Siapa betul - aku ke Jebat?
In the same week that Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from government and expelled from UMNO, TV2 screened the classic 60s black-and-white movie 'Hang Jebat'. I still remember the famous last line in that movie, from Hang Tuah: Siapa betul - aku ke Jebat?'. Many have, in fact, compared the current Anwar issue to the classic Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah confrontation - that classic Malay legend of blind loyalty versus justice.
It is, of course, very appealing to think of Tuah as the ultimate champion of Malay loyalty, chivalry and obedience to ruler and tradition, and Jebat as a hero of the people fighting injustice and cruelty. Realistically thought, their actions were far from idealistic. Tuah took loyalty to the point of blind servility - and would energetically using kidnapping, deception and lies to satisfy the carnal lusts of his Sultan. His loyalty to his Sultan evidently superseded any ethical considerations.
To think of Jebat as an idealistic champion of justice is also not completely accurate. He certainly took over the mantle of Laksmana from Tuah with a great deal of relish. He dutifully read Hikayats to the Sultan. When someone lamented that Hang Tuah was needed to defend Melaka, he angrily replied "Why do you say so? Was Hang Tuah the only warrior? It looks as if he is not around ... so I will take his place." He even feels powerful enough to have amourous relationships with the Sultan’s concubines, which was what finally drove the Sultan to order his death. Jebat going amok killing thousands of innocent people after he was wounded by Tuah certainly is no indication that he was a champion of the people.
Something like the Anwar case, it was not a premeditated, conscious decision by Jebat to fight injustice and avenge his friend. Jebat had misbehaved and now had only two choice - accept death or defy the Sultan. And, for all we know, Anwar may be faced with the exact same situation now - "political" death or defy the 'Sultan'. If, and this is a BIG if - he did misbehave.
But that misses the point of the whole story. The story is not about the 'real' Hang Tuah and the 'real' Hang Jebat. The beauty and power of the story lies in its ideas - the idea of blind, unflinching loyalty to a leader ("... my PM, right or wrong"), and the idea of fighting injustice and unbridled power - and which is more important. Many people (like me) don't give two hoots about what happens to Anwar - but they are faced with exactly this choice - deciding which is more important, blind loyalty or crying out against what I see as an obvious injustice (no matter what the man has or has not done).
The Tuah-Jebat legend is interesting in that it reveals a paradox in the Malay psyche, and this paradox goes as far back as the social contract and covenant that is found in the Sejarah Melayu made between Sang Utama Sri Tri Buana (the Palembang ruler from whom all Malay royalty claims descent) and Demang Lebar Daun (his minister, representing the rakyat) .
Demang Lebar Daun promised that "the descendants of your humble servants shall be the subjects of your majesty’s throne, but they must be well-treated by your descendants. If they offend, they shall not, however grave their offence, be disgraced or reviled with evil words: if their offence is grave, let them be out to death, if that is in accordance with Muslim law". To which Sang Utama replied " I agree to give the undertaking for which you ask, but I in turn require an undertaking from you ... that your descendants shall never for the rest of time be disloyal to my descendants, oppress them and behave in an evil way to them." To which Demang Lebar Daun agreed "... but if your descendants depart from the terms of the pact, then so will mine.. subjects shall never be disloyal or treacherous to their rulers, even if their rulers behave cruelly and immorally ... and if any ruler puts a single one of his subjects to shame, that shall be a sign that his kingdom shall be destroyed by Almighty God."
Standards were therefore set for centuries to come. On the one hand, subjects owed absolute loyalty to the ruler - no matter how badly he behaved. On the other hand, the ruler must be the protector of the people. And if one breached the contract, the other could as well.
Tuah represented that absolute loyalty - and the streak of loyalty to the ruler that ran deep in the Malay psyche. If there are three things that were important to the Malay of old, it is loyalty to ruler, religion and ‘adat’, and the accompanying sets of values that come with them.
Jebat, on the other hand, represented that consequence of breaching that fragile covenant - the conflict within the Malay mind that seeks expression in that uniquely Malay word - ‘amok’, a rupture of the bonds that bind him.
In both cases - one unconsciously, and one quite consciously - they broke the sacred covenant made centuries before between Sang Utama Sri Tri Buana and Demang Lebar Daun.
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