The Life and Times of Tun Fatimah Srikandi Melaka

Posted on February 21, 2010

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One of the most inspiring icons of the Malaccan Empire is Tun Fatimah, the last Sultanah of Malacca. Tun Fatimah is the daughter of Bendahara Tun Mutahir, the Prime Minister during the reign of Sultan Mahmud Shah a.k.a The One Who Got Us Colonised. Tun Fatimah was married to Tun Ali when the Sultan set his eyes on her during the wedding reception and, transfixed by her beauty and drunk with power, was determined to make her his consort. Tun Fatimah refused to divorce her husband, so when a false rumour was spread that the Prime Minister was planning a plot against the Sultan, the Sultan hastily used it as an excuse to order the execution of Bendahara Tun Mutahir and all male relatives, including Tun Fatimah’s husband, in order to forcibly marry her.

During her time as the consort, Tun Fatimah was said to have never smiled, and miscarried three times, perhaps due to emotional misery or even as a silent way of exacting revenge for the injustices committed by the Sultan against her family. She only started bearing children when the Sultan guaranteed her son will succeed him as ruler of Malacca.

Tun Fatimah defied the conventions of Malacca’s patriarchal society by ruling the state like a queen regnant (as opposed to a queen consort), amid the impotent and ineffectual rule of Sultan Mahmud, who was relegated to a mere figurehead. It was said that the Portuguese were more intimidated by Tun Fatimah than her reigning husband. When Malaca fell dramatically into the hands of the Portuguese in 1511, Tun Fatimah was instrumental in the fight to recapture Malacca, including the expansionary work of the new Malay Johore-Riau Empire which became Portuguese Malacca’s rival. Tun Fatimah created an alliance with neighbouring kingdoms by marrying her children into the ruling families of Acheh, Minangkabau and Borneo. Her personal fortitude and struggle against the invading army led to her gaining the title Srikandi Melaka, Srikandi being a title used in ancient times to signify a female warrior or a woman whose actions and stature makes her equal to a man.

The first video features a scene from the 1961 movie Tun Fatimah, where Tun Fatimah, played by the beautiful Maria Menado, and her husband Tun Ali are being feted during their wedding reception. There is a joyous, light-hearted tone in both the song and dance, with the fluttering handkerchiefs of the dancers moving about in many different configurations creating a festive, care-free mood.

By contrast, in the second video, featuring the celebrations of Tun Fatimah’s appointment as Sultanah of Melaka (after the execution of her husband and male relatives and subsequent forced marriage to the Sultan), the dance of the court maidens is more sombre and heavy in tone, perhaps in deference to the sovereignty of the Palace. Unlike in the first video, the dancers here don’t make use of much of the floor space; they remain largely on the same spot and so we don’t get the same lightness and merrymaking evident in the first video. Throughout the video, Tun Fatimah puts on a stern face, clearly wishing she was nowhere near the man who ordered the persecution of her beloved ones. I think the most striking scene is at 2:05, where the Sultan wears a resigned and regretful look at the anger palpable on Tun Fatimah, made even more obvious by the following shot of 3 palace maidens smiling and enjoying the sense of occasion.

You could almost feel the sickening sense of injustice as the court dancers and palace officials partake in the festivities, forced to pretend as if nothing had happened while the woman in the centre of the celebration is mourning the slaying of her family. The suffering of Tun Fatimah some 500 years ago is a potent reminder of what will happen when we surrender power to the hands of a few individuals.

Just a quick note, I had a bit of difficulty rendering the lyrics to both songs because some of the words were unclear. These words I have highlighted in bold, and if anyone can offer a correction I would be more than happy to hear from you.



Selamat Pengantin Baru (Here’s to the New Married Couple)

Tun Fatimah! Tun Fatimah!

