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'The legend you thought you knew': text and screen representations of Puteri Gunung Ledang

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This article traces the evolution of narratives about the supernatural woman said to live on Gunung Ledang, from oral folklore to sixteenth-century courtly texts to contemporary films. In all her instantiations, the figure of Puteri Gunung Ledang can be interpreted in relation to the legitimation of the state, with the folklore preserving her most archaic incarnation as a chthonic deity essential to the maintenance of the ruling dynasty. By the time of the Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah, two of the most important classical texts of Malay literature, the myth of Puteri Gunung Ledang had been desacralized. Nevertheless, a vestigial sense of her importance to the sultanate of Melaka remains. The first Malaysian film that takes her as its subject, Puteri Gunung Ledang (S. Roomai Noor, 1961), is remarkably faithful to the style and substance of the traditional texts, even as it reworks the political message to suit its own time. The second film, Puteri Gunung Ledang (Saw Teong Hin, 2004), again exemplifies the ideology of its era, depoliticizing the source material even as it purveys Barisan Nasional ideology.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2010

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  • South East Asia Research publishes articles based on original research or fieldwork on all aspects of South East Asia within the disciplines of archaeology, art history, economics, geography, history, language and literature, law, music, political science, social anthropology and religious studies. This peer-reviewed journal is published four times per year by IP Publishing in cooperation with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). SOAS is the leading centre in this field in Europe and one of the most prestigious centres of South East Asian Studies in the world.

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