Thursday, June 16, 2016


THE PRINCESS OF MOUNT LEDANG  was the first person to say no to a Sultan. This is the exertion of a woman’s right showing that even a woman can choose to disagree. :

Let Mount Ledang stand tall, a reminder to all
Of a flower that survived and remained free
Untouched by the royal fancy
Even a woman can choose to disagree
Even a king has his turn
to admit being beaten.

There are many poems befitting the feminist voices as analyzed by Dr. Suzana Muhammad (Universiti Sains Malaysia) in her paper “The Development of Woman Identity: Feminist Approaches to Selected Poems of Zurinah Hassan.” One such poem is the “Message of the Princess of Mount Ledang to Sultan Mahmud.” The Princess of Mount Ledang was a mythical character, unearthly, magical, mysterious, and of course described as exceptionally beautiful. She dwelt at Mount Ledang in the southern area of Peninsular Malaysia visible from the palace of the Malacca Sultan. As the story goes, the sultan was looking for a queen after the demise of his consort. This time around, the sultan was determined to marry someone or something different from an ordinary human princess as he wanted to be different and far above anyone else. That was how he got the idea of asking for the hand of the Princess of Mount Ledang.
The Sultan sent his men up the mountain to ask for her hand in marriage, causing much hardship and unnecessary death to his subjects. It was a hazardous journey, and even Hang Tuah, the famous Malay warrior, failed to reach the top. Only Tun Mamat succeeded to the summit and entered the garden of the Princess. But he could not see the Princess, and only conveyed the sultan’s proposal through Dang Raya Rani who was the princess’s chief lady in waiting. The beautiful princess sent her famous message to the Sultan through Tun Mamat.
       The Message From Princess Of Mount Ledang to Sultan Mahmud

       Tun Mamat
       Convey this message to the Sultan
       Bring these as my dowry
       If he wishes to marry me.

       Build me a bridge of gold and another of silver
       Bring me germs and mosquitoes seven trays of their hearts
       Vessels full of tears and juice of young beetle nuts
       From the king and his prince a bowl each of their blood.

       I knew from the start
       That he is willing to construct the bridge of misery
       Let the people carry the trays of agony
       And bear the burden of heavy vessels of tears
       Rack their life with flame of his own desire
       Provided he could escape the fire.

       Tun Mamat,
       These conditions only show my rejection
       As his queen I refuse to be
       Seeing my life a murky reflection
       I am not Tun Fatimah
       With the skill to forgive cruelty
       I am not Tun Kudu
       Who could be forced to agree
       It’s enough with Hang Li Po
       Wrapped up as a gift, a legacy
       Or Tun Teja who tripped and fell
       The lover she followed was only a shadow.

       Let Mount Ledang stand tall, a reminder to all
       Of a flower that survived and remained free
       Untouched by the royal fancy
       Even a woman can choose to disagree
       Even a king has his turn
to admit being beaten.

This proposal is an episode in the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals). The story may not have been historically true. The princess may not  exist. But the writer of the Sejarah Melayu  constructed the story as a medium to criticize the Sultan for his unjust rule of the country and his cruelty especially to women, treating them as if they have no heart and soul. The Princess of Mount Ledang proposed these conditions of the dowry as a way of refusing to marry him. As for the Sultan, this was the first time anyone said no to him. The princess was the first woman to succeed in showing the Sultan that he too must accept rejection. The important point in “Message of the Princess of Mount Ledang to Sultan Mahmud” is the exertion of a woman’s right to decide and take control of herself and her life. That the princess was able to speak her mind showed that women have freedom of expression. As I put in my poem:
Let Mount Ledang stand tall, a reminder to all
Of a flower that survived and remained free
Untouched by the royal fancy
Even a woman can choose to disagree
Even a king has his turn
to admit being beaten.

Besides the “Princess of Mount Ledang,” there are more legendary figures in the Malay Annals, one of which is Princess Hang Li Po.

