In an interview with the New Straits Times, Professor Khoo Kay Kim explains the reasons why he thinks figures such as Hang Tuah and Hang Li Po identified in the Malay Annals were probably mythical.
Don’t ignore real heroes of history
New Straits Times, 29 April 2012
Question: The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), which is the primary record of history during the Malacca Sultanate, did mention Hang Tuah. How accurate is it in recording history?
Answer: The Sejarah Melayu is not precise historiography.
It is a historical document if you want to know how people used to think in those days. But we cannot confirm how much of it is fact, and how much of it is pure fable. It does not record dates, and has characters that we cannot confirm existed.
For example, it does not tell us when Malacca was first founded or when a ruler ascended the throne or passed away. We have no knowledge when Hang Jebat died. History cannot be like that. It has to be very precise.
On the other hand, Ming records from China are very precise. They recorded the names of the first ruler, second ruler of Malacca, along with the dates of their reign. These facts were recorded at that particular time, and not some time after the incident.
We know from these records that in 1414, Megat Iskandar Shah came to China to report the death of his father, Parameswara. China had close ties and protected Malacca at the time. It is recorded that their first envoy to Malacca left in 1403 and arrived there in 1404.
Ming Dynasty records are the best documents on history.
Question: In Ming records, was Hang Li Po ever mentioned?
Answer: Hang Li Po was not mentioned in the Ming records. Sejarah Melayu is not considered historiography. It is a literary text. Hang Tuah was never mentioned in the Ming records.
Question: What does Hang — as in Hang Tuah or Hang Li Po — signify? Is it an honorary title?
Answer: This still can’t be concluded from our current body of knowledge.
Question: If Hang Tuah did not exist, then why is there a tomb that supposedly holds his body in Malacca? Malacca state recognises this as Hang Tuah’s tomb.
Answer: How come there is a tomb when he did not come back from the mountain (Gunung Ledang)? How come they accept part of the story and not accept the other part?
Question: Malacca State Museums Department director Datuk Khamis Abas said Hang Tuah was a legendary Malay warrior and this was proven in the research. What do you have to say about this?
Answer: He used the word “legendary”, right?
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