Considered by many as a legend and a man with supernatural powers, Hang Tuah made a name for himself as a popular warrior during the Melaka Sultanate era. Together with his four companions – Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu. The five of them had been in each other’s company since their childhood.
It was said that Hang Tuah’s parents, father Dang Mahmud and mother Dang Merdu Wati, migrated from Bentan to Melaka in search of a better life where they settled in Kampung Duyung.
From his early days, Hang Tuah and his four friends embodied comradeship and stood by each other through thick and thin. They even dug a well at their village which came to be known as the Hang Tuah Well until today.
As they grew older, Hang Tuah and his buddies learnt the Malay art of self-defence (or silat) from a renowned guru named Adiputra in a cave somewhere in a remote part of Melaka. Their courage and mettle, coupled with their expertise in martial arts, all the five friends helped in keeping the peace in Melaka.
The turning point in Hang Tuah’s life came when he save the Bendahara (chief minister) from falling victim to a man who ran amok in town. When Sultan Mansor Shah (1456-1477) heard about Hang Tuah’s bravery, he was made the Laksamana (admiral) cum Syahbandar (harbour master). His friends were appointed the knights of Melaka.
Back in those days, accepting invitations and calling on foreign countries as far as China was the norm for the Sultan of Melaka and Hang Tuah was a constant aide to the Sultan on such visits. During the sojourn to Majapahit, Taming Sari, a famous Majapahit warrior, challenged Hang Tuah to a duel. After a fiery fight, Hang Tuah emerged as the winner and the Sultan of Majapahit bestowed Taming Sari’s kris, which is said to be the source of Hang Tuah’s magical powers, to Hang Tuah.
Apart from carrying the responsibilities as the Laksamana and the Syahbandar, Hang Tuah was always assigned to the task of being the Sultan’s ambassador in fostering closer ties with the Sultan’s allies including China, India, Siam and Turkey.
According to Hikayat Hang Tuah, in his blind loyalty to the Sultan, Hang Tuah sailed to Inderaputra (Pahang) to persuade the already engaged Tun Teja, the princess of Pahang to be the Sultan’s companion. Thinking that Hang Tuah himself would be marrying her, Tun Teja eloped with him to Melaka. However, it was only during the voyage home, that Hang Tuah revealed the truth.
(There are actually two separate accounts on the incident. Hikayat Hang Tuah stated that it was Hang Tuah who persuaded Tun Teja to elope but in Sejarah Melayu, or the Malay Annals, it was Hang Nadim.)
Hang Tuah’s popularity soon became the envy of a few noblemen and this led to one of them, Pateh Karma Wijaya, to fabricate a story that Hang Tuah was having an illicit affair with one of the palace’s lady-in-waiting. Without a fair trial, the Sultan sentenced Hang Tuah to death for the alleged offence. However, the Bendahara who know the truth, went against the Sultan’s orders and hid Hang Tuah in Ulu Melaka.
This became the turning point in the relationship between Hang Tuah and his best companion Hang Jebat. Believing that Hang Tuah was innocent, Hang Jebat avenged his death, first by killing Pateh Karma Wijaya. The Sultan was unable to do anything as none of his warriors dared to challenge the ferocious Hang Jebat. Only then did the Bendahara confided in the Sultan and told him that Hang Tuah was still alive. Ordered to be brought before him, the Sultan later instructed Hang Tuah to kill Hang Jebat, which he did after a long grueling fight.
Another event which was widely written about Hang Tuah’s exploit was his journey to Gunung Ledang (Mount Ophir) at the Melaka-Johor border to ask for the hand of the beautiful Puteri Gunung Ledang for the Sultan. Having met the princess, Hang Tuah was taken aback when she stated the dowry or wedding gifts – a golden bridge linking Melaka with the top of Gunung Ledang, seven trays each of mosquitoes and germs liver, seven jars of virgins’ tears and a bowl of Raja Ahmad’s (the Sultan’s son) blood.
Hang Tuah was deeply disheartened when he heard this, as he knew that the Sultan will not be able to fulfill the conditions. Legend has it that Hang Tuah, who was overwhelmed by his disappointments, flung his kris into the river and vowed only to return to Melaka if it recurfaced, which he never did. It was also said that he then vanished into thin air.
However, it was not known how Hang Tuah died but his body was said to be have been buried in Tanjung Kling, where his tomb can still be seen until today. It was also said that the embittered Sultan was not even present at Hang Tuah’s burial.