Hang Tuah - Malay or Chinese Warrior?


In June 1998, the government of Malaysia had hired a team of experts from across the continent to be gather here in Malaysia for a research project to compliment the history studies that we undertaken in our secondary school. The objective of the research is simply:

To find evidence that shows the Malays are the origins of Malaysia and they are the first race and religion that land in Malaysia. To further strengthen their claims, they need to find the graveyards of the Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekiu and Hang Kasturi to show the existence of their pioneer.

To understand the rest of the article, please take some time to better understand who is Hang Tuah and his importance in the Malay folklore:

Hang Tuah is one of the most illustrious heroes in traditional Malay literature. His sworn brothers who studied and practised Silat together are Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir, Hang Lekiu and Hang Kasturi. Hang Tuah's legend was popularized by Hikayat Hang Tuah.

Hikayat Hang Tuah , the story of the Sultan of Malacca’s most loyal subject, is a famous Malay court hikayat dating back to the 17th Century, which provides an insight into Malay court society, traditions and beliefs. It contains narrative and dialogue depicting events and relationships in Hang Tuah’s life, from which court audiences would have gained more knowledge about court etiquette and history, and from which the present day reader can begin to understand the society in which Hang Tuah lived, particularly the values and ideals that were regarded as important in the Malay court.

Loyalty to the ruler is a dominant and recurring theme in Hikayat Hang Tuah, and the reading of the hikayat to large audiences of Malay subjects was, most likely, aimed at perpetuating or reinforcing the concept of unquestioning loyalty to the ruler as well as educating the audience in what was deemed to be appropriate subservient behaviour.
The language of loyalty, as outlined above, was as integral a part of court etiquette and traditions as a person’s behaviour. Previously, it played an important role in the perpetuation of the ideal of loyalty to the Malay Sultan. Presently, it plays an important role by informing us about values held in the Malay court, as experienced by Hang Tuah.


Clear? Now you know your basics in the mythology of Hang Tuah - the epitomy of loyalty to king and race(?). Now, these are the findings of the team of scientists, archaeologist, historian and other technical staff from the United State, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Yemen & Russia:
  • The graves of Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekiu and their close friends have been found and their skeletons had been analyzed. Their DNA had been analyzed and it is found that Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekiu etc. are not Malay, but Chinese (Islamic Chinese, just like the famous Admiral Cheng Ho).
  • Malacca was a protectorate of China at that time, and the Emperor of China sent the Sultan of Malacca “yellow gifts’ as a token of his sovereignty.The 5 warrior brothers were believed to be sent to help protect Malacca and its Sultan from Siam (Thailand).
  • The Sultans of Malacca was directly descended from the Parameswara from Indonesia who fled to Tamasek (Singapore) and then to Malacca. The Malaccan Sultanate family eventually spread and became the Sultanate of the other Malay states of Perak and Johor. Therefore, the Sultanate royal court and the aristocrats of the Malay sultanates are actually foreigners from Sumatra and Java. Hang Tuah and his friends were the protectors of the Indonesian aristocratic Parameswara family who came to Malaya around 1400 AD and claimed sovereignty of the land.
  • “Hang” is an unusual surname or name for a Malay. It sounds like s corruption of a Chinese surname. In fact, Chinese names start with the surname first, and given names last. Malay names start with the given names first, and the father’s name last (as in Ahmad bin Yusuf which means “Ahmad, the son of Yusuf”). There is no surname in traditional Malay and there is no surname to carry forward to the next generation.
  • To examine the genealogy, we know that Hang Tuah’s father was Hang Mamat. Here, we do not see a Malay name transmission. We see a name being carried forward. It is also noted that the placement of the name that is carried forward is in front. This indicates that the surname is “Hang”. It is the transmission of Chinese names. We also know that Hang Tuah’s son is Hang Nadim. Again, the name “Hang” is carried forward, and yet again, auspiciously in front, as a Chinese name would be, with the surname in front. There is no indication of a Malay naming convention. Note that Hang Nadim is also known as Si Awang (Malays would colloquially refer to others as “Si”. “A” or “Ah” is a common prefix for referring to others in Chinese. Thus, a person with surname Wang/Huang would be referred to as “Si Ah Wang” in Malaysia - Mr. Ah Huang) by the Malays. Note that Hang Tuah’s mother is Dang Merdu. “Dang” would be quite an unusual surname for a Malay also. However, “Dang” or “Tang” is a common Chinese surname. Note that the name “Dang” is in front, signifying that this is a Chinese naming convention, yet again.
Some Malays will argue that “Hang” is an honorific term (Hamba) for those that serve the royal courts. This argument is not tenable:
  • Firstly, where is the precedence in sultanates that preceded the Malaccan Sultanate?
  • Secondly, where is the evidence that this is so in succeeding sultanates?
  • Thirdly, where is the evidence that this practice was carried out in the sultanate of that time? And has that Sultan given it to other court official and the royal family and their court officials and courtesans? Where is the evidence?
  • Fourthly, since Hang Tuah’s father is called Hang Mamat, then he would have served the Sultan prior to Hang Tuah. But there is no evidence this is so. In fact, there is evidence that Hang Tuah was a very poor kid in the village. His father was not a high court official, and he was not brought up in the court. In addition, since if Hang Tuah’s father Hang Mamat had already served as a high court official, why must Hang Tuah be educated in Bahasa Melayu and court etiquette etc. again since the family is already indoctrinated in royal protocol?
"Dalam perbendaharaan nama-nama orang Melayu semasa zaman kesultanan Melaayu Melaka, tiada terdapat nama-nama seumpama Hang Tuah, Hang Kasturi, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir, Hang Lekiu, ringkasnya ringkasan yang bermula dengan Hangi. Sejarah juga telah mencatatkan nama-nama dari bangsa Cina yang bermula dengan Hang, Tan, Maa dan Lee. Ia bergantung kepada suku kaum atau asal-usul keturunan mereka dari wilayah tertentu dari China. Kemungkinan untuk mendakwa bahawa gelaran Hang telah dianugerahkan oleh Raja-Raja Melayu juga tiada asasnya."

The last sentence loosely translates as, "There's the possibility to propose that the term "Hang" conferred as a honorific by the Malay Kings also has no basis."Moreover, before the time of the 5 warriors with their close families during this close period of relationship with the Chinese, there are no Malays with this name.
Note that the Chinese ‘princess’ who married the Sultan of Malacca was called “Hang Li Po”. Here, we not only see the same name, but the name is also in front, indicating a Chinese naming convention. Hang Li Po brought along with her many servants and bodyguards from China who became the Baba and Nyonya's of Malacca - these folk exist to this day. Chinese who do not know how to speak or write Chinese. They have been totally ‘Malayanised”. Babas are people of Chinese descend who have been malayanised to such an extent that they wear Malay clothing, eat Malay food (with some Chinese food), speak Malay, and do not speak or write Chinese. Malacca is famous for its Baba communities.
The only thing that is Chinese about them is that they are of Chinese ancestry. If you say that Hang Tuah is a Malay in the same sense that these Chinese have been Malayanised, then you might be quite right. However, at this present moment, we are arguing on the basis whether he was an ethnic Malay or an ethnic Chinese, in the sense of blood ancestry.
There is an old Chinese tradition where warriors or servants in the royal palace were given or re-issued with surnames given by the emperor, to signify that they belong to the emperor, or to one of his offsprings. Therefore, it is possible that some very special bodyguards of the emperor or the royal family, have the same surname to signify that they are a unit formed especially to protect that one owner. Since the Princess Hang Li Po was given away in marriage to a strategic partner whose land the emperor wanted to ensure is safe and stable, he assigned a group of able warriors to the Princess Li Po, and he gave their families the same surname. This is not an unusual practice for the Chinese emperor.

As for Hang Kasturi having 4 characters in his name, it is unusual, but it does happen that some Chinese have only 2 characters, and some have 4 characters in their names.
In the GENEALOGICAL TREE OF THE ROYAL FAMILIES OF PERAK STATE (http://www.geocities.com/aizaris/genealogy), you may note 2 things:-
1) Evidence that traditional Malay naming conventions do not carry the name of the father forward.
2) There is no surname to carry forward
3) Neither name nor surname are placed in front.
4) The genealogy of the early part of the lineage tree makes reference to Chinese ancestry:- “Putera Chedra China” “Puetra China” and then later “Paduka Sri Cina
This proves there has been early Chinese links in the Malay/Indonesian races and aristocratic lineages.
One Malay argued that Hang Tuah was already in the service of the Sultan before Hang Li Po was sent to Malacca. However, there is not evidence of this. A probable reference is the semi folklore Hikayat Hang Tuah, whicjh is not very reliable as it has many contradiction to Sejarah Melayu. . From the Ming Dynasty chronicles does not mention Hang Li Po or Hang Tuah but did mention the trip of Sultan Mansur Shah.
It is even possible that Hang Li Po was a minor “princess” (i.e. only a daughter of a court official) who the emperor ordered to be given away to marry a vassal sate in order to ensue loyalty and close diplomatic relation. The whole event was blown up to given the foreign king a big ego boost that the great Chinese overlord gave him his own daughter in marriage! (It is doubtful that the conservative Chinese emperors would give their daughters away to somebody living in a foreign land very far away).
It has happened before in the history of China. For example, the Tibetans think that their King Sonten Gampo forced the Chinese emperor to give away his daughter in marriage in order to make peace with great big powerful Tibet. The story from the Chinese side is that the Chinese emperor tricked the egotistical Tibetan king into believing that the palace maid was a princess and sent her off with her retinue and gifts. It was a ‘diplomatic trick”. Therefore, it is possible that the Chinese court repeated the trick on Sultan Mansur Shah, and gave him a “Chinese princess” with many gifts for the Sultan.
In the meantime, he sent some warriors to the Sultanate to help ensure peace, safety and stability in the region – all in China’s national interests. Protect your friends and your interests will be protected. Or it could have been a ploy used by the Chinese emperor and the Malaccan sultan to use this marriage of a “princess” to deter the Siamese kings from encroaching on Malaccan territory. Siam would not dare to invade Malacca whose sultan is a son in law of the mighty Chinese empire!
But the question now on everybody's lips since 1999 - whatever happened to Hang Tuah in the history schoolbooks of Malaysia?

Further references:-
Serajah Melayu – History of the Malay Peninsula
Parameswara and the founding of the Sultanate of Malacca by John Chow.
For confirmation please refer to The Federal Association of Arc & Research of Michigan, USA.

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