Like Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes in England, Hang Tuah could be cleverly promoted as a tourist attraction in Malacca.
THE current debate over whether the legendary warrior Hang Tuah actually existed or is merely a figment of imagination should be taken positively. At least there is a renewed interest in history, a subject many Malaysians regard as boring.
Our students have bad memories of studying History, which will be a compulsory subject in schools, because of unimaginative and uninspiring teachers who turned their classes into tedious note-taking exercises.
They did not inspire their students with stories of how we could learn from the past and how relevant history is to us. History is not about forcing students to just memorise dates and signing of treaties.
History is about his story, and teachers should respond with lively accounts, even personal trivia, of the personalities involved to spice up their classes.
With a short remark, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim restarted a debate on the existence of Hang Tuah, who is said to have lived during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah in 15th century Malacca. Hang Tuah is believed to be the greatest of all of the sultan’s admirals and was described as a ferocious fighter.
Certainly, he has been and is still held in the highest regard in Malaysian Malay culture, and so when our eminent historian said he did not exist, many Malaysians felt let down, even cheated.
Many remember learning in school that Hang Tuah was a hero with a steadfast sense of loyalty who readily sacrificed his friendship with his best friend Hang Jebat after the latter rebelled against the Sultan.
Furthermore, we are also being told that Princess Hang Li Po, who was supposedly married to Sultan Mansur Shah, is probably fictitious as well.
But to be fair to Prof Khoo, he is not the first historian to dispute the existence of Hang Tuah or Hang Li Po. It has long been the subject of conjecture at university level. At school level, however, students seemed to be just happy to swallow what their teachers taught them.
The conventional method of teaching history could be the reason for this, but lack of critical thinking in our education system is another factor. Most students rely entirely on notes given to them and they don’t do their own research on the subject.
Teachers could address this shortcoming by, for example, stating specifically that Hang Tuah is a subject of myth and legend at the start of lessons. Students should also be informed that the location of his tomb, if it exists, remains in dispute.
by Wong Chun Wai.
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