Reading the Classical text such as the Sejarah Melayu, I found women being
treated as if they had no heart and soul. A woman has no life of her own as she
has to follow what is dictated by norms and customs. Women who are closed to
the palace have been subjects and even gifts of political bargaining. This
inspired some poetry that have been analysed as  the feminist voices in my poems. For example, Dr
Suzana Muhammad has written a paper  “The
Development of Woman Identity: Feminist Approaches to Selected Poems of Zurinah
Hassan.” , delivered at Seminar Kefahaman Budaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia
2004.   A poem often quoted  is  “Pesanan Puteri Gunung Ledang Kepada Sultan
Mahmud” (The Message From 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.
Sultan sent his men up the mountain to ask for her hand in marriage. He
summoned almost every able bodied  man,
causing much hardship and unnecessary death to his subjects. It was a perilous
journey.   Many men fell off into the deep ravine or fell
prey to the wild animals.  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.
Message from Princess of Mount Ledang to Sultan Mahmud
            Tun Mamat
            Convey this message to
the Sultan
            Bring these as my
            If he wishes to marry
            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
            I am not Tun Fatimah
            With the skill to
forgive cruelty
            I am not Tun Kudu
            Who could be forced to
            It’s enough with Hang
Li Po
            Wrapped up as a gift,
a commodity
            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
            Even a woman can
choose to disagree
            Even a king has his
to admit being beaten.
(Menghadap ke Pelabuhan/Facing the Harbour. 2013:20-21)
Pesanan Puteri Gunung Ledang
kepada Sultan Mahmud
Tun Mamat
Sampaikan pesanku kepada Sultan
Jika aku ingin diperisterikan.
Perbuatkan aku jambatan emas jambatan perak
Bawakan tujuh dulang hati kuman, hati nyamuk
Air mata dan air pinang muda setempayan
Darah raja dan anak raja semangkuk
Alu telah menduga
Dia akan sanggup merentang jambatan derita
Dia merelai negeri menjadi dulang air mata
Kehidupan terbakar dalam api berahi
Selagi kepanasan tidak terpercik ke tubuhnya
Tun Mamat
Sebenarnya aku memberi syarat ini
Kerana aku tidak sudi menjadi permaisuri Sultan
Dan hidup bercerminkan kekeruhan
Aku bukan Tun Fatimah
Yang pandai memaafkan kezaliman
Aku bukan Tun Kudu
Yang tahu merelakan paksaan
Cukuplah dengan Puteri Hang Li Po
Yang terbungkus menjadi persembahan
Dan tersungkurnya Tun Teja
Ketika menangkap bayang-bayang cinta
Biarlah Gunung Ledang berdiri mengingatkan
Ada bunga yang tidak dapat digubah
Sesedap titah
Seorang perempuan pun ada kalanya
Berhak memiliki kebebasan
Seorang sultan pun ada kalanya
Harus tunduk kepada kekalahan.
proposal is an episode in the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals). The story
may not have been historically true. The princess may not have existed. But the
writer of the Sejarah Melayu has 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 be able to 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 and the
right to refuse. 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.
the “Princess of Mount Ledang,” there are other legendary ladies in the Malay
, 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.
 (Menghadap ke Pelabuhan/Facing
the Harbour: 24-25)
Hang Li Po yang jelita
Dalam pelayaran ke Melaka
Menangis di dalam bahtera
Semuda ini dia dipisahkan
Dari ibu tempat bermanja
Bagai pohon dari akarnya
Rasanya biar bercerai badan dan nyawa
Biar mati di tengah gelora
Dari berpisah dengan keluarga
Apalah nasibnya badan
Sudah menjadi barang hantaran
Dibawa ke Melaka
Sebagai hadiah kepada Sultan
Kononnya untuk meneguhkan kerajaan
Bondanya Maharani yang mulia
Berpesan dengan air mata
Duhai Hang Li Po anak tercinta
Tabahlah menerima ketentuan ini
Inilah takdir kita
Menjadi puteri dan permaisuri
Perkahwinan kita bukan soal peribadi
Hidup kita bukan untuk diri
Diri kita adalah milik negeri
Apalah diharap pada ayahnda
Dia lelaki dan maharaja
Kau puteri kesayangan
Tetapi negeri adalah tanggungan
Tawa dan air matanya
Hanya untuk negara
Kuasa lebih penting
Daripada bahagia
Iya puteriku
Sejarah telah mencatatkan
Banyaknya kerajaan
Yang diteguhkan oleh pengorbanan
Dan air mata perempuan
Dan banyak pula negeri
Yang diruntuhkan oleh nafsu lelaki.