Selamat Pengantin, pengantin kami ucapkan     Here’s to the couple, to the bride and groom we wish
Selamat Bersanding, bersanding dua sejoli        A happy Wedding, wedding of a perfect match
Amanlah hidup kami doakan                             A peaceful life we wish you
Mudah-mudahan kekal abadi (x2)                     May it last to eternity (x2)
Selamat Pengantin Baru x2                               Here’s to the new couple x2

Pengantin umpama, umpama emas tembaga     The new couple is like gold
Bersinar-sinar kelihatan cahayanya                     Glistening as the light itself
Sama cantik samalah padan                              Both equal in beauty, both matching
Seperti pinang dibelah dua (x2)                          Like the areca nut palm cut into half (x2)
Selamat Pengantin Baru x2                                 Here’s to the new couple x2

Pergilah hidup, hidup pengantin baru               Go build a life, a life for the new couple
Selamat belayar, belayar ke Pulau Bahagia      Happy sailing, sailing towards the Isle of Happiness
Pakat-muafakat ke Tanjung Baru                Agreement and cooperation in the Cape of New Beginnings
Apa dicita telah berjaya (x2)                        What you have desired has now come to fruition
Selamat Pengantin Baru x2                          Here’s to the new couple x2

Selamat Pengantin, pengantin dari cahaya      Here’s to the couple, the couple blessed with light
Panjanglah umur, selamat ke hidup akhirat     May you live long, until the end of time
Mohon kami mengundur diri                         We ask your permission to retire
Silap salah harap maafkan (x2)                    May you forgive us any wrongdoings
Selamat Pengantin Baru x2                           Here’s to the couple x2

Selamat Pengantin, pengantin kami ucapkan    Here’s to the couple, to the bride and groom we wish
Selamat Bersanding, bersanding dua sejoli        A happy Wedding, wedding of a perfect match
Amanlah hidup kami doakan                            A peaceful life we wish you
Mudah-mudahan kekal abadi (x2)                   May it last to eternity (x2)
Tun Fatimah! Tun Fatimah!                            Tun Fatimah! Tun Fatimah!



Tari Olah Olai Tujuh Astana (Dance of the Whims and Fancies of the Seven Palaces)

Ampun Tuanku! Ampun Tuanku!         Have Mercy Your Highness! Have Mercy Your Highness!
Sengkar ditari                                    To thwart the dance
Patik terkelar, patik terkelar                I spread out my hands, I spread out my hands
Tujuh sejari                                      Seven fingers each
Seri bersembah, seri bersembah         The light of salutation, the light of salutation
Serijas tari                                        for the dance
Untuk berhibur, untuk berhibur          To entertain, to entertain
Patik ‘juh tari                                     For I am one of the seven dancers

Tun Fatimah, Tun Fatimah                  Tun Fatimah, Tun Fatimah
Perempuan wanita…Olah Olai!             A woman, a lady…whims and fancies!-
Parasnya cantik, parasnya cantik          Her beautiful looks, her beautiful looks
Bukan buatan…Tujuh astana!              Are not made up…-Of the seven palaces!
Gagah berani, gagah berani               Strong and mighty, strong and mighty
Tidak terkira…Tun Fatimah…               Without limits…Tun Fatimah
Memanglah dia, memanglah dia          She is the one, she is the one
jadi rebutan                                      who is fought over

Olah olai, olah olai                                The whims and fancies, The whims and fancies
Tujuh astana                                        Of the seven palaces
Tun Fatimah, Tun Fatimah                    Tun Fatimah, Tun Fatimah
yang bijaksana                                     the wise one
Mudah-mudahan panjanglah umurnya    May she live a long life
Sihat sentosa serta berjaya                   Fighting fit and prosperous
Tambah berjasa tambah mulia               To further contribute, thus adding to her glory

Patik terbuai, patik terbuai mengijas tari   I am softened by the dance
Seri bertambah, olah olai                         The radiance grows, oh the whims and fancies
tujuh astana                                          Of the seven palaces
Bagi hiburan Seri Baginda                        As entertainment for Your Majesty
serta Permaisuri…Tun Fatimah                  and the Queen…Tun Fatimah
Mudah-mudahan berbahagia dan bijaksana      Here’s to happiness and wisdom

