Toespraak Fred Dijs





Your Excellency,
and your guests,
ibu guru Kwee-Tan,
dan tamu-tamu ibu guru,
meneer Kousbroek,
en uw genodigden,
en andere familieleden,

ladies and gentlemen,


For more than one reason it is a great honour and a source of happiness for me to be standing here.

First of all, I can finally present the first product of a decade of part time historical research, which is the translation of a book for children about a classical Malay hero, named Hang Tuah.

Secondly, as the topic of my research was a relatively unknown covert operation in Indonesia by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America, a very sad story, I never could have imagined that this would lead to the translation of a beautiful and very cheerful work of fiction.

And thirdly, I also never expected that my work would gain the active support of one of the teachers of Indonesian at the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute in which we are gathered today, of the most famous publicist in the Netherlands on affairs in the former Dutch Indies and of the counselor and even the ambassador of Malaysia.

I must confess, it feels like I fell into a fairy tale. And I must confess as well, that so far this fairy tale has been very gratifying. I hope that it will have a happy ending. But in fairy tales you are never sure of that.

A fairy tale is not the place to linger on the details of the link between a CIA-operation and a book of which two copies are now considered as belonging to the Memory of the World by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. For the moment it will do that one of the ships attacked and sunk by a bomber of the CIA in 1958 happened to be a corvette named Hang Tuah and that the Hikayat, the story, dedicated to Hang Tuah happened to be the most beautiful work of classical Malay literature. Whoever wants to know more about this link, should buy my book and read the short account I wrote, or visit my Hang Tuah-website and read the long account it contains.

Hang Tuah is a historical figure. He lived a long life in Bintan, now in Indonesia, and Melaka, now in Malaysia, in the fourteenth and fifteenth century of the Christian era, the eighth, ninth and tenth century of the Islamic calendar. Though of common origin, he served several rulers, finally in the function of laksamana, admiral, vlootvoogd. Already in his lifetime he became a legend. People made him the subject of adventures that never took place. After his death the stories about Hang Tuah were told over and over again, a process that culminated in a single work of fiction, called Hikayat Hang Tuah, which was written down for the first time somewhere in the seventeenth, Christian, or eleventh, Islamic, century.

In the Hikayat, the epic dedicated to him, Hang Tuah is extremely just, extremely beautiful, extremely clever, extremely wise and extremely strong. He is amazingly familiar with plants and animals, land and water, sun and moon, stars and wind. He understands people better than they understand themselves. So, he is extremely useful for the powers that be. And he assumes his role. He is the perfect servant of the ruler and, in doing so, of the people. He brings the glory of Melaka to the very outskirts of the world of his time and place. To Majapahit, Java, in the South-East, to Tiongkok, the Land of the Middle, China, in the North-East, to Indrapura, Sumatra, in the South-West and to Rum, Byzantium, Istanbul, in the North-West. In the meantime he visits the bottom of the sea to recover the lost crown of the ruler and is buried alive to be able to tell the ruler what it feels like to be dead. So, in one word, Hang Tuahs story is about obedience.

Hang Tuah himself does not have any doubts whatsoever about the necessity and possibility of complete obedience. But as we, people of flesh and blood, all know, obedience is sometimes complicated. Please, forgive me to step out of the fairy tale for a moment and to become personal, but for me it is difficult to obey my rulers. The armies of the United States first liberated my country, the Netherlands, including my parents, in 1945 but then bombed secretly the family that my parents created, and others, in Indonesia in 1958. The Dutch intelligence services knew this would happen but did not warn the Dutch citizens. So, it is very difficult for me to put my faith in my rulers, let alone to obey them. And I know that I am not alone in this respect. Very many people today are migrants and very many of them are not able to obey unreservedly the rulers they are subject to because their rulers are not just and generous to them. But this is not as new as it seems. Back to the fairy tale. In the Hikayat Hang Tuah, the problem is treated extensively. I do not exaggerate when I state that the difficulty to obey is the centre of the story, the dramatic climax.

Hang Tuah obeys, always, even when the ruler is not just and generous to him and condemns him to death, influenced by jealous administrators, spreading rumours about the laksamana. But the prime-minister, the bendahara, disobeys. He does not execute the order to kill Hang Tuah and makes him disappear. Then there is another one to disobey the ruler, Hang Jebat, Tuahs lifelong and intimate friend.

(The next part was illustrated in a life pencak silat performance by murid-murid pencak silat Nienke Dekker, Sara Sijses, Sonja Bloem, Robert van Gurp and guru pencak silat Charles Renoult.)

Jebat does far more than disobey, he revolts. Now that the ruler has not been just to Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat presumes to have a right access the women around the ruler. to acces his throne and to manhandle the people. The ruler reacts by condemning Hang Jebat to death. This time with good reason. He sends out the other friends of Tuah and Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu to execute the sentence. But they fail.

Now the bendahara has the courage to admit his disobedience to the ruler. Hang Tuah is alive. And the ruler admits his poor judgement to the bendahara. He should not have sentenced Hang Tuah to death. So Hang Tuah is ordered to come to the stage and resume his duties.

Hang Tuah has now the tragic task of killing Hang Jebat. Which, by the way, is impossible because Hang Jebat was given Hang Tuahs sword, the invincible kris, named Taming Sari. But Hang Tuah is extremely cunning. And finally hurts Hang Jebat deadly in his breast. But Hang Jebat is not completely dead yet. He decides to take lots of innocent people with him into his grave. Then Hang Tuah decides that it is more than enough. Hang Jebat begs Hang Tuah to finish the job and dies in his arms.

Then Hang Tuah chooses to be alone for a couple of days. Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekiu and Hang Lekir watch over him from a distance.

(End of the performance.)

Thus, ladies and gentlemen, in the Hikayat Hang Tuah obedience prevails. As a consequence I will obey now to my fate as well.

I have 'the fairy tale Iím in has a happy ending' the pleasant duty of handing over the first copy of the translated Hang Tuah by Nasyah to the ambassador of Malaysia, paduka yang mulia ibu duta besar Noor Farida Ariffin. Your Excellency, would you be so kind to step forward? (No, you do not have to be scared. Hang Jebat is gone.)

Your Excellency, it is with great respect and gratitude that I hereby may present to you this small Hikayat Hang Tuah in Dutch.

Ibu duta besar, terima kasih banyak untuk berkenan menerima buku kecil ini.


fred dijs, amsterdam, april 23rd 2003

© fred dijs, In beeld, tekst en uitleg, 2003