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 playing around at home, cuddled by her mother. I imagined Hang
Li Po’s tears dropping into the ocean, crying  for the people she loved and missed so much.
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 far away.   Given the condition of travel at that time,
there was no guarantee of seeing each other again.  More than that, Hang Li Po as a female, was
being treated as a commodity shipped to Melaka. Marriage for queens and
princesses was 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
his kingdoms.
Li Po was not the only one sacrificed for the sake of the Malacca Sultanate.
There have been others. There were
famous beautiful suffering ladies of Malay Annals including Tun Teja, Tun Kudu
dan Tun Fatimah. Tun Teja was the daughter of a statesman of Pahang, who felled
in love with Hang Tuah and agreed to run away with him to Melaka. Later in the
boat she found out that she had been deceived by Hang Tuah with all his talks
of love. Hang Tuah at the time was sent to exile by the Sultan and abducting
Tun Teja for a present was his mean of getting back into the Sultan’s favour.
pitiful woman in the Malay Annals was Tun Kudu. She was the consort
of  Sultan Muzaffar and a sister of Tun
Perak,  the man who saved Malacca from
foreign attacks. Tun Perak rose up for his bravery that strengthened Melaka and
it was rumoured that he was eyeing the position of Bendahara much to the dismay
of the existing Bendahara, Tun Ali. Subsequently rivalry broke up between
supporters of Tun Ali and Tun Perak. This threatened the stability of Melaka
and the position of the Sultan. Someone came up with a solution that the
widowed Tun Ali should be married into Tun Perak’s family. When offered to pick
his choice,  Tun Ali  made it clear that the only woman in Tun
Perak’s family that he desired was Tun Kudu, 
the wife of Sultan Muzaffar and the queen of Melaka.  Sultan Muzaffar agreed  supposedly for the sake of peace and
stability. Tun Kudu was divorced and she became another woman who was asked to
sacrifice for the sake of Melaka. Indeed 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.
Part of the poem Episod Tun Kudu goes:
Tun Kudu was the consort of Sultan Muzaffar
A bunch of grape sweet and 
In the vineyard of his heart
Bendahara Tun Ali was looking
And secretly craving
Tun Kudu, the wife
Cool as cucumber 
Waiting to be sliced
By the royal knife.
Defying his age
Tun Ali was adamant
To ask for the fruit of his passion
a woman in the chamber of the Sultan
as a prize of his retirement
Sultan Muzaffar and Tun Ali
Making arrangement and agreement
Between gentlemen
Exchanging position and a possession
That they called a woman.
Who have no say in the discussion
It is up to men to discuss
And the duty of woman to sacrifice.
I have
written poems about women in the legends, but 
my main concern is the  about the
present situation. What happened to the legendry ladies is happening to many
women in our time, though in different ways. Even today,  marriages are not  necessarily a matter of the heart. 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. A girl is  brought up to
preserve a good name so that she will be married into a  good family. It is believed that no woman
would remain unmarried by choice . There is a high and often unaffordable price
of living alone and remaining true to one’s identity and carving one’s own
destiny. My point is what I put in the line, “A woman has to be less herself,
in order to be more a woman”. This is delivered 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.
(Menghadap ke Pelabuhan/Facing the Harbour: 82-83)
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, 2010) [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.
ke Pelabuhan/Facing the Harbour: 60-61)
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 Percakapan Singkat” (A
Short Conversation):
A Short Conversation
(with a fellow poet)
My friend
On our love for  life
We may not differ from
each other
On our love for poetry
That too is similar
But you are a man
And I am a woman
That make the whole
A man is free
to limit his choice
a woman limits her
to free herself.
ke Pelabuhan/Facing the Harbour:  pp.88-89)
as a woman, there is not much that you can do but pray to God for his
protection and guidance. I wrote a poem, 
“Nyanyian Menidurkan Halini” (A Lullaby to Halini), in which I told a
little girl  not to cry. And I wish I
could teach her not to shed tears  now
and forever. She should grow up as a strong personality and not to cry on the
wrong shoulders.
With this song Halini
I put you to sleep
Sleep will not always come easy
When you are old enough to know it
Calm down Halini
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.
((Menghadap ke Pelabuhan/Facing the Harbour:  pp.80-81)

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


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