Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Culture and Tradition for Chinese New Year in Brunei 2016

Darren Chin
Tuesday, February 9, 2016

MEMBERS of the local Chinese community yesterday gathered at the Teng Yun Temple in the capital to mark the start of their New Year celebrations.

Members of the local Chinese community dressed in their New Year’s best came in droves to pray to their ancestors for a prosperous year ahead.

Tiah Eng Nee, Teng Yun Temple secretary, said that this year’s attendance on the first day of Chinese New Year was slightly bigger than last year.

“The common perception among the Chinese community is that the Year of the Monkey, which is this year, is quite an auspicious year for work and business so it is quite normal that a lot of people have come to pray for a prosperous year ahead,” he said.

Joann Leong, one of the visitors to the temple yesterday, said that besides reason for celebration, the Chinese New Year festivities are also a way for them to uphold their cultural identity and traditional customs.

The Chinese New Year celebration is the most important date on the lunar calendar, with festivities lasting up to fifteen days.

Tiah said that in preparing for the festivities normally people will start with cleaning their house on the eve of the New Year and avoid doing so on the day itself, believing that it would “sweep away the year’s prosperity” if any cleaning is done during the first day.

“People would celebrate it by letting off firecrackers, decorating the house with a predominantly red-coloured theme and of course, eating lots of food while visiting friends and relatives at open houses,” he said.

Tourists were also seen making their way to the temple to witness a lion dance performed by the Chung Hwa Middle School (CHMS BSB) troupe to welcome the Year of the Monkey. The lion dance troupe performed the traditional Chinese lion dance as well as the dragon dance in front of hundreds of onlookers.

A tourist who saw the performance, Gordon Thomas, told The Brunei Times that he had never seen anything like it back in his home country.

“Even though there are more Chinese people back home in England, this is my first time experiencing this Chinese New Year festivities as well as the lion dance performance,” he said.

“It is such a fantastic scene and I find the local Chinese here to be worshipful and devout, but also with a bit of fun and excitement in the air which makes for an enjoyable experience,” he said.

An expatriate who teaches at the Jerudong International School was very appreciative of the local observation of Chinese culture and tradition saying that the lion dance performance was worth waking up early in the morning.

“My children loved it and nowhere in UK where I come from is there anything similar to this public spectacle,” said Matthew Clint.

“We just love where everyone is immersed in another culture in peace and harmony so it is wonderful to have witnessed the celebration – especially the lion dance performances,” he said.

A local resident who witnessed the lion dance performance also appreciated the chance to experience the Chinese culture and traditions.

The Brunei Times

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Brunei stands to gain from Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Brunei stands to gain from Trans Pacific Partnership

Leo Kasim
Tuesday, February 9, 2016

BRUNEI will be one of the largest gainers among the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) member countries when it comes to exports, gross domestic product (GDP) and income over the long term, according to studies from two leading organisations.

The World Bank, in its January 2016 report entitled ‘Global Economic Prospects: Spillovers amid Weak Growth’, said that Brunei would come in third with a five per cent gain in GDP by 2030, behind Vietnam and Malaysia both of whom lead at 10 and eight per cent respectively.

The study by the Washington-based global lender said that the largest GDP gains are expected