Brunei - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Sultanate of Brunei
Formation 1984 / 1984
Capital Bandar Seri Begawan
Population 400,000 / 197 people per sq mile (76 people per sq km)
Total area 2228 sq. miles (5770 sq. km)
Languages Malay*, English, Chinese
Religions Muslim (mainly Sunni) 66%, Buddhist 14%, Christian 10%, Other 10%
Ethnic mix Malay 67%, Chinese 16%, Other 11%, Indigenous 6%
Currency Brunei dollar = 100 cents
Literacy rate 95%
Calorie consumption 2987 kilocalories
The early history of Brunei is not well documented, although there is evidence of its trade links with China as early as the sixth century C.E. The formal name of the country is Negara Brunei Darussalam, but it is commonly referred to as Brunei Darussalam.
The Brunei Empire reached the pinnacle of its glory from the 15th to the 17th centuries when its control extended over the entire island of Borneo (of which Brunei is the northeastern part) and spread farther north up to the Philippines.
Brunei had become a major power to reckon with under its fifth sultan Bolkiah (r. 1473–1521), who was renowned for his maritime adventures and exploits. The era of glory continued briefly under the ninth sultan Hassan (r. 1605–19). Thereafter Brunei’s fortunes entered a period of decline, due to a combination of internal battles for succession and the influx of European colonial powers into the region.
In 1839 the English adventurer James Brooke (1803–68) arrived in Borneo and helped the sultan put down a rebellion.
As a reward he was made governor, and later rajah, of Sarawak in northwest Borneo and gradually expanded the territory under his control. (Geographically the area known as Sarawak, now forming the southeast part of Malaysia, borders Brunei on three sides.) Meanwhile the British North Borneo Company was expanding its control over territory in northeast Borneo. In 1888 Brunei became a protectorate of the British government, retaining internal independence but with British control over external affairs. British control was further intensified in 1906, when executive power was transferred to a British resident, who advised the ruler on all matters except those concerning local custom and religion.
With the drawing up of a new constitution in 1959, Brunei was declared a self-governing state, while its foreign affairs, security, and defense remained the responsibility of the United Kingdom. In 1962 an attempt was made to introduce a partially elected legislative body with limited powers. It was abandoned after the opposition party Partai Rakyat Brunei launched an armed uprising, which the government quelled with the help of British forces. The sultan eventually decided that Brunei would remain an independent state and successfully resisted pressures in the late 1950s and early 1960s to join the neighboring area of Sabah (and also Sarawak) as part of the newly formed Malaysia.
In 1967 Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin (1914–86) abdicated in favor of his eldest son Hassanal Bolkiah (b. 1946), who became the 29th ruler. The sultan himself retained the portfolio of defense and assumed the royal title seri begawan. In 1970, the national capital Brunei Town was renamed Bandar Seri Begawan in his honor.
On January 4, 1979, Brunei and the United Kingdom signed a new treaty of friendship and cooperation. Finally on January 1, 1984, Brunei became a fully independent state. Its next step was to join ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). During the next two and a half decades Brunei moved toward Islamic fundamentalism. In 1991 the sale of alcohol was banned, and stringent dress codes have been enforced since then.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Brunei is situated on the northern coast of the island of Borneo, in southeastern Asia, bounded on the north by the South China Sea and on all other sides by the Malaysian state of Sarawak.
The landmass of Brunei consists of a narrow coastal plain and a hilly interior region. There are extensive swamps, especially in the west and northeast.
Most streams flow north to the coast, including the Belait River, the longest river of the country.
The climate of Brunei is largely humid and tropical with an average annual temperature of about 81°F. Although there is rain throughout the year the country experiences its heaviest rainfall during the monsoon season, which lasts from November to March.
Brunei is heavily dependent on its revenues from the sale of crude oil and natural gas to finance its development programs and ranks third among the major oil-producing countries in Southeast Asia. It is also the fourth largest producer of liquefied natural gas in the world. The state also receives income from rents, royalties, corporate taxes, and dividends. Because oil and gas are nonrenewable resources, the nation has made economic diversification a major priority.
The government provides for all medical services and subsidizes food and housing.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The culture of Brunei is linked with the old Malay civilization that once encompassed the entire Malay Archipelago.
The influx of various cultural elements and foreign civilizations strongly influenced Brunei’s culture. Although Islam emerged as the strongest force and defines the lives of the majority of the population, strong and distinct traces of animism, Hinduism, and Western cultures remain.
Brunei has tried to preserve its diverse cultural heritage. The founding of the Arts and Handicraft Center in 1975 testifies to the push for preservation.
Brunei is famous for indigenous crafts such as boat making, silver work, bronze toolmaking, and cloth weaving, as well as mat and basket weaving. Brunei also boasts of the skills of silat, a traditional art of self-defense.
Oil and gas wealth has built the ostentatious modern public buildings in the capital, but most of Brunei is undeveloped and untouched by the outside world. Alcohol is illegal, there is no nightlife to speak of, and the political culture encourages quiet acquiescence to the edicts of the sultan.