The Voyage of Princess Hang Li Po (Original title: pelayaran Hang Li Po)

The beautiful Princess Hang Li Po
In the voyage to Melaka
Crying in agony
So young and so tender
To be torn from her mother
Like a shoot from its root
She’d rather die
Drowned by the ocean
Than to lose the loving touch of her parents
Is this her fate her destiny
To be delivered as a gift,
Wrapped as a commodity
Shipped to Melaka
As a bride and a donation
That would strengthen the nation
Her mother, Her Majesty, The Maharani
Had spoken in tears
My beloved Li Po, please be brave
This fact we have to face
You and me what we are born to be
As queens and princesses
We do not own ourselves
Marriage for us is not a personal decision
It is a state arrangement, a political mission.

Do not cry for your father
He is a man, and a king
He loves you as a daughter
But his kingdom is everything
He laughs and cries for the nation
The kingdom demands his attention
First the reign over his land
Family happiness comes second.

Yes Li Po
Look what history has written
Of empires and nations
Built and strengthened
At the sacrifice and tears of women
While many brought to the end
By misdeed and greed of men.

Princess Hang Li Po was the princess of China betrothed to the Sultan of Melaka as the show of support and protection from the much feared Empire of China to the newly founded nation of Melaka. The Princess was taken away at a tender age when she still wanted to stay home and be cuddled by her mother. I imagined Hang Li Po’s tears dropping into the ocean for the people she loved. Her mother must have also cried in agony, but they both were women facing patriarchal oppression. As a mother I was very much disturbed and saddened by this mother-daughter separation. It would be heart-breaking for any mother to have her daughter taken away and sent to a place so distant. Given the condition of travel at that time, there was no guarantee of seeing each other again. Hang Li Po was being treated as a commodity shipped to Melaka. Marriage for queens and princesses is not a personal decision but a political mission. Her father, as a man and a king, thought and talked less about family happiness but more about nation building. Hang Li Po was not the only one sacrificed for the sake of the Malacca Sultanate. There have been others, like Tun Teja who ran away for the love of Hang Tuah only to find out that she was to be bestowed to the king. Another known character in the Malay Annals was Tun Kudu, a queen who was divorced by her husband and told to marry a statesman  in exchange for stability. Melaka was built on the sorrow and tears of women, but it eventually fell due to the greed and misdeed of men, as has been the case with so many other nations.
I have written poems about women in the legends, but actually I was talking about the present situation. What happened to them is happening to many women in our time, though in different ways. Even today, there are marriages for reasons other than love. There are marriages of convenience, marriages for family honour, business arrangements, social commitments, and more often to save a woman and her family from the social stigma. There is a high and often unaffordable price of living up to one’s identity and carving one’s own destiny. This is what I said in a poem entitled “Marriage”:
-one woman’s opinion

Marriage is the difficulty
Of changing routines and priorities
That make you less yourself
And a woman has to be less her self
In order to be more a woman.

Marriage to a woman
Is a protection
For her who dares not live
On her own identity
It is too costly and too risky.

Marriage is a priority for many women and societies, and the traditional upbringing instilled in women the anxiety of remaining single. Even up to the present time some young girls sacrifice advancement in career for a marriage prospect much to the loss of their nations. In a poem “Salam Perempuan Dari Penjara,” (A Woman’s Greeting From Prison), [S1]  I looked at a woman’s journey through life as a procession which no one dares to divert from. It is a procession where everyone walked to a fixed destiny:
She and her sisters
in a procession to their day
while within this wall
they have not lived at all
As I have mentioned earlier, there are women who marry for the sake of freeing themselves from social stigma. As for choosing their life partners, the elders told their girls not to be choosy and told their boys to choose their bride properly. This depressing situation gave rise to a poem “Satu Catatan Singkat” (A Short Conversation):
       A man is free to limit his choice
       A woman limits her choice to free herself.  

To be born a woman, there is not much that you can do but pray to God for his protection and guidance. As I wrote in “Nyanyian Menidurkan Halini” (A Lullaby to Halini), in which I told a girl to be strong:

Don’t cry anymore
You must learn to value your tears
Don’t let it fall
on any wrong shoulders.

May you grow up Halini
With courage and confidence
Put your trust in God
You will really need him
Because you are born a woman.

 [S1]Please specify if these numbers indicate verses or pages.  

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