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Credibility questions for Melaka govt as experts blunt claim of Hang Tuah kris

The two daggers were loaned by a man claiming to be a descendant of the epic Malay warrior ahead of an exhibition next month.

3 minute read

An exhibition organised by the Melaka government to pay tribute to Hang Tuah has reignited a long-standing debate on the existence of the Malay warrior icon after the appearance of two kris allegedly belonging to him. 

Historians are questioning the authenticity of the kris – traditional daggers used in Malay martial arts – which were recently handed over to Chief Minister Ab Rauf Yusof by an Indonesian man claiming to be a descendant of Hang Tuah.

Ahmat Adam, who has done extensive research on the epic figure, said there was no historical record of any weapon associated with any ancient Malay warrior.

He also hit out at the researchers hired by the Melaka government ahead of the exhibition on Hang Tuah next month where the two kris will be displayed, saying they were not historians.

"They are falsifiers of history and have no idea how to research and study history," he told MalaysiaNow.

He likewise questioned the state's move to send a research team to the Netherlands where they claimed to have discovered the oldest copy of "Hikayat Hang Tuah", a work by an unknown author that serves as the main source on the subject.

"The much-hyped manuscript can be found in the library of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. There was no need to go all the way to Leiden. Don't waste public funds," Ahmat said.

The two kris were received by Rauf on May 21 from a man claiming to be the eleventh heir of Hang Tuah – one Tun Muhammad Amin Tun Ahmad from Bintan, Indonesia.

The daggers, known as Keris Sundang and Keris Hukum, will be displayed at the exhibition next month.

Rauf had earlier visited the Netherlands to examine the findings of the research group, which was sponsored by the Melaka state government as part of efforts to locate and bring back Hang Tuah-related artefacts abroad.

Melaka, once a bustling port and one of the earliest Malay sultanates, was under Portuguese and Dutch rule for centuries before coming under the British empire.

Rauf said researchers from Universiti Islam Melaka, Universiti Malaya and Universiti Putra Malaysia had studied various sources on Hang Tuah in preparation for the exhibition.

However, Ahmat, who has authored at least two books on Hang Tuah, said the name "Hang Tuah" itself had been misrepresented and that the original term was "Hang Tuha" or "Hang Toh".

In his work "Hikayat Hang Tuha", he explains that "Hang Tuha" was an honorific bestowed on admirals of the time, in keeping with the Malay taboo against calling dignitaries by names other than their titles.

"The title Hang Tuha or Hang Toh is a description of an admiral from Melaka whose identity is unknown," says Ahmat, who believes that the figure of Hang Tuah is a myth.

He also considers "Hikayat Hang Tuah" a work of fiction and not a historical source, saying anyone who claims otherwise has not read it carefully.

"In the novel, the king of Melaka was called Sang Maniaka. His younger brother Sang Jaya Nantaka, after being disappointed by his brother, became king in Kalinga (India) and called himself Krishna Deva Raya in Vijayanagara. Is this an authentic historical source?"

Credibility at stake

Mohd Khairil Hisham, curator at the Royal Gallery Tuanku Ja'afar in Negeri Sembilan, said the credibility of the Melaka government would be at stake if the claims it was peddling could not be substantiated.

"So far, I have not heard any comments from Indonesian history experts. What I have heard is that the person who claims to be the heir of Hang Tuah is a fraud."

Khairil also voiced hope that the Melaka government would respond to the allegations.

"They cannot just keep quiet and ignore the views and doubts of the public," he told MalaysiaNow.

Khairil said the team tasked with researching the issue should prove the Indonesian man's claims, failing which they should brace for criticism. 

"The euphoria displayed by the Melaka government could lead to people taking advantage of them," added Khairil, who had attended a seminar related to the upcoming exhibition.

Describing the seminar as "a waste", Khairil said it had not yielded any new information despite a whole team being sent to Europe.

"The seminar ended in confusion after the chief minister claimed that the oldest copy of 'Hikayat Hang Tuah', dating back to 1758, was found in the Netherlands," he added.

He questioned this claim as the DBP, the country's authority on the national language, had already published a transliteration of a 1758 edition of "Hikayat Hang Tuah" based on the work of national laureate Muhammad Haji Salleh.