Sungguh berdaulat, bahagia                  Such sovereignty, prosperity
Duli baginda…olah olai!                          Your Majesty…the whims and fancies-
Dengan Fatimah cantik rupawan          With Fatimah the beautiful
tinggal di Melaka…Tujuh astana!           Residing in Malacca…-of the 7 palaces!
Lubuk asal laut dan bumi                     The place of origin of the sea and earth
kendik kehendak dia…Tun Fatimah        obeys her commands…Tun Fatimah
Tun Fatimah payung negeri                  Tun Fatimah the protector of the state
bebas mulia                                        free and glorious

Olah olai, olah olai tujuh astana                  The whims and fancies of the 7 palaces
Tun Fatimah Tun Fatimah                          Tun Fatimah, Tun Fatimah
yang bijaksana                                         the wise one
Mudah-mudahan panjanglah umurnya         May she live a long life
Sihat sentosa serta berjaya                        Fighting fit and prosperous
Tambah berjasa tambah mulia                  To further contribute, thus adding to her glory

Posted in: Culture
8 Responses “The Life and Times of Tun Fatimah Srikandi Melaka” →
  1. Hi,I came across your website while trying to gather some info on Tun Fatimah for a book project. I was pleasantly surprised by the two video clips. I enjoyed them very much as I enjoyed your other postings as well. I must say you have a way with words. keep up thee good work. btw do you have anything on Tun Fatimah other than the well known facts of the events leading up to her marriage to the sultan. You said that she was instrumental in the fight to recapture Malacca, including the expansionary work of the new Malay Johore-Riau Empire. You also acclaimed her as a warrior whereas in some other literature the fall of the malacca sultanate was laid squarely at her feet. would you care to comment. thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi, it’s always a pleasant surprise to know my blog posts could be of some help to readers. One of the main thrusts of these articles was to provide information and encourage debate on our history, something which I found lacking on the net. What is your book project about? I wish you well in your endeavour.

      Sadly, there isn’t a great deal of accessible information on Tun Fatimah, besides the well-known facts you’ve alluded to. I have come across a scholarly article that looked into the role of women in the Malaccan royal court, in which it found that only a handful of women were mentioned in literature, and usually on the account that they were so and so’s daughter, sister, consort etc.

      Tun Fatimah is significant in Malay literature because she had a whole chapter in the preeminent Sejarah Melayu dedicated to her dramatic life. Viewed from a patronising, patriarchal perspective (misogynist may be a little too harsh), her acts of abortion may be seen as childish and ‘meddlesome’, holding the Sultan, and effectively the Malaccan Empire to ransom by her reproductive whims and fancies. But I think we must take into account the very real tragedy that befell on her. Her entire male family was persecuted through mere hearsay, a hasty decision that the Sultan himself later regretted. Forced to marry the murderer of her family, and constrained by the patriarchal mores of Malaccan society, the most effective retribution was through denying the Sultan an heir he desperately wanted.

      Sultan Mahmud was also never really interested in ruling the empire, voluntarily serving as a mere figurehead, letting the Bendahara administer the country while he indulges on the privilege of being a Sultan. Tun Fatimah, on the other hand, was genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the people and the strength of the Malaccan Sultanate, thwarting off attacks by the Portuguese. She was directly involved in the fight to regain Malacca, while Sultan Mahmud conveniently gave up his seat and retreated into oblivion when the going got tough.

      The word Serikandi is from a character in the epic Mahabharata, who was, through reincarnation, both a male and a female. In Malay usage, it is used to refer to a woman who was actively involved in traditionally male domains like warfare and ruling a country. Therefore this title suits Tun Fatimah perfectly.

