Sang Kancil

The birth of the great Malay Empire of Melaka was not some grand design by powerful princes or the magical work of the court shamans. It all began with a courageous little brown mousedeer, called a pelanduk or popularly refered to as Sang Kancil.

"And Sultan Iskandar moved on again up the coast until presently he struck inland and came after a few days to Sening Ujong. And perceiving that this was a good place he left a minister there - which is why the place has a minister to this day - and from there he went straight back to the seashore, to a river called Bertam.

And as the king, who was hunting, stood under a tree, one of his hounds (anjing perburuan) was kicked (diterajangkan) into the water by a white mousedeer (pelanduk). And Sultan Iskandar Shah said, "This is a good place, when even its mousedeer are full of fight (lagi gagah)! We shall do well to make a city here. And the chiefs replied, "It is indeed as Your Highness says."

Thereupon Sultan iskandar Shah ordered that a city be built, and he asked "What is the name of the tree under which I am standing?" And they all answered, "It is called Melaka, Your Highness"; to which he rejoined, "Then Melaka shall be the name of this city."

- Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals)

Stories revolving around Sang Kancil evolved over many centuries, under the collective title of "Hikayat Pelandok Jinaka", and went through several stages of evolution. The earliest stories depict a pagan knave, a trickster, a practical joker, even a petty thief, using his wits and cunning against the strength of other beasts. Many of these early stories are similar to the Buddhist Jataka Tales. His river crossing on the backs of crocodiles is a famous example. Interestingly, he is not always the underdog, as there are also a small number of tales of Sang Kancil himself being outwitted by weaker animals. He escapes his enemies by cunning but is generally unable or unwilling to destroy them, content just to mock them. These stories do not always show Sang Kancil in a favourable light, but they always give him an appealing charm.

These stories later evolved to a stage where the mousedeer acquired an ideal of justice and exercises his wit for unselfish purpose. He is first depicted as an arbitrator and judge, using his wisdom to settle disputes and quarrels. Later, he attains a heroic side, blessed with royal rank and power, the champion of all animals against their external foes. An Islamic element was also introduced into these stories, with him being described as the servant of Solomon. It was also at this stage that he assumes some magical powers.

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