History

October 14, 2010 by  
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Ancient history

There is archaeological evidence that early modern humans were present in Borneo 40,000 years ago. These early settlers were later replaced by successive waves of Austronesian migrants, whose descendants form the many ethnic and cultural groups living in Borneo today, alongside more recent immigrants from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and India.

Early Borneo kingdoms were under the cultural, economic and political influence of larger Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in the Indonesian archipelago. There is evidence of early trade with India and China dating as far back as the 6th century, with a rich trade in camphor, spices, precious woods and exotic jungle products in the area that is now modern-day Brunei.

The rise of the Sultans: The Empire of Brunei

Trade with the Arabian Peninsula and with Indian Muslim traders saw the introduction of Islam to Brunei. In 1405, Brunei’s monarch embraced Islam and ruled as Sultan Muhammad, founding a dynasty which continues today. Brunei’s monarchy has the distinction of being the oldest unbroken reigning dynasty in the world.

Brunei’s sovereignty peaked in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it controlled the whole of Borneo and parts of the Philippines. The empire’s vast wealth, derived from international commerce, created a strong impression on early European explorers. They returned to Europe with stories of gold, regalia and majestic ceremonies.

Europeans Arrive

In later centuries, declining trade and colonial intrusions eroded the size and influence of Brunei, especially after the 1839 arrival of James Brooke. A swashbuckling English adventurer, James Brooke was appointed governor, or Rajah, of Sarawak, after helping the Sultan put down a rebellion. However, he soon consolidated power and started expanding the territory under British control, creating his own dynasty of “White Rajahs” that ruled until World War II.

During their rule, the “White Rajahs” continued encroaching on Brunei’s territory, which was also under pressure from British trading companies which had already taken control of present-day Sabah state in Malaysia.

These and other internal disputes prompted the Sultan to accept British protection and control over external affairs. In 1906, Brunei submitted to a British Resident system, giving the British control over home affairs, except for customs and religion. Reduced to a fraction of its former size and wealth, Brunei saw a revival of its fortunes when oil was discovered in 1929. The resulting wealth was judiciously managed and sustained, even during the nation’s occupation by the Japanese during WWII. Following the war, it was the late Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien, the true architect of modern Brunei, who set Brunei on its course to modernization.

Modern, Independent Brunei

Today’s Sultan, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the 29th ruler of his line, led Brunei to its independence from the British in 1984. During His Majesty’s reign, a fast-paced modernization program, building upon the nation’s oil wealth, has resulted in a noted improvement in quality of life for all Bruneians. Now leading the nation into the 21st century, His Majesty’s government is responsible for the booming construction and infrastructure expansions which have turned Brunei into one of Southeast Asia’s most developed nations. Attracting foreign investment, improving the nation’s human resources base, and tourism development are all measures that His Majesty and the government are promoting to prepare the nation for the challenges of the future, when oil and gas reserves will have been depleted and a diversified economy will be needed to maintain the high standards of living currently enjoyed by the Bruneian people.

Monuments and Landmarks

October 14, 2010 by  
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A glittering example of Brunei’s majestic royal heritage, Istana Nurul Iman is the Sultan’s lavish home in the capital and is the largest residential palace in the world. Situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city, the palace is an enigmatic symbol of Brunei’s enduring monarchy and seat of the nation’s government.

Nearby, the Mausoleum of Sultan Bolkiah pays tribute to one of Brunei’s greatest Sultans, who reigned at the height of Brunei’s sovereignty in the region. It is a peaceful area in a quiet alcove of greenery and exudes the deep respect of the Bruneian people for their rich heritage.

The capital also houses a number of royal museums highlighting the nation’s 600-year old monarchy and century-spanning history. Perhaps the most well-known is the Royal Regalia Museum, where visitors can glimpse the Sultan’s full royal regalia, including the crown and royal chariot, along with a vast collection of opulent treasures. A visit to the Brunei Museum is also a must, with its elaborate displays of antique cannons and intricate daggers, a large private collection of gilded Holy Korans, Borneo ethnographic displays and treasures unearthed from shipwrecks off Brunei’s coasts. Meanwhile, the Brunei History Centre contains genealogical records detailing the origins of the Royal Family and other historical documents significant to the nation.

Though Brunei has embraced Islam and its art, architecture and culture, relics of the colonial days are also integrated seamlessly into the nation’s landscape. The unique House of Twelve Roofs is a good example. This quaint piece of British architecture, once home to the British Resident, has since been transformed into a museum and venue for entertaining foreign dignitaries.

Islamic Heritage

October 14, 2010 by  
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With over two thirds of its population professing the Islamic faith, Brunei is ruled according to the national philosophy of the Malay Islamic Monarchy, intertwining Malay traditions with Islam and deep-rooted respect for the nation’s monarchy. Bruneians practice a devout but tolerant brand of Islam, which encompasses sincere respect and devotion, while still remaining open to other faiths and beliefs.

Modern scholars date the spread of Islam to Brunei Darussalam to the late 13th century. Prior to this, ancient Malay Culture was based on animistic and Indic culture. Islam gradually eroded these elements and thus, today’s Malay culture is now more identifiable with Islam.

Visitors to Brunei will see that Islamic influences form a central foundation of the nation’s heritage. As Islam is the foundation for the life of the average Bruneian, many of the nation’s cultural practices and customs are intrinsically linked with religion. Aesthetically, Islam introduced important architectural features such as the ubiquitous mosques and art styles such as the tile mosaics seen throughout the nation. Other culturally enriching additions include the use of Jawi script, the abundance of religious texts and even foods and cooking styles.

Monarchy

October 14, 2010 by  
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Bruneians are proud to have the world’s oldest reigning monarchy and centuries of royal heritage. At the helm of the only remaining Malay Islamic Monarchy in the world, the Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back over 600 years to 1405 when the first Sultan ascended the throne, founding a dynasty of which the current Sultan, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, is the 29th ruler.

The early history of the nation’s unique monarchy can be pieced together from accounts taken from Chinese, Javanese and local Bruneian records. The first ruler, Sultan Muhammad Shah, known as Awang Alak Betatar, is said to be responsible for introducing Islam to Brunei, forever altering the course of the nation’s history and cultural landscape.

The second ruler was Sultan Ahmad, followed by a third Arab Sultan, Sharif Ali, considered to be a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. Also known as Sultan Berkat, he married the daughter of Sultan Ahmad and consolidated the monarchy with the Islamic faith. Following him was Sultan Sulaiman, who was succeeded by the most renowned ruler in Brunei’s early history, Sultan Bolkiah. Under the rule of Sultan Bolkiah, Brunei began to expand into an empire, with territorial holdings that would eventually encompass the island of Borneo and parts of the Philippines.

Brunei’s golden age centred on the reign of two remarkable rulers, Sultan Bolkiah and Sultan Hassan. Under their rule, Brunei’s Royal Court developed a splendour rivalling that of any other monarchy in the world, and the territorial and cultural influence of the country reached its peak. Visitors today can still marvel at the dignity of Brunei’s Golden Age as a great deal of historic relics from the era have been carefully preserved.

In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate and in 1906, the British Residential System was introduced. Brunei was eventually granted internal self-government, and Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien promulgated the nation’s new Constitution on 29 September 1959.

In 1967, the current Sultan, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah was made the 29th ruler of Brunei Darussalam, leading the nation achieving its independence in 1984. The Sultan declared Negara Brunei Darussalam (“Brunei, The Abode of Peace”) as a sovereign, democratic and independent Malay Muslim Monarchy (Melayu Islam Beraja) which would be administered according to the teachings of Islam.