Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

on Monday, August 31, 2009

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.


Joyce's Ramblings said...

Whoa!!I don't feel anything goes for a leader. None of the men in this story did the RIGHT thing. We need heroes but we have to look long and hard before we crown anyone a hero.

Jelica said...

I personally don't appreciate any value system in which a leader or some kind of collective entity should come before your friends and loved ones. This kind of blind loyalty as described in the story makes me cringe...

Lorac said...

I think you are right. There is no moral to the story. The Sultan was wrong, the friend was wrong and the "hero" was wrong. No winning here!

Owen said...

I think we need some new heroes and heroic tales where violence and killing are not at the center of the story...

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

That's quite an interesting observation that none of the men did the right thing. Hmmm. I suppose you are correct. Interesting point.

I fear that this is the message conveyed to young minds as they are told this story in schools.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I didn't think of it that way but you are right that ALL the men were wrong.

Exactly! The new heroes should be those associated with bringing healing to this world instead of strife. I fear though many of our new heroes of today's world are merely poster boys and girls for exploitation and unbridled capitalism.

the walking man said...

I believe it is the uninhibited loyalty to the government by the governed which has led us to this place of world wide darkness and the encroaching environmental catastrophe.

Yes we need new heroes but better yet we need new leaders less concerned with their throne and more concerned with the world they are trying to rule.

Jo said...

We see the same thing happening today, don't we? People commit suicide bombings, all in the name of a leader. You're right. We need some new heroes.

Are you up for the job? I have a sense of very good integrity from you. :-)

secret agent woman said...

Oh my gosh, you are right! I can't see that behavior as heroic. It's shameful, in fact.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

We DO need new leaders. Although there have been a few good men in recent years and President Obama may turn out to be one too. We can hope.

Thanks for the vote of confidence but I am much more a follower and a doer than a leader. I do rather than inspire.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Secret Agent Woman,
Some societies choose heroes that help perpetuate there way of life and belief systems. In Malaysia, we really ought to retire heroes from a more feudal time.

Dr.John said...

I agree with you. But then heroes always have flaws.

tsduff said...

Just flitting by to say hello - been recently back to Iceland but didn't see our favorite piece of property this trip (a gorgeous house on a far away island :))

Hope you are well.

It is smotheringly hot here today.

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