The Language of Loyalty in Hikayat Hang Tuah

by Leone Nurbasari


Hikayat Hang Tuah , the story of the Sultan of Malacca’s most loyal subject, is a famous Malay court hikayat dating back to the 17th Century, which provides an insight into Malay court society, traditions and beliefs. It contains narrative and dialogue depicting events and relationships in Hang Tuah’s life, from which court audiences would have gained more knowledge about court etiquette and history, and from which the present day reader can begin to understand the society in which Hang Tuah lived, particularly the values and ideals that were regarded as important in the Malay court.

Loyalty to the ruler is a dominant and recurring theme in Hikayat Hang Tuah, and the reading of the hikayat to large audiences of Malay subjects was, most likely, aimed at perpetuating or reinforcing the concept of unquestioning loyalty to the ruler as well as educating the audience in what was deemed to be appropriate subservient behaviour.

In Hikayat Hang Tuah, the Malay concept of loyalty was expressed mainly through dialogue that uses the “language” of loyalty appropriate to specific relationships and situations. Similar to the court protocol of placing oneself in a physical location according to status, or the practice of bowing at the feet of an elder or a member of nobility, the language used in dialogue ‘locates’ the speaker in a position relative to the person with whom they are speaking, such as “di bawah” (beneath) someone of a higher status, or “junjung” (place on one’s head/hold up high/ revere) a gift or command from a ruler. In accordance with this concept of social hierarchy, pronouns also hold status. The pronouns “hamba” (servant) and “patik” (servant/ slave) are frequently in used hikayat dialogue when a group or individual addresses a person of higher status, such as “Tuanku” (a frequent reference to a person of higher status, such as Sir, Milord, Your Magesty). The following excerpts of dialogue exemplify these notions.

Hang Tuah, while studying under the spiritual teacher Aria Putra, acknowledges his loyalty to his teacher:

“Baiklah tuanku, sebala tuanku hambamu junjung, kerana hambamu lima saudara ini sudahlah menjadi hamba di bawah kadam tuanku.”

“Yes Sir, your servants will bear any misfortune of yours, because we five brothers have become servants under the soles of your feet.”

When Hang Tuah and his close friends are adopted as children of the Bendahara, Hang Tuah bows down at the feet of the Bendahara’s wife and says:

“Akan sahaya datuk ini hamba yang hina, sudah hamba diperhamba pula; seperti hamba khaslah ke bawah kadam tuanku.”

“I am a lowly servant, making myself your servant, a personal servant under the soles of your feet.”

Hang Tuah’s mother, and the mothers of his four friends present themselves to the Bedahara’s wife and pay obeisance (“sembah”) while saying:

“Saya ini sedia hamba yang hina di bawah tuanku”

“I am willing to be a lowly servant under Madam”

When Hang Tuah’s father, Hang Mahmud is asked by the Bendahara to bring Hang Tuah before him, he paid obeisance and said:

 “Baiklah tuanku, kemanatah sahaya bertaruhkan diri jika tiada di bawah kadam?”

“Yes, Milord, where would I place myself, if it wasn’t under the soles of your feet?”

When addressing the Sultan, the Bendahara and Temenggung paid obeisance and said:

“Daulat Tuanku, mana titah patik junjung.”  

“Hail, Your Magesty, your humble servant holds high (respects) your command.”

Loyalty to the Sultan is also directly advocated by individuals in the hikayat through language such as “kebaktian” (loyal service) and “setia” (loyal), or negative references to “derhaka” (treason/traitor) and “dosa” (sin, offence/crime against the Sultan). The plot to by envious members of court to destroy Hang Tuah by alleging an affair with a royal consort, triggers a series of events that clearly illustrate the notion of loyalty to the Sultan. The ensuing dialogue is direct and emotive, leaving no doubt in the reader’s (or audience’s) mind about the importance of loyalty to the Sultan. The following examples of dialogue demonstrate the use of the above vocabulary.

After hearing of the alleged affair, the Sultan does not wait for the Bendahara to sit down before he condemns Hang Tuah:

“Hai Bendahara, segeralah buangkan Si Tuah!” Derhaka pada kita.”

“Bendahara, get rid of Tuah! He has committed treason.”

Tun Kasturi meets with Hang Jebat:

“Aku tidak percaya akan engkau, kerana engkau tiada teguh setiamu dengan tuanmu…” “Engkau tiada teguh setia; sedang tuanmu yang memberi engkau kurnia lagi engkau durjana.”

“I don’t believe you because you have no loyalty to your ruler…” “You have no loyalty, your ruler has bestowed favours on you, yet you are evil.”

Hang Jebat explains the resaons for his actions to Hang Tuah:

“Aku pun kerana melihat engkau dibunuh oleh Bendahara tiada dengan dosanya; sebab itulah maka sakit hatiku… kerana raja itu membunuh tiada dengan periksanya. Pada bicara hatiku, sedang engkau banyak kebaktianmu dan jasamu lagi dibunuhnya oleh raja…”

“I saw (understood) you were killed by the Bendahara, even though you were innocent; that is what hurt me… because the Sultan would kill without an investigation. In my opinion you showed devoted service, yet the Sultan demanded you be killed…”

The concept of loyalty to the Sultan is reinforced in religious terms when Hang Tuah refers to treason against the Sultan as a sin against God. Hang Tuah says to Hang Jebat:

“Adapun pekerjaanmu derhaka pada tuanmu itu berapa dosanya kepada Allah, tiada tertanggung olehmu di dalam akhirat jemah.”

“The treason you have committed against your ruler is a great sin against God, such that you will be unable to bear at Judgement Day.”

In an example that appears to differ slightly in content and style from previous examples, the Bendahara explains to Hang Tuah that he is disloyal to the Sultan rather than committing a greater sin against God by killing an innocent person:

…Maka beta lihat orangkaya tiada berdosa, maka beta kerjakan seperti titah itu seolah-olah jadi nama beta keji dikata orang, akan katanya ‘Lihatlah Bendahara Paduka Raja tiada periksa membunuh Laksamana itu tiada dengan dosnya.’ Kepada Allah Taala pun makin besar dosanya…”

“… I see that you have not committed an offence, if I were to follow the Sultan’s command, my name would be vilified and people would say ‘Look at Bendahara Paduka Raja, he killed the innocent Laksamana without investigating the crime’. This would be a greater sin against Almighty God…”

The Bendahara was fortunately able to convince the Sultan that his decision not to kill Hang Tuah was indeed an insightful act of loyalty to the Sultan because Hang Tuah’s services would probably prove valuable in the future. The events are recounted in Sejarah Melayu, where it is recorded that the Bendahara was subsequently praised by the Sultan for being “sempurna hamba”, the “perfect servant.”

The language of loyalty, as I have outlined above, was as integral a part of court etiquette and traditions as a person’s behaviour. Previously, it played an important role in the perpetuation of the ideal of loyalty to the Malay Sultan. Presently, it plays an important role by informing us about values held in the Malay court, as experienced by Hang Tuah.