Wong Phui Nam & Sophocles

(Performing Version)

26 September 2005




Yasmine, sister of Anike

Maniaka, the Raja

Nadim, son of Maniaka

Tok Seth, a seer


Wanang Seri, wife of Maniaka

Chorus, of not more than five representing elders and hangers-on

Guard, also something of a fool


Boy, Tok Seth’s ‘seeing eye’

Maniaka’s men

Wanang Seri’s maids-in-attendance


Place and Time: Merang before the arrival of Islam


The stage, which should be semi-circular, is set low with two steps leading up to it. At the back of the stage there is a central double-leafed door set two steps higher than the stage. At the back of the stage, there is an open exit on the left and on the right.

Gamelan music. The music comes on when the lights are turned down between scenes.

When the lights are turned up Anike is seen sitting on the floor of the stage slightly to the right of the central door. The scene is a room in Anike’s house. The lights should be low to suggest the early hours before dawn lit by several oil lamps. Yasmine enters through the central door. Anike rises to greet her as Yasmine steps onto the level of the stage. They embrace and then walk to the place where Anike was sitting.

Yasmine speaks as they walk.

YASMINE (In a disturbed state, tinged with outrage)

After he chased Sirat into the crowds at the day market,

cornered and hacked him into a blood-soaked mess,

he could not let him die unmolested where he fell,

wheezing among the rubbish and the overturned stalls

abandoned by the vendors.

They reach the place where they are to sit. Yasmine continues speaking as Anike invites her to sit down.

Wira was almost a brother,

yet he hauled Sirat tied by the heels up against a tree.

Wira was driven by such cold fury or a lust for violence

he could not be satisfied with Sirat dead?


Almost a brother, yes. But a brother is nothing

if one exists only for one’s king.

YASMINE For months I was troubled

by a deep foreboding about Sirat, but I had not expected this.


And I became ill with dread when I heard how he dragged

our Raja by his ears and kicked him with his hangers-on

down the palace steps. He banished all restraint

on his turning night into day and day, night

with riot with the palace women. Awake and in my sleep,

I could not help but see our brother dead. And now he is.


Anike, we cannot leave him there to dangle

in the open, naked to the eye of day

that sees him bloat into a monstrous balloon.

We cannot have him turn in any passing wind

that breathes off his spoiling gut thick, offensive gases

of decay and spew it on all who pass him by.

The sun will soften and ferment his skin

into a greyish green so it spreads like mould

in patches beneath a buzzing lace-work

of glistening black and bottle-blue dung flies

fighting to nest their larvae in the jellied blood.

Pauses. Struggles to continue.

O Sirat, my brother… I do not know what I feel.

Before daybreak, and a curious crowd, let us cut him down

and carry him back for a burial proper to his rank.

Anike remains silent for a while before she responds.

ANIKE (In a subdued voice)

It was not from rage or a lust for violence that Wira

made a hanging carcass of Sirat. The Raja himself,

who summoned Wira to do his murderous work,

demanded this outrage. Wira was to have our brother

carved, stripped bare and hung from a tree by the city gate,

then left there to mature into a sack of waste for worms

to sprout white as fresh taugeh from the skin

and cleanse him till they leave nothing in the air but bones.




His intent is to have the foul fermentation

stuff up the nostrils of every man, woman and child

for months no matter if they are in the streets

or in their houses. No one will be spared the stench.

This is to make any man pricked by thoughts of bad intent

against him see himself with Sirat on that tree.

Our Tuanku has declared that any who dares cut

our brother down to bury him, with or without

our customary rites, will die by a long keris thrust

slowly from the shoulder bone deep into the heart.

He will himself, later in the morning, proclaim

on the palace steps an edict prohibiting, on pain

of death, retrieval of the dead man for burial.


Shifting uneasily in her position.

I did not know this. I mean about the edict.


That is why I have you here at this strange hour.

This is something that we have to talk about.


Let me understand this. It will be a crime

to bury Sirat?


Our Raja will proclaim it so.

YASMINE (Chastened)

I can almost hear now what you will say.


There is something that we must do.


Rises to her feet. Takes one or two paces and turns around. Her voice


Yes, cut him down,

is it not what you want to say?


Waits a few moments for Yasmin to calm herself and resume her seat.

You have just said

Sirat is your brother. He is ours, yours and mine.

His nakedness is our nakedness, his shame, our shame,

as much as if we ourselves were made to hang mutilated

and naked by his side. What Wira has done

is an outrage directed not only against us.

He might as well, at Tuanku’s word, have gone out

to disturb the bones of our nenek moyang in their graves.

YASMINE (In a weak voice.)

I hear you as in a dream…


You know what needs to be done,

even if it were not out of love for our brother

it should be out of anger. Tuanku has gone too far.

YASMINE (Desperate to convince Anike)

You know our Tuanku. He is a man who sees a slight

even from a courtier caught smiling behind his back.

Wira himself he ordered killed, when a few words

breathed by Kermit Wijaya into his ear

made him see Wira naked on successive nights

with Melati and others among the maids-in-waiting

inside the lascivious confines of Wira’s curtained bed.


He is just a vain, coarse and insecure little man.


