Hang Tuah's teachers

The Importance of Teachers in the Development of the Heroic Figure Hang Tuah.

by Bronwyn Sloan


Hang Tuah is one of the most illustrious heroes in traditional Malay literature.  Yet despite this grand status his beginnings were very humble.  Brought into the world by common people; Hang Mahmud and Dang Merdu, Hang Tuah was a mischievous child, never allowed to stray far while playing.  He was also both religiously and socially ignorant, being unable to recite the Koran and having no knowledge of bahasa.1   With the instructions and guidance of numerous teachers Hang Tuah, over many years, achieved the diplomatic and fighting skills required to became the warrior legend that he is known as today. 

To be a great warrior requires the ability to communicate well in court, and thereby respectfully having contact with one's leader.  It was therefore imperative that Hang Tuah master bahasa.  At a very young age he was placed under the instructions of a lebai (religious elder / mosque official) who taught him to recite the Koran and understand the syntax of its text:

Maka Hang Mahmud pun diserahkan anaknya mengaji kepada seorang lebai.  Telah berapa lamanya Hang Tuah mengaji Quran, maka pengaji itu pun tamatlah.2

Once these skills were acquired Hang Tuah, who now appreciated the importance of bahasa in becoming a famous warrior, continued to study under several other lebai:

[Hang Tuah] berkata kepada bapanya, "Ayo bapaku, pada bicara hamba, hendak mengaji pada lebai keling pula, supaya hamba tahu pula bahasanya." 3

Hang Tuah thereby attained knowledge of languages and cultures from countries such as India, China, Thailand and the island of Java.  By the age of ten he had acquired the knowledge of no less than twelve bahasa.

With his comprehensive grasp on the bahasa of many countries Hang Tuah turned to additional teachers to achieve the fighting skills also necessary in becoming a great warrior.  Hang Tuah, often with his friends Hang Kasturi, Hang lekiu, Hang Lekir and Hang Jebat by his side, traveled as far as necessary to seek the instructions of the best teachers.

At first Hang Tuah requested guidance from Aria Putra in order to become a successful warrior and commander of soldiers (hulubalang).  Aria Putra instructed him in the conditions of being a soldier, as well as the skills of being a warrior:

...diajarnyalah oleh Aria Putra, bagai-bagai ilmu isyarat hulubalang...dan ilmu penjurit.4

He also taught Hang Tuah firasat - the ability to judge character, to access situations and predict the future.

As with all of Hang Tuah's teachers, Aria Putra was of great importance to him in his goal of becoming a famous warrior, so Hang Tuah showed great respect to Aria Putra and held a very close bond with him:

Maka Hang Tuah pun bangkit sujud pada kaki Aria Putra....maka oleh Hang Tuah madu dan buah maja yang dibawanya itu pun dipersembahkan pada Aria Putra. 5

In return Hang Tuah's teachers treated him like part of their family often referring to him as cucuku (my grandchild - Aria Putra) or anakku (my child - Sang Persata Nala).


Amongst other teachers mentioned in the story, Sang Persata Nala also contributed to Hang Tuah's advance warrior skills.  Hang Tuah was so dedicated to attaining the specialized skills required to be a warrior that, while learning from Sang Persata Nala, he neither slept nor ate, staying at his teachers side at all times.6   It is here under the guidance of Sang Persata Nala that Hang Tuah completed his lessons in warrior fighting.  Sang Persata Nala offered to also teach him in the art of doing penance and possessing divine power:

Maka kata Sang Persata Nala, "Adapun ilmu penurit dan ilmu hulubalang habislah sudah; yang ada kepadaku ini hanyalah ilmu orang bertapa dan kesaktian juga.7

But Hang Tuah declined this offer of further studies, and thus we learn that his only goal is to obtain the specialist skills required to be a famous warrior:

Maka sembah Laksamana, "Ya tuanku, yang kurnia tuanku itu hambamu junjung di atas kepala hambamu, tetapi pada zaman ini tiada hamba menanggung ilmu kesaktian, pada ajar-ajar juga maka harus, kerana hamba ini hendak menjadi hulubalang juga, supaya masyhur nama hambamu datang kepada akhir zaman; nama hambamu hidup datang kepada cucu hambamu disebut orang."8

Having obtained the diplomatic skills (bahasa) and fighting skills (ilmu penjurit) Hang Tuah was an accomplished warrior and eventually became a loyal subject of the king.  It was because of this knowledge and skill that he was sent as an envoy by the king to India and Thailand.  On both of these trips Hang Tuah came across yet another teacher; an advisor - a mualim (expert in religion).  This mualim which accompanied Hang Tuah possessed a vast knowledge of the geography of the region and taught Hang Tuah names and information on places they passed and visited:

Maka Laksamana pun bertanya, "Hai mualim, pulau apa namanya ini?" Maka kata mualim itu, "Hai panglima kami, inilah pulau yang bernama Biram Dewa itu.  Adapun pulau ini tiada pernah orang singgah."   Maka kata Laksamana, "Apa sebabnya?" Maka kata mualim, "Barang siapa singgah pada pulau ini maka turunlah ribut tofan kelam-kabut tiada bertetahuan."9

Through this mualim Hang Tuah received advice and gained a greater knowledge of the region around is home.

From his humble beginnings Hang Tuah attained knowledge and understanding of Bahasa through numerous lebai, ilmu penjurit and firasat through many guru, as well as knowledge of the greater world thorough travelling with different mualim.  It is through these teachers that Hang Tuah acquired the special characteristics required to be the idealistic hero that he is known as in the Malay legend Hikayat Hang Tuah.



Hikayat Hang Tuah , Kassim Ahmad (ed.), Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 1975.

The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary 3rd edition. Bruce Moore (ed.) Oxford University Press Melbourne 1997.

Wilkinson, R.J. A Malay-English Dictionary (Romanised). Macmillan, Mytilene, 1932, reprinted London, 1959.



Page 20:20  Maka kata Hang Mahmud pada bininya, .... "Hendak kusuruhkan mengaji kerana mualim tiada, lagipun ia tiada tahu bahasa." - "I intend to order (our son) to study the Koran, because there isn't a mualim here, furthermore he doesn't know bahasa." Here bahasa refers not to language alone but to manners, courtesy and understanding correct social etiquette.
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Page 153:20   kerana Laksamana, selama duduk di gunung itu, tiada is tidur dan makan dan tiada id bercerai dengan Sang Persata Nala itu.
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