      Although ancient Malay society is predominantly patriarchal, there have been notable instances of strong female authority – a few examples being Tun Fatimah, Cik Siti Wan Kembang of Kelantan, the mythical Puteri Gunung Ledang and the four Queens of Patani – Raja Ijau, Raja Biru, Raja Ungu and Raja Kuning. Aceh also had four queens and the female admiral Keumala Hayati. It’d be interesting to compare the role of women in ancient Malay society and contemporary society to see if we have progressed or gone backwards.

      Reply

  2. rejab moktar

    December 20, 2010

    hi..i would like to ask if you have any idea to whom and where can i go to seek for help and support to secured the property land of tun Fatimah which was cremated in singapore at Bukit Purmei..together with her followers and fellows relatives…

    Reply

  3. Norliah Nasir

    December 22, 2010

    hi, its been a long time since my last posting when I mentioned about a book project. Sometime in September my friends and I organised a dialogue on Tun Fatimah. We invited several notable speakers including Pak Tenas from Indonesia (currently in UM). It seems Tun Fatimah is highly respected and beloved in Kampar. For example it is quite a common practice for expecting mothers to wish for their unborn children if they happen to be girls to be as pretty as Tun Fatimah!

    Besides producing a monograph on TF, we are also trying to stage a play on said lady. What makes our play different from the many plays of TF in the past. The focus this time will not be TF as a victim but as a brilliant strategist and warrior, how she moulded her son to be a warrior king unlike the father!

    You asked if we as a society have progressed or gone backwards. I dont know. What I can say is that we women are not given equal opportunity. Sure education is not denied us but we make up 50% of the electorate yet how many of us are appointed as full ministers? Why is that? Surely there’s no dearth of aspiring and capable women politicians.

    On a lighter note would you be interested to attend if we have another dialogue on TF or discussion on the script?

    Reply
  4. Hi, it’s good to hear back from you and about your project on Tun Fatimah. I think the perspective that you are taking with the play, i.e. presenting Tun Fatimah as a brilliant strategist and warrior, will not only promote discussion about the role of women in Malaysian society both past and present, but will also be closer to the historical reality.

    The only way for women to get equal opportunity is for them to demand it themselves; Women will never achieve this goal as long as they wait for some benevolent male leader to bestow that right upon them. Unfortunately in Malaysia there is a deep-rooted mentality of patronage, in which people expect to be protected by a higher authority. The most evident example of course is in the way many in the Malay community continue to seek cover under the umbrella authority of the Malay Sultans – instead of asserting and protecting their rights themselves.

    Yes, I would be interested to attend and listen to the dialogue or discussion; as a matter of fact I will be in Malaysia in the near future so do keep me updated.

    Reply

  5. sakiinah

    July 3, 2016

    as a beginner, where do i start reading about tun fatimah? good article, may i know where i can find out more on why tun fatimah was feared more by the portugese? in some other website i read, they claim that tun fatimah ‘sets up’ Johor Sultanate. Indirectly i assume that the Queen have more power towards the Sultan, so much so, that i read in one of the translated Sejarah Melayu, by Dr John Leyden is that during an appointment of the ministers, the Queen looks from behind the Sultan and signals to the sultan if she approves of the candidate. thats a clear indication on the influence of women during the sultanate. unfortunately, not much details were written on them. i only know about the Pattani Sultanate if its not because of the movie, its been so long since the last historical movie were made into film after Puteri Gunung Ledang (Except Merong Mahawangsa)

    Reply

  6. sakiinah

    July 3, 2016

    Reblogged this on Mencari Sakiinah and commented:
    “It was said that the Portuguese were more intimidated by Tun Fatimah than her reigning husband. When Malaca fell dramatically into the hands of the Portuguese in 1511, Tun Fatimah was instrumental in the fight to recapture Malacca, including the expansionary work of the new Malay Johore-Riau Empire which became Portuguese Malacca’s rival. Tun Fatimah created an alliance with neighbouring kingdoms by marrying her children into the ruling families of Acheh, Minangkabau and Borneo. ”

    This is new!

    Reply
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  1. Tokoh Sejarah Melayu (Membaca & Memperkaya) | Jauhari Kenal Manikam

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