Wong Phui Nam & Sophocles

The lights are turned up to suggest the morning of the following day. Maniaka is shown ashen-faced sitting on a high chair with a subdued Bendahara and Chorus standing around him. The air is sombre. Tok Seth, a blind seer, enters from the left. He is led by a boy. He and the boy walk up to Maniaka who rises to greet them. They perform the sembah.


I have come making with this young one the beast

with two heads that has only one lit with sight.

I cannot see the gross world that you see, but in the clear light

of my inner eye I have seen signs and they are not good.

Listen, Maniaka, I have much to tell you. The signs are not good.

MANIAKA (Patronisingly)

As always, Tok, I try to listen when a seer speaks.


I was at the front court of our temple where pigeons

flock daily to feed on the grain left by suppliants

who come daily to seek the favour and counsel

of our gods. By the soft flutter of their wings

and faint cooing, I sensed them as keenly as if I saw them.

I ‘saw’ them suddenly turn on one another,

tearing open each other’s throats, picking out eyes,

and breaking wings. The air was choked with cries

unnatural to pigeons. And this boy here told me

the yard became littered with mounds of dead birds.

I then retired to my place of augury. Over thick fumes

of smouldering kemenyan I chanted my mantra

till the spirits came. And I was given to know,

Maniaka, you have brought a new calamity

upon the city. The crows and strays that gorge themselves

on the hanging man will spread more than filth

in the streets. A spirit of corruption descends

on all the houses of your people. The gods are offended.

They will cause your nights to be deafened by the cries

of birds of ill omen – the end of the royal line has come.

MANIAKA (Agitated)

Go on.


The gods are offended, Maniaka.

The gods are not to be trifled with. Know that

they say you have transgressed what is natural and just.

Reflect, Maniaka. A great man is one who knows

he has done wrong and redresses the evil that comes from it.

Relent. You know you are only fighting with a corpse.

What good does it serve if you do battle over and over

with a skeleton that already is disrobing itself

of its covering of insensible, maggot studded flesh?

Do you add to your glory and your power shutting up

a woman in an airless, vermin infested cave

for acting out of a sister’s love to cover a brother’s shame?

I plead with you. Relent now for your own sake,

for the sake of your son, and the perpetuation of your line.

MANIAKA (Displeased)

You have come all the way just to tell me this?

All my life, prophets and seers have come to tell me

dire tales of doom. I know what it is you seek.

I see no way that crows and strays can defile my city.

Can crows and dogs carry dead flesh to the gods’ abode?

The hanging man will rot till his bones fall off the tree.

Go, fortune teller, find yourself a profitable trade.

Get rich trading with the Majapahit and the Arabs.

It is a sorry thing, Tok, to see you trying to make money

selling prophecies to any credulous king .

TOK SETH (Exasperated)

Is there not a king in the whole world who knows…


Who knows what?


How to value wisdom

far more than they should value wealth.


And value the lack of it more than even ill-gotten wealth?


You are sick, Maniaka, sick in spirit to the death.

MANIAKA (With irony)

You are a prophet. I cannot but agree with what you say.


Yet you say I offer you false prophecies for gold.


A rare prophet it is who does not love gold.


They have more wisdom than kings I know who love brass.


You are forgetting your place. Be careful of what you say.


It was prophets like me who helped you secure your throne.


But you prophets, you sell your prophecies for money.


You provoke me Maniaka. You force me to say things

that you will not want to hear.


Say them. Say them.

I will not pay you for whatever wisdom you throw my way.


No payment you can make will ever be enough

for what I am going to tell you.


Let me be the judge of that.

Whatever you say will not pluck the dead man from that tree,

nor will it disgorge the sister from that black mouth in the hills.


Be attentive to my words then. Take them into your heart.

You make light of them at your own peril.

The time is coming when you shall pay for the dead

with one more dead, and it shall be from the flesh of your flesh.

You have sent to the grave one who, more than you, deserves to live,

and you have denied the grave to one who already is dead.

You have set yourself in open contempt of the gods.

In sure and certain retribution, they will let loose

furies out of hell to dog you till the end of your days,

when you would have grieved for the extinction of your line.

Do you still think you have gold enough to buy me?

Listen, not long from now your household will be wild

with weeping and wailing, while yourself will know

such sorrow you will not be able to salve it with all your gold.

For the gods will have set their curse upon you.

May the gods grant you time to repent of your foolish tongue.

(To boy) Come, child, pick up my cane and lead me hence.

We leave this king to wallow in his gold. Let him keep it

and spend his anger on the dumb and the fearful around him.

Tok Seth and boy leave by way of the left side of the stage.


Tok Seth is gone. He has sown words in my mind

that will hatch such sick fears as will consume all my rest.

I am an old man who has known Tok all his life.

I have not known him to have deceived a king for gain.

MANIAKA (Intimidated by what he heard.)

I hate to say it, but I maligned the old man.

I now feel fear like an ague creeping into my bones.

But how can I go back on my own edict, break my own law?

And let the woman free to rescue that traitor from his shame.

It is a hard thing, worse than taking a chance with ruin.


Defer to your better judgement, Tuanku; be advised

Tok spoke of sure and certain ruin if you do not relent.


What shall I do?


Take the men and hurry

to free Anike from her tomb and send, meanwhile, for the priests

to prepare for Sirat’s burial. There must be no delay.


You will have me do this?


You do not have much time.

The gods are ranged against you. If Anike dies

their curse will work its sure destruction on your head.

MANIAKA (Still hesitant)

I will do it. (To Guards) Go, get together enough men,

and go to the cave, and have the mound of stones pulled down

to let the woman out. Go before I change my mind.


You have to go yourself, Tuanku, to make sure the entrance

to the cave is cleared and see to it the woman is held safe.



Considers for a few moments Bendahara’s words.

(Softly) I will go. (To guard) Gather twenty men and follow me.

Every man is to have his parang or his axe with him.

We need on the way to cut stout poles from the jungle

for prying loose the boulders from that cave and so set free

into the day world of light and air our captive woman.

These are evil times - a king faces ruin upholding the law,

while a woman, in breaking it, earns the blessing of the gods.

Lights down.