Ahad, Julai 18, 2004

Wooing a princess

petikan The Star online 18 Julai 2004

IN a nutshell, Puteri Gunung Ledang is the tragic romance between the princess of Gunung Ledang and Hang Tuah, the famed Malaccan warrior.

But just who is Puteri Gunung Ledang?

“It is a very difficult question to answer,” says Zainal Borhan, Universiti Malaya academy of Malay studies associate professor. “The two texts that mention her are Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) and Hikayat Hang Tuah.

“In terms of literature she exists but the texts are mythical. There are no archaeological or anthropological evidence that suggest she was real,’’ he explains.

He adds that up to now the writer of Hikayat Hang Tuah, which was written in 1621 remains unknown. As for Sejarah Melayu, “we can only guess that Tun Lanang wrote it in 1612.”

Typical of folklore, there are several versions of the legend. In some, the princess is not even human but a fairy and that she continues to live on Gunung Ledang (or Mount Ophir, the highest peak in Johor) to this day.

The basic premise remains the same: She was a beautiful princess who made her home on the mountain, either to escape an arranged marriage or to withdraw from the world after her beloved husband died.

But her great beauty drew the interest of the Sultan of Malacca – sometimes identified as Sultan Mansor Shah (1456-77) but in the movie, it’s Mahmud Shah (who lost Malacca to the Portuguese in 1511) – who sent his warriors, including the legendary Hang Tuah, to ask her hand in marriage.

Although the legend has no hint of a romance between the warrior and princess, it becomes central to the movie.

But the part about the legend that is consistent and most memorable in all versions are her bizarre conditions for marriage: a gold and silver bridge from Malacca to Ledang, seven trays of mosquitoes’ hearts, another seven of mites’ hearts, a jug or barrel of areca nut juice, a barrel of tears, one cup of the sultan’s blood and one of his son’s.

The sultan fulfilled all but the last demand; he couldn’t bring himself to kill his son, which was the princess’ sly intention since she did not want to marry him.

In shaping the story, Puteri Gunung Ledang director Saw Teong Hin, scriptwriter Mamat Khalid and others visited Malacca Museum and Solo in Indonesia but found little help there.

“Either there were no texts from that era or they had been destroyed,’’ Saw says. ``But that gave rise to a very interesting situation because (historians and books) have very different views on the legend. Some say Hang Tuah went up the mountain, some say he did not.

That gave us room to improvise because there is no definitive version.”

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