When I was 10 or 11, I wanted to be Hang Tuah or Hang Jebat. Or Bruce Lee. For those who don’t know the names, I’ll skip the explanation of who Bruce Lee was. You can check his Facebook page to find out who the great Chinese-American warrior born in San Francisco was. Tuah and Jebat did not have Facebook accounts. Not even LinkedIn profiles.
I loved Tuah and Jebat, I even wanted to be both heroes in one – like a Nescafé 2-in-1 sachet of coffee sold in a Chinese grocery store in New York.
I sometimes locked myself in my parents creaky old wooden room, I put on my baju Melayu Johor, kain sampling, a document tanjak or headgear, and with my papers keris the Malay dagger, I would be Hang Tuah fighting Hang Jebat. I was jumping up and down the bed screaming words like “Cis bedebah kau! Mati kau(You machine gun son you! Die you, die!) before I dive my keris in me as I played both roles – Tuah and Jebat. I didn’t know which was a better hero or a better moron from the Malacca Kingdom era.
Twenty years ago today, I killed them both. I couldn’t take them anymore. I learned their truth.
I renamed them Hang Tuak and Hang Jebon. A rebranding exercise.
The story of heroes
Here is the story of renowned heroes Hang Tuak and Hang Jebon; the first a drunken warrior of Moronism and the second a gangster and a playboy-warrior. “Tuak” is a Malay word for “palm wine” and “Jebon” is a mongoose.
Hang Tuak was considered the most faithful and famous Malay hero of Malacca in the 15th century; a hero with special powers to serve the king. He was also said to be a polyglot, able to speak multiple languages while being able to defeat top-notch fighters from neighboring kingdoms, especially Majapahit.
He was also an expert kangkong eater, able to make his way to glimpse the face of a Ming dynasty emperor by pretending he was swallowing Chinese salad head held high. Guess the great Chinese sultan was as handsome as a Hong Kong version of Shah Rukh Khan that no one is allowed to even look at his face.
For Hang Tuak to have access to this face – it was one of the Malay warrior’s most remarkable and famous achievements in gastronomy and acrobatics. If he had stayed longer and eaten more kangkongs (chinese spinach) Tuak is said to have taken selfies with the supreme ruler of the dynasty, right in the middle of the Middle Kingdom.
Hang Jebon was Hang Tuak’s best friend or his best friend forever until the day he found out that Tuak had been unjustly sentenced to death by the sultan who loved women and would steal other people’s wives and daughters or even concubines and grandmothers if they looked like Marilyn Monroe or Lady. Gaga.
Yes, because the sultan was angry that his favorite warrior-terminator failed to kidnap a Tun Teja from Pahang and instead the madman fell in love with Madame Teja. (Note: Teja should not be confused with Madame T, the wife of “Mr. T,” the African-American TV hero with the mohawk.)
The gorgeous Teja may have looked like Audrey Hepburn in Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Tuak was unlucky in this impossible mission and was sentenced to death; maybe to death by tickling until it turns pink and red and then dies.
Chosen by Mandate of Heaven
It was a form of slow death, no doubt pleasant these days before the lethal injection. And that was how the sultans acted in those days. If you are a sultan chosen to rule by Mandate of Heaven by some Divine Daulat, you could do anything – benefit your slaves or ‘hamba sahaya’ as well as having as many concubines as your harem can accommodate and stealing other people’s wife or daughter or even stealing royal goats and orangutans.
There were bad sultans back then, mind you. Some may also have kept concubines and porcupines.
As God-appointed rulers, you can have all the fine designer clothes you want, sit on the most exquisite diamond-studded throne until you constipate, eat caviar all day, summon the dancers from the Malay court to even dance like Janet Jackson or make them locomotion, and even have 10 gold-plated ox carts to take you and your palace gang members around the village kingdom, reminding people that ‘a sultan can do no wrong and is above the law and going against them will get you arrested and coconuts shoved down your throat, as the sweetest punishment.
It was the power that the sultans gave themselves. Back then, if you laughed at a prince who couldn’t kick rattan weaving sepak takraw ball right, you could also end up dead. Maybe stoned to death with a hundred of those tough rattan balls. It was the time – from the Malay era of Harry Potter – when sultans were also transported around the village in what looked like stretchers made by the best adiguru (master craftsmen) with expertise in chair design.
One of the sultans even died on a ‘dulang-like stretcher’ in Kota Tinggi, when he was murdered with a keris by himself laksamana. His story has been told as “The Story of Sultan Mahmud Mangkat di Julang”. He was an evil sultan who didn’t like having fruit stolen from him. kebun/orchard. Above all boo nangka or jackfruit. He doesn’t care if you’re a pregnant woman craving a piece of jackfruit. He doesn’t care about Jack! As the Americans would say.
Back to the two hanged men – Tuak and Jebon.
So, according to legend, Jebon was extremely angry and, in the spirit of Che Guevara and the infidel Fidel Castro, decided to revolt and take over the kingdom. Not only did the sultan have to hide in some ‘batu-belah-batu-bertangkup-looking ‘cave but Jebon was smart, in the tradition of smart-womanizing he learned from the sultans – he also took all the sultan’s concubines for himself.
All those concubines Marilyn Monroe, Lady Gaga, Madonna and even Beyonce and Kim Kardashian and Kaitlyn-Bruce-Jenner in Malacca have been made her own. Jebat, Darth Vader’s silat-smart warrior, took them all and had a great time fighting for justice. To fight for Tuak, his best friend.
It’s like today’s philosophy – to be a politician means to serve and to steal. And to do this – big time. Tuak and Jebon were the favorites lakshamanas (“admirals”) charged with keeping the sultans in power and in lust all the time. They were generously rewarded.
The legend and nothing more
So it was the story of the two Malay warriors of the time of Malacca. It was legend and nothing more. We can’t even do a DNA test on these two executioners, there’s no point in spending time debating ‘cogito ergo sum-ness’ of both. No need to use Descartian logic to prove their existence.
But Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat were my heroes. I love them. This is no longer the case since they changed their names: Hang Tuak “the drunk forever” and Hang Jebon “the original gangsta of Malacca”. That leaves Bruce Lee and me, me and me as the two heroes. The Nescafé 2-in-1 me.
Today’s Malays don’t need the Tuaks and Jebons as heroes. Malays don’t need to glorify these names and confuse children about what a “hero” should mean. A moron is not a hero. A moron doesn’t think. They follow money and those in power. We have so many supported “Hang Sapu Habis” heroes among us. They took people’s money, erased it and used religion to plead innocence.
The hero is the self – the realm within is greater than the one without – the child who refuses to bow to authority, especially if the authority is based on the engraved, archived system of Moronism and embalmed in the past.
What we call tradition and history must be integrated into philosophy and there is nothing wrong with using the tools of today’s philosophical discourse about what is right and wrong by rewriting the past and killing the cretins of the past hailed as the heroes of today. This is our task in the education of critical consciousness.
Do we dare to rewrite the history of our own people – so that each of our children triumphs as heroes?
Understanding? As radical biker Che Guevara would ask.