CUISINE The cuisine of Brunei has been strongly influenced by and shows a striking resemblance to Malaysian food. The dishes are generally rich and spicy and are eaten with rice or noodles. Ubiquitous street vendors sell foods such as barbequed fish, chicken wings, and satay (chunks or slices of meat on put on skewers and grilled).
Ambuyat (a porridge made of sago starch), familiarly called “edible glue,” is a local specialty.
This is accompanied by grilled fish, a spicy mango sauce, and an assortment of vegetables. Other local favorites include beef rendang (sort of a spicy beef stew cooked in coconut milk) and nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk).
In Brunei there are two basic Muslim rituals accompanying the birth of a child. First the father or a male relative whispers the call to prayer (adhan) into the newborn’s right ear as the first sound it hears. This act symbolically makes the baby aware of Allah from the very first moment of its life. This is accompanied by reading from the relevant portions of the Koran.
After a few days, a naming ceremony is held. At a gathering of relatives and friends the child is formally given a name and often a lock of hair is cut from its head. This is generally followed by a celebratory meal, sacrifices, and readings from the Koran. The baby is weighed, and an equivalent amount in silver is given to charity.
COMING OF AGE
Circumcision is not mentioned in the Koran, but Muslims everywhere regard it as essential, and the Hadith (a narrative record of the sayings of Muhammad) records it as a practice required by all the prophets. It is also known as tahara, meaning “purification.” In Brunei and neighboring countries where this procedure is followed, the boy undergoes circumcision between 10 and 12 years of age. It is, thus, a puberty rite, separating the boy from childhood and assigning him the new status of manhood.
In certain cases it is performed in a clinic or hospital.
Festivities, music, special foods, and the presence of a large number of guests are all part of the occasion.
While the actual event is taking place, one may hear the praises of Allah being uttered, partly to induce a religious ambience, and partly (as some observers suggest) to muffle the boy’s cries of pain.
However the procedure is relatively safe, and those who perform it are usually specially trained.
In Brunei, whose culture has strong Malaysian influences, marriages are lavish affairs. The bride and groom are treated as “king and queen” for a day. The prewedding meeting between the bride’s and the groom’s parents determines the dowry that is to be given to the bride as well as the date of the marriage.
A henna application ceremony is held prior to the wedding. The bride’s palms and feet are decorated with dye from henna leaves. Sometimes this is followed by several changes of costume, called tukar pakaian.
Marriage is a contract, and its solemnization is normally presided over by a kadhi, a religious official.
The Akad Nikah or Solemnization of Marriage ceremony is, in effect, a verbal contract between the bride’s father, represented by the kadhi, and the groom. A small sum of money seals the contract.
This token amount is distinct from the dowry or bride price, which the groom offers to the bride.
The simplicity of this ritual is in sharp contrast to the tremendous responsibilities of the groom toward his bride, which is reinforced in a brief lecture on marriage and its responsibilities, delivered later by the kadhi. The groom is also reminded that, should he fail to provide both spiritual and physical sustenance for his wife, the marriage may be dissolved if a complaint is made to the Syariat Court.
The solemnization is usually conducted by the kadhi in the presence of witnesses after both partners are asked separately for their consent to the marriage.
Gifts are then exchanged, and there may be a recitation of the Koran. Gifts from the groom are checked to ensure everything is in order. These gifts are then displayed in the bridal chamber. This is followed by parties and feasts hosted by the groom’s and bride’s families.
In Brunei when a Muslim is nearing death, those around the person are called upon to comfort the person and remind him or her of God’s mercy and forgiveness. They may also recite verses from the Koran. It is recommended that a dying Muslim’s last words should be the declaration of faith: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah.” After the person has died, the people pray for the departed and begin preparations for burial. The eyes of the deceased are closed, and the body is covered temporarily with a clean sheet. It is forbidden for those in mourning to excessively wail, scream, or make wild gestures.
It is customary among Muslims to bury the deceased as soon as possible after death, avoiding the need for embalming or otherwise disturbing the body of the deceased. In case of an unnatural death, a postmortem may be performed if need be, but it should be done with the utmost respect for the dead.
The family members wash the body with clean, perfumed water, after which it is wrapped in sheets of clean, white cloth (kafan).
The deceased is then transported to the site of the funeral prayers (salat-l-janazah). These prayers are commonly held outdoors, in a courtyard or public square, not inside the mosque. The community gathers, and the imam (prayer leader) stands in front of the deceased, facing away from the worshippers.
The funeral prayer resembles the daily prayers, with a few variations. (For example, there is no bowing or prostration. Most of the prayer is said silently, except for a few words.) The corpse is then taken to the cemetery for burial (al-dafin). While all members of the community attend the funeral prayers, only the men of the community accompany the body to the graveyard.
The deceased is laid in the grave on his or her right side, facing Mecca. Erection of tombstones, elaborate markers, placing of flowers, or other mementoes is discouraged.
The friends and family of the dead person observe a three-day mourning period. They practice austerity and avoid wearing decorative clothing and jewelry. Widows observe an extended mourning period (iddah) for four months and ten days. During this period a widow is not allowed to remarry, move away from her home, or wear fancy jewelry and clothing.