Saturday, January 27, 2007

sucky heroes

I was reading this particular article in today's NST and realised...we seriously need to re-brand our heroes and villians in our history books.

The article touched on a particular traitor we learnt about in school - I mean, this guy was no Hang Jebat, this guy actually killed a Sultan. Unheard of in those times, but this guy actually did that. The story has it that this Panglima Bintan guy was off fighting for his country, and left his pregnant wife behind.

As I recall from lessons in school, she was sitting in front of her house one day when a palace servant passed by carrying a jackfruit. She begged for the servant to cut a small little piece because apparently her unborn baby was hungry. The servant did so and when the Sultan found out that he was eating off the scraps of a commoner, he ordered her killed. The legend has it that when he sliced open her belly, there really was a piece of jackfruit stuck to the mouth of the unborn child.

Panglima Bintan, upon returning from his journey, found out what had happened and killed the Sultan as he was going to the mosque one day. And because of that, this great warrior was deemed to be a traitor and was cursed by the dying Sultan.

We have a serious issue with the way we seem to brand our heroes and our villians. This guy sought justice (although, in today's world - that was not the way to go about things) and is branded a villian and a traitor. Something is clearly not right.

And then we have our all time favourite Malaysian hero - the great Admiral Hang Tuah. Besides all those nice stories they tell us of him being a great warrior and a brave soul, he was also the Sultan's guard dog. Literally. Our history books tell us that he was a great man because of his loyalty to the Sultan, and it might have well been a great story in those days, but that characteristic of a hero is outdated in modern times.

Look, we are talking about a guy who was torn apart between his love for a woman, and his loyalty to the Sultan. And because he committed that oh-so-heinous crime of falling in love with a woman the Sultan wanted to marry, he was sentenced to death but was saved by the Bendahara who hid him in the mountains. His best friend, Hang Jebat then takes revenge on his behalf by starting a riot (or running amok) and Hang Tuah later comes out of hiding and kills his best friend. Just because the Sultan wanted him to. Just because that was defined as 'Loyalty to King and country'.

Maybe in those days, it was. But history is all about branding. You can brand something in a way you deem favourable, yet keep the facts intact. Hang Tuah was a stupid prick who killed his best friend - he was only good as a robot, a loyal watchdog who does as he is told without questioning anything. They keep telling us that he was loyal - sure, he was loyal to his king, but what about his best friend who, ironically was killed because of his loyalty to Hang Tuah himself? Surely the real hero here has to be Jebat?

Then there are those guys who are branded as freedom fighters. The guys whom we are told fought the influence of the British by organising riots, and even killing British Residents. Remember J.W.W. Birch? Sure, we are independant now, so we have technically won the 'war' and earned the right to call them 'freedom fighters'. But the British would just as easily call them 'rebels' - the same way the police these days call the street protestors 'a menace to society'.

Our history books are filled with the bloody struggles of these 'heroes' struggling against oppression. I am sure that if you refresh my memory just a little, I can recount the numerous tales of these rebels - because we were forced to learn these stories from Form 1 to Form 5. On the other hand, the real heroes (in today's civilised society context, of course) are disgustingly overlooked. We only learn about the peaceful fighters in Form 5, and that is nothing more than a short chapter highlighting the struggles of Tunku, Tan Cheng Lock and Tun Sambanthan.

Nothing much is taught about the lives and struggles of these modern day heroes (diplomats, if you may) , yet we learn a lot about the almost barbaric exploits of 'freedom fighters'. Do you not see the irony? In school, we are taught that it is okay to kill a local British authority (to be fair, they didn't say it was okay, but they never condemned the actions anyway) just because he was British and he 'oppressed' us. Idiots then grow up and think it is okay to take to the streets and cause public unrest to protest price hikes, just because they think they are being 'oppressed'. Is there not a clearer example of 'reaping what you sow'?

I was thinking along the lines of 'our local heroes suck big time', but as I wrote this, I realised that it is all about the way we choose to brand them - the way we choose to sell their exploits to the school kids. If we are taught about these heroes with the hope that we grow up to emulate them, then surely a rethink in marketing strategy is necessary?

Maybe Sang Kancil would make a good role model......

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I always questioned the credibility of such stories. I remember there was one where the butterfly fluttered its wings and cooled the water or something.

Of course, Sang Kancil teaches us how to manipulate people which would not be a very good thing from a moral point of view. Fighting with elephants, abusing crocodiles et cetera.


i never bought the tuah and jebat story.

anyway, the latest news now is that the "hangs" are no longer recognised as "heroes" despite their service to the sultan because they're actually...erm...of a different race than originally thought.


I reckon Lat's cartoon books teach us more about history and Malasyian culture than any other textbook out there...

Yeah.. true.. History is there for us to learn from it. But it also has multiple interpretations from it. I guess the country has to do that in order to instill the sense of patriotism in our people. Whether it is a correct thing is another story.

Nice blog! Take care!


I am the definition of 'hero'. All heroes shall be judged henceforth according to my superior standards.

sang kancil is definitely a good (role) model. can't say the same for sang proton, though.

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