You remember how the Bendahara deceived him,

how the old man loved Wira as a son and had him

sent to hunt and fish in the fastness of his dusun

deep in the hills. Only when our Raja sighed with regret

he no longer had Wira to rid the palace and the world

of our brother was he told the truth. How shameless

you said, our Raja was, laughing as he clasped Wira

to him to receive him back from the dead.

Yes, how shameless, and we now see, how utterly vicious

in revenge. I cannot bear to think what he can do to us.


This makes it a harder test for us to prove ourselves

true sisters and worthy daughters to our forefathers.

Will you help me… ?


To bury Sirat and add one more affront

to His Highness? Our brother molested his person,

kicked him in the rear for all his own court to see,

and then enjoyed his women.


For all that,

Wira does not deserve to suffer further wounds,

wounds more mortal than those Wira hacked through to his bones.

(Emphatically) With his butchered body he has paid Tuanku in full.


This was a crime Tuanku could not leave unpunished.

Sirat’s affront not curbed by harsh but lawful punishment

would show to the people how toothless Tuanku

has made the law. It calls out to other Sirats

to shame him again, to do worse than make him

fly down the palace steps. Our city’ s order

is like whole marble. Our defiance of him will open

a crack in it and, so, destroy its wholeness.

Ours will be the hands that do it if we undo

what Wira has done to set right Sirat’s crime.

This only one instance of our Tuanku’s excess;

maybe we should bear it if preserves the larger good.


If that is what you think, I shall not need you then.

You have made your choice. Go on and live and be

whatever you choose to be. I will bury him.

If that is a crime, it is a crime sanctioned both by duty

and a sister’s love. A crime our datuk nenek will surely bless,

a crime that will set our brother Sirat’s soul at peace.

If I must die for it, then I must. I am ready

if I am to be displayed with Sirat in his shame,

for I am certain my crime will turn that shame to honour.


You seem to have forgotten Nadim. The love he bears you

has taken such deep root, it is, as I see it,

as if your spirit has been engrafted onto to his.

Your death will be a double death, for by it

he will surely lose the very inmost sources of nurture

of his life.


I know. Tell this to Tuanku, his father.

As surely as he wills to kill me, he will have willed

the death of his own son.


You will not care then?

Even if your double death will bring about a third?

The Permaisuri loves you as if you are already her daughter.

She will surely not endure …


I can feel her pain, even now.

But what cries out to be done has numbed, for me, all pain.


I do not feel things the way you do, Anike.

I cannot feel that way even if I try.

I do not know if the stone that weighs me down inside

is grief, or fright or outrage at Tuanku. I know only

I am too weak to defy him. His decree seems cruel to us,

but Sirat must also bear the consequences of his acts.


That is your reason – Tuanku may be right – go then.

Tuanku must protect the city’s order, for the people’s good.


Anike, I really am afraid.


You need not be. You are on the safe side of the law.


Rises on her knees ready to leave.

No one will hear about this. I promise, Anike,

I will not breathe a word of this to anyone.


No, go and tell it to everyone. Run to our friends,

go into the streets, stop every passerby you meet

and tell it them. Yes, even shout it from your verandah.

I would not want Tuanku to punish you when all of this

comes to light, and he finds out you knew of it all the time.


Are you not the slightest bit afraid, like me? My blood

is already running cold. And you, all on fire.


Perhaps I am afraid, but I am angry. Anger has no fear


Surely you cannot do it. You are only a woman


I do not know it cannot be done till I have done

all I can and find out I do not have the strength…

Go now! Go! I am beginning to resent what you say.

I am even beginning to hate you for it.

If you speak on and on like this, the dead too will hate you.

Go now and leave me to mourn

as I prepare to go out to bury my brother.

The women rise to their feet. They clasp hands. Yasmine embraces her sister as she takes leave. She leaves by way of the central door.

YASMINE (As she exits) My foolish misguided sister.

How futile her defiance. Yet hers is a greater love

than mine, for soon it sends her out to die.

Anike leaves by way of the right of the stage.

Enter Chorus from the left. The lines for Chorus to be divided between two or three speakers who will speak individually. The individual from Chorus who speaks may be an elder or a hanger-on. Chorus speaks in unison as a group only when indicated.

CHORUS (An elder addressing the audience.)

There are those among the people who mutter to themselves

Sirat’s crime against the Raja is blessed by the claims

of brotherly love and duty of disobedience

to an unjust king. But many are troubled that

he had too readily crawled at the Raja’s feet,

exulted in the favours, the largesse, and the gift

of the disgraced Wira’s keris from the royal hand.

When Sirat had the palace, he had the state,

but he made himself ruler among the palace women.

His acts of governance were in riot and carousing

day and night. Throwing himself with a passion

into the sweaty embrace with the maids in-waiting,

he made a sty of the royal bedchamber

and of the throne room a shambles by battles fought

with the women with flowers, cushions and perfumed shawls.

When confronted by Wira come back from the dead,

he slaughtered the screaming women that he might lay waste

and keep forever for himself his erstwhile kingdom.

Then holding his entrails in place with a tightened sash

around a breaking wound Wira opened in his belly,

he charged into the city streets, into the market place

and cut a swath through those who could not run from him,

for by that carnage he would leave a great and lasting name.

And Wira? Many among the people sing aloud his praises

for unquestioning devotion, and acclaim him a hero

for putting an end unaided to rebellion

though he slaughtered by it a brother-in-arms, a friend

at the bidding of an insecure, capricious king.

Lights down.