Wednesday, September 28, 2011

‘History is whose story?’

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.


Praise be to God, the Sustainer of all the Worlds,
The Merciful, the Compassionate.
Lord of the Day of Judgement
Thee alone do we worship and Thee
Do we ask for help.
Guide us on the Straight Path.
The path of those on whom Thou has bestowed Thy Grace
Not of those upon whom is Thy Wrath,
Nor those who have gone astray.
Ameen. (O God! do grant us our request) - Al-Fatihah (The Opening)


HISTORY has become a topic of interest nowadays; and talking about history a reader has been sending me a few famous quotations about the subject.

Among the quotations are:

* Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters. - African proverb

Under this proverb, the sender noted: “That is why we need to read history with an open mind, and read from those who differ too...a coin has two face..”

He also noted: “History is his story, when can we tell our story?”

He too said: “How sure are we that his story is true? So don't only read his story, but read her story, their story, our story...”

Another reader noted: “His, her, their or our story, all of them will be revealed in the judgment day. It is extremely important to our current story is going well.”

* I suggest that if you know history, then you might not be so easily fooled by the government when it tells you, you must go to war for this or that reason -- that history is a protective armor against being misled. - Howard Zinn

Well, from the above quotations and opinions, what do you think about history? I remember the days when I was in primary schools (in the late 1960s and early 70s), during ‘Tawarikh’ (History) lessons, we were taught about foreign and far away heros and heroins such as Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingle but not about our own ‘knights’ such as Hang Tuah, Mat Kilau and Tok Janggut.

Talking about Hang Tuah, I am keen to know about this hero, so I devoted some time a few days ago to visit a well said to have a connection with him in Kampung Duyong, Melaka. And what did I find there?

I read an inscription about the well on a board which was erected by the Melaka Museum Corporation. Perhaps this is ‘a part of history’ about Hang Tuah, I thought.

The inscription reads:

Hang Tuah Well

Hang Tuah himself was said to have dug this well and it has never dried-up even in the most severe of droughts.

Water from the well is said to be sacred and have healing properties.

Locals believe that Hang Tuah’s soul, which takes on the apparition of a white crocodile, dwells in this well.

The presence of this well also gave rise to the notion that Hang Tuah was from Duyong.

The locals however dispute the belief and said that he was from Duyong in East Sumatera, where a similar well also exists.

Further details and background on Hang Tuah is available at his mausoleum in Tanjung Kling. This site is under the care of the Melaka Museum Corporation.

The Hang Tuah Well was gazetted as an old monument and historical site under the Antiquation Act no 168/1976 on 29th September 1977.

Well, regarding the so called Hang Tuah Well, I have written an article entitled ‘Hang Tuah’s well or is it really?’ in the New Sunday Times (23 November 1986) questioning the belief that the well had any connection with the Malay legendary hero

In the article, I wrote: “The Hang Tuah Well in Kampung Duyong Melaka is believed to have been originated from the print of Hang Tuah’s foot sole left on a stone but many elders in the kampung have a different version of the story.

The elders said the Hang Tuah Well did not exist before the 20th century. According to them, even though Hang Tuah was said to be raised in Kampung Duyong according to the Hikayat Hng Tuah, he did not leave any mark in the kampung.

The elders said about 100 years ago, a child named Mat Segel went with a friend to fetch firewood near the site which is now known as the Hang Tuah Well Complex.

At that time, the Hang Tuah Well was not in existence. The area was swampy and was covered with sago plants. At the site he saw an unused well and a few puddles of water.

When Mat Segel returned home, he told his father Mat Koyan, what he had seen. Later, his father stated boasting that his son had found the Hang Tuah Well which was actually the unused well.

The villagers believed him and soon the news spread far and wide that Hang Tuah’s well was discovered.

They were even further convinced when a sick boy was cured of his illness after drinking some water from the well.

The Hang Tuah Well looked like an ordinary well until early in the 70s when a Chinese woman known by the kampung folk as Nyonya Lilin of Melaka (she was a sinseh), built a shelther for the well.

The State Government then recognized the well as the Hang Tuah Well and a modern complex with stalls, toilets and a ‘gelanggang silat’ (silat court) was built to attract tourists to the kampung where Hang Tuah was believed to have been brought up.”

Well, whose story are you going to believe? In my opinion during the British era (pre independence Malaya), the British administrators were not interested in preserving local interest and heritage but once when power shifted to the hands of ‘sons of the soil’, some of its leaders started soul searching and they found solace in ‘the arms’ of old folk heros such as Hang Tuah.

So before independence, the Malays did not bothered to have or restore heritage items and sites such as the Hang Tuah Well, but in modern Malaysia, their leaders made great efforts in doing such work and today as an example, the Hang Tuah Well Complex has been refurbished with extra buildings such as ‘gelanggang silat’ (silat mini stadium), and surau (small masjid).

If one were to travel to the well complex from Melaka city, one would find hundreds of ‘Roman style’ concrete pillar lining both sides of the road for a length of about about 800 meters. If each pillar costs RM500, imagine the money spent on this project.

So today’s ‘history’ glorifies Hang Tuah but tomorow who knows, because “until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.”

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