses, then Majapahit will not need the Sultan’s protection. If we win, then he will bestow his daughter, Raden Galuh Chandera Kirana to Sultan Mansur as wife.
Back from the borders of Majapahit, fresh from the rest after the battles with neighbouring kingdoms, Taming Sari, the greatest of all Majapahit warriors, stood face to face with Tun Tuah in the crowded palatial courtyard. It was mid morning. The sun was shining brightly. Tuah hated the weather in Majapahit. It was too hot, too soon. Some say Taming Sari’s keris had magical properties. As first glance, it was nothing more than a simple keris, with wooden hilt, and almost rustic looking. But the blade was gleaming menacingly. It was longer than any common keris. It curves 7 times before it reaches the tip.
The preferred weapon in the region at the time was the ‘golok’, a long curvy sword. But since both men wanted the fight to be more intimate, they opted the keris as the weapon of choice.
Eventually, Taming Sari was slain by Tuah near twilight that same evening by his own blade. Raja Girisawardhana was in awe with Tuah’s prowess. Taming Sari’s keris was broken at the hilt during the fight. The Majapahit King decreed that a new hilt of gold and pink rubies be made. But the blood of Taming Sari that had stained upon its blade was very difficult to disappear. It gave the blade an eery dark brown and deep red hue. It was said that the blood of Taming Sari was the reason that gave the keris its magical powers.
The keris was presented to Laksamana Tun Tuah in a highly decorated manner. With so much grandeur and dignity. We were so proud of him. Tuah then gave his own keris, Pamung Sari to Jebat. Upon our return to Melaka, Jebat was promoted to the rank Temenggung while I was promoted as Bentara Kanan. The vile Patih Kerma Wijaya came into existence as an envoy of Majapahit and chief adviser to the new bride from thereon.
Tun Perak tolerated Patih Kerma Wijaya but we hated him. His opium smelled breath made me nauseous sometimes.
In the 15th year of his majesty’s rule, Tun Tuah was sentenced to death for treason. Patih Kerma Wijaya had skillfully wedged himself into the inner circle of the Sultan and planted the seeds of his treachery while the 3 of us were away on duty in Riau. Upon our return, Tuah was about to be executed in Sungai Ujung. Only Jebat managed to secretly see him in his confinement. The rest of us had to protect the Sultan from the angry mobs that had surrounded the palace.
I realized the minute I saw Jebat’s face after his rendezvous with Tuah that morning that Jebat will plot vengeance. When Tuah was about to be executed by the orders of the Sultan, his last words to Jebat was – ‘buat baik berpada pada (do a lot of good), but before he could finish the sentence, Jebat furiously screamed at him with words – ‘buat jahat biar kepalang!’ (yet do a lot of evil) and then left him abruptly. Jebat had always been the brooding type. He was more temperemental and sarcastic in nature as compared to the mild mannered Tuah.
I disagreed with Jebat’s plan but chose to remain quiet. Jebat pacified the angry mob outside the palace and met with the Sultan and his family within. The Sultan was grateful that Jebat had understood why Tuah had to be killed. The law is the law and no one is above it, so said the Sultan. At that juncture, Jebat grabbed Taming Sari and killed the Sultan’s youngest son, Raden Kelang (son of Raden Galuh) in one swift motion. His voiced had turned cold when he whispered menacingly to the Sultan;
“Engkau yang dilaknati, minta ampun pada Tuhan!” (You who are damned by God, ask for His forgiveness!)
But before his blade touches the Sultan’s chest, Lekir managed to sidestepped Jebat and they both fell awkwardly. I quickly rounded up the Sultan and his family to the exit and herded them to a safe place. By then, Jebat managed to kill a few Royal Guards. Lekir was injured and had to be taken out of the palace. Jebat looked at me one last time before screaming;
“Raja adil raja ku sembah, raja zalim kita sanggah!” (I submit to a fair King, but we fight against a cruel King!)
Jebat wanted Patih Kerma Wijaya’s blood in exchange for the palace. Most of the Sultan’s concubines decided to stay with Jebat for reasons I do not know. Jebat was indeed good looking and was popular with the ladies in the court. Pateh Kerma Wijaya was holed up in Bendahara’s house for a couple of weeks. Although Tun Perak despised him, he was still a diplomatic ambassador from an allied nation.
At the end of 1474, Pateh Kerma Wijaya was killed in an ambush by Jebat two days before the monsoon season. Running scared, the Sultan asked the 3 of us to confront Jebat. Relunctantly, we obeyed the orders. But Jebat would not fight us or even listen to us. The palace that he reigned supreme now was like a fortress.
One night after a full cycle of the moon, Tun Perak summoned me to his house. He was grief strickened and wanted me to find an old hermit called Sang Rajuna Tapa. I reckoned Tun Perak was delirious from having a high fever. Sang Rajuna Tapa was certainly no hermit. He was the legendary Bendahara during Parameswara’s rule in Temasik. How could he still be alive? He must close to be a hundred by then. But in haste I did go to Ulu Melaka.
I was shocked that Tun Perak had been hiding Sang Rajuna Tapa and Tuah in Ulu Melaka. Sang Rajuna Tapa was indeed an old man and had disguised himself as an old imam called Syeikh Mansur. Years ago, he was banished from Temasik and was told never to come back. Tuah had been learning some secrets of the art from him. He looked refreshed there in Ulu Melaka. I was overjoyed upon seeing him. But sad at the same time. Tun Perak should have not kept this secret from us. But then again, Tun Perak and Hang Tuah were of the same breed of warriors.
The day Tuah fought Jebat was not as what was depicted by the storytellers. Jebat had indeed became more bloodthirsty by the minute. He was practically ruling Melaka with an iron grip. Traders shunned our ports and the coffers dwindled. The Majapahit King was rumored to prepare an assault to Melaka for letting his grandson murdered. Through Jebat’s extensive reach as the Temenggung, the Sultan’s distant cousins from Kampar, Siak and Indragiri had been secretly communicating with his men so that one of them can be installed as a puppet Sultan for Jebat. A number of foreign envoys hungry for power had also started to cut a deal with Jebat. Something had to be done.
It was after the Friday prayers when Tuah reached the palatial gates. With Pamung Sari in his hand, we and about 200 of us swarmed the locked main entrance. Tuah called on Jebat to come out. It took him about an hour to answer Tuah’s challenge. By this time, the people of Melaka had surrounded the palace, wanting to see the duel. I estimated about 20,000 people had came to watch them fight.
Jebat was happy upon seeing Tuah. But his laughter was not only hysterical, it was tinged with madness. Jebat then killed one of the concubines just to whet Taming Sari’s appetite. Jebat offered to fight on the courtyard but Tuah declined. He said it’s better to fight inside the palace so that the people will not see the death of either one of them.
Storm raged Melaka that night. We knew that a terrible duel was taken place above the howling wind. We waited outside till the next morning. Sometimes they would rest, sometimes Jebat would let Tuah pray undisturbed. Tuah later on told me that Jebat declined to pray because his sins were already too great to be forgiven by God. By late afternoon, we heard the death cries of Jebat from the inside. Tuah came rushing out. His face was ashen while his body was covered in blood. He threw Taming Sari to me and ran towards the parted crowd.
We went inside the palace but lo and behold! Jebat was still alive! But his stomach was badly wounded. He was busy wrapping the angry wound with a piece of cloth so that his gut wouldn’t spill out. Jebat was a strong warrior indeed. Seeing his death face, Lekiu, Lekir and myself left him there attending to himself as the sight was too much for us.
It was hard enough for Tuah to contain Jebat when he was angered and it was extremely difficult for the Royal Guards to subdue the wounded Jebat. Nearly a hundred of innocent people died in his rampage in search of the Sultan. Finally exhausted, Jebat came over to Tuah’s house. We were there when Tuah lifted him up into one of the rooms. Jebat managed to ask forgiveness from all of us for his treachery and for acting without our consent. We shed a few tears then. Jebat died in Tuah’s arms as the wrappings were undone. Blood flowed freely from his mouth, nose, ears, eyes and every pores of his body.
From that day onwards, Tuah became a different man. He became deeply religious. He followed the Arab traders back to the heart of Ottoman Empire in Turkey just to learn more about Islam. The death of Jebat changed him. Jebat was his conscience at times. Sometimes, his wild streak. He was more ferocious when Jebat was fighting alongside him. The death of Jebat showed him how greatly Jebat was needed. During the reign of Raja Hussain (Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah), Laksamana Tun Tuah had always wanted to leave the life of the royal courts. But not until Raja Hussain was poisoned to death in Pagoh did Tuah left in such agony. His heart broke yet again when he was unable to prevent the death of the young Sultan.
I was made Maharaja Setia (deputy Bendahara) and Jebat’s only son, Khoja Hassan took over as Orang Kaya Laksamana Melaka in 1488. Incidentally, Khoja Hassan was also Tuah’s son in law. Tun Tuah was called into service one last time during the reign of the petulant Sultan Mahmud Shah as the head of retinue to find Puteri Gunung Ledang.
Until this day, the day I find rest at last, I am glad to have Hang Tuah as my brother. His steadfast loyalty and unwavering stance to protect the system was like a beacon in the days we weathered through. Tuah was given a terrible choice which he then chose as he saw it fit. Hopefully, the new Bendahara, Tun Mutahir will find new breed of young Malay warriors to protect what we have now against the dark days ahead.