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Archive for May 30th, 2012

I was in lower secondary when I first came across “Sejarah Melayu” or “The Malay Annals.” It was also known as “Sulalatus Salatin” in Arabic and was written by Tun Seri Lanang during the 17th century. Chapter Four of this book chronicled how Singapore was attacked by shoals of swordfish as a result of a curse and how a brilliant boy saved the day. It was a popular story back then. I am not sure whether “Sejarah Melayu”  is still taught in schools. When I asked some students whether they have heard of the story “Singapura dilanggar todak” or “Singapore attacked by swordfish”, they were like, “Huh, what is that?” A lot of blank faces stared back at me!

This is how the story goes:-

Hundreds of years ago, a merchant cum missionary from Pasai (a district in Sumatera) by the name of Tun Jana Khatib, came to Singapore. He was a pious and charitable man and soon became popular among the locals.

One day, while walking past the palace of the ruler of Singapore, Paduka Sri Maharaja, Tun Jana Khatib saw a betel palm tree which was standing next to the palace. Being curious of a tree he had never seen before, he walked towards it and touched the trunk. Immediately, the tree split into two and tumbled to the ground.

Unknown to him, the queen was standing near the palace’s window and was looking out onto the street. When she saw what had happened to the betel palm tree, she was shocked. Tun Jana Khatib walked away from the spot and was soon on his way home. The queen quickly told her husband what she saw. Thinking that the holy man was trying to show off his magical powers to the queen, the ruler became very angry and ordered his guards to catch Tun Jana Khatib and have him executed at once.

The holy man was dragged to a place called Hujung Pasar (present day Kampung Gelam) and was killed there. Before he died, he cursed the ruler of Singapore. According to legend, this is what he said, “Hey, you! I am willing to die for this but remember, a cruel ruler will not escape from punishment. He will have to pay a price for his cruelty. And believe me; a calamity will soon befall on this land!” Having said this, he was stabbed several times by a keris (a short shield) before collapsing onto the ground.

But what happened next was almost unbelievable. His body immediately vanished but his blood on the ground remained. The people who came to watch the execution became worried and frightened. Minutes later, a huge storm brew and the sky became very dark. The people fled from the place when they saw the ground turned into a patch of red stones. Some said his body reappeared in the island of Langkawi!

Not long after this incident, shoals of swordfish began to attack the shores of Singapore. They came in with the tide. The fishermen who went to sea saw them. They got very frightened and ran back to the beach but some of them got pierced on the neck or waist and die. Soon, more and more swordfish came to attack and more people got killed by them. In the end, the sea off Singapore turned red and piles of dead bodies lined the shore.

The news of the attack soon reached the ears of Paduka Sri Maharaja. He quickly got on the back of his elephant and rode out to the shore to have a look at things with his own eyes. He was completely taken aback and ordered his men and those standing near the shore to form a human shield with their thighs. Needless to say, many more men died from his foolish order. Those who disobeyed him and ran away were caught, branded as traitors and cursed to death.

Just as mayhem reigned at the shore, a little boy of seven called Hang Nadim stood out and said, “Our land is full of banana trees. Why not we cut the stems and use them as shields instead? That way, the snouts of the swordfish will be trapped by the stems and nobody needs to die anymore!”

The boy’s idea appealed to the ruler and immediately he ordered his men to cut down as many banana trees as possible. The stems were used to line the shores of Singapore. Shoals and shoals of swordfish came in with the tide but this time their snouts were trapped by the barricade of banana stems. The people were overjoyed that they finally managed to trap the fish and kill them. Today, this place was called Tanjung Pagar or “Cape of Stakes.”

Instead of rejoicing, the ruler’s advisers became worried. Paduka Sri Maharaja was about to reward the boy when his men whispered this into his ears, “Look, Your Majesty, this boy, Hang Nadim, was only seven years old and already he was so brilliant! What will happen one day when he grew up? He will surely usurp Your Majesty’s throne!”

Alarmed, the tyrant ruler asked, “What shall we do with him then?”

“Just have him executed and our positions will be saved!” they replied.

“Do just that, have Hang Nadim executed at once!” the ruler commanded.

The little boy was lured to the palace on the pretext of rewarding him but instead, he was killed and his body was tossed to the sea.

If this story was removed from our school syllabus, I am sure by now, you can guess the reason why, can’t you?

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