March 17, 2010

Story of Hang Nadim & Singapore attacked by Swordfish

In Sejarah Melayu ( Malay history), Hang Nadim was a Malay boy of great wisdom who saved Temasek, now called Singapore, from attack by shoals of swordfish, attacks which cost many indigenous Malays their lives. It is mentioned in the traditional accounts that the attack was a curse because the reigning Sri Maharaja had ordered the death of a pious man called Tun Jana Khatib. The name Khatib Camp off Sembawang Road,Singapore is derived from this name. It is said that Khatib Camp is where the execution of Tun Jana Khatib took place.To fend off the attacks, Hang Nadim advised the ruler of Temasek, the Sri Maharaja to build a wall of banana stems along the shores of Temasek. The effort was successful as the swordfishes' snouts were trapped by the barricade of banana stems.
According to legend, the place Tanjong Pagar in modern day Singapore takes its name from the barricade. In the Malay language, tanjong pagar or tanjung pagar means "cape of stakes".
The boy's contribution earned him great respect as well as envy in the royal court. This made several individuals in the royal court fear the possibility that Hang Nadim might threaten their influence. In the end, they convinced the local ruler to execute the boy, and he was thrown into the sea. He was only seven years old at the time of death.
Hang Nadim Airport in Batam, Indonesia is named after the boy.

IN AND OUT: My Father's son

Thursday, November 26th, 2009 10:16:00

DID I tell you that my father, Cikgu Kadir, used to teach history and literature before he retired?
He has loads of books that might just belong to the museum and some of them were too worn and torn to keep, but he'd be very crossed if you tell him to just get rid of them. In Oprah's term, my father is a "hoarder".
Anyway, true to his vocation, Cikgu Kadir used to tell us stories (and he would not care if we were bored or not) and most of the time it would be about historical figures, or tales and folklores that would keep our minds going.

I never really thought much about most of the tales he would share with us (at times while he was playing the violin for that maximum effect), but as I grew older, I began to realise that most of his stories were meant to equip us with all the positive elements as adults.
Whenever he was in a good mood, or if we were trapped in a long journey with him in his Volvo 144, that was it!
There'd be some long-winded stories and more often than not, with no punch-line.
Somehow, of all his stories, the one that got stuck in my head was about Hang Nadim.
I am sure many of you know this story (although I'd always draw blanks from the younger people that I'd queried).
Anyway, for the uninitiated, the story of Hang Nadim is pretty simple.
In fact, after listening to my father's version (his was too clinical), I decided to look for the book, and the story of Hang Nadim was actually titled Singapura Di Langgar Todak.
You see, for some inexplicable reason, thousands of swordfish (todak) seemed to find Singapore a fitting place to, err, attack.
The swordfish would fly out of the sea and kill whoever in sight.
The brave people of Singapore decided to fight back, and all the warriors began to gather by the beach to stop the assault.
As part of their heroic attempt to save Singapore, many of the brave men and warriors decided to shield the island with their bodies and limbs.
Since there were too many swordfish flying around, the death toll and injury were pretty massive too.
Amidst the panic, one little boy called Hang Nadim somehow thought it was foolish of the men to use their bodies as shields. He somehow expressed his disappointment out loud and even came out with a brilliant suggestion.
"Why don't we use banana trunks to stop the swordfish? They'd get stuck there and we won't get hurt," he said.
An elderly heard it, and realised it was the smart thing to do, and suggested exactly just that to the rulers.
Since it was a valid and good suggestion, the rulers decided to follow what Hang Nadim prescribed.
To cut a long story short, the effort saved a lot of lives and the swordfish that got stuck to the banana trunks were killed, and Singapore was saved.
Well, since Hang Nadim saved the day, he should be announced a hero, no?
Well, not really, instead of being lauded for his brilliance, Hang Nadim became the envy of many.
The insecure officers and people of power began to get even more scared with the "threat" that Hang Nadim posed.
"He's too smart for a kid," one would say.
"Yes, imagine what would happen when he's older!" another said, fuelling their insecurities further.
"My, he might just be so smart, he might take over our jobs!" another concluded.
So a pact was made – to not allow Hang Nadim to live as he would be a threat to everyone. That ended Hang Nadim's life. Yes, he was killed (but I can't seem to remember how).
I was pretty fascinated by that story and as a naïve little boy, could not really figure out why Hang Nadim was killed.
In fact, I was deeply disturbed about the unfairness of the situation, and even vowed that if another 'Hang Nadim' appeared, I would make him my best friend and would protect him from all the evil people.
Along the way, as I grew older, I began to see a lot of the 'Hang Nadim" pattern on various levels. Really, I'd seen a number of 'Hang Nadims' executed just because they were smarter.
Have you ever been beaten up by a bunch of kids just because you keep getting the top spot in your class?
How about being disliked just because you keep representing your school in various competitions?
The Hang Nadim syndrome would continue at various levels — in college, workplace, and even among different circles of friends.
It is sickening I know, but this is the reality, and no matter how hard it bites, the situation would just recur… again, and again. As Sting would sing it, "…history, would teach us nothing…"
Well, I am no Hang Nadim, that’s for sure (alas, I am not smart enough), but as I said, if it were up to me, I'd gather as many Hang Nadims as possible and surround me with their wisdom (and truth) so that I could learn and be as clever or as good.
So my father did have his noble reasons and motivations for all the stories that he told after all...
Cikgu Kadir might not make much sense when we were kids, but today, I would attest that my father, as "straight-laced" as he is, could be one of the wisest men alive.
He shared a lot of stories, and they were all laden with morals, and much about right and wrong; about good and evil; and about the human spirit.
Cikgu Kadir would use a lot of proverbs and old sayings to make his points, and I would just roll my eyes whenever he was in that mode.
His favourite advice to me was: "Kerana mulut badan binasa… (your mouth will be your undoing)", because despite being a quiet child (yes I was), I'd just occasionally shoot my mouth without thinking.
Apparently, he read me well. As an adult, I would find myself in precarious situations each time I opened my mouth, no matter how noble my cause would be.
"Cakap siang pandang pandang, cakap malam dengar dengar (be always aware of what you say)," he'd murmur, each time he caught us, his children, gossiping.
Usually, when he said that, we would end up whispering as we continued sharing our, err, juicy stories.
I used to tell friends that I would never be like my father, but in truth, I might turn out just like him. Heck, as much as I try to deny it, I even look like him!
However, Cikgu Kadir has a gentler demeanour and would articulate his points with a lot of sensitivity and care.
That, I certainly lack. I am far more preachy and righteous, as well as more aggressive and, err, downright abrasive at times. I dare say that I have more punch-lines, though.
Perhaps I should tone down a bit, if I really want to be my father’s son. That might make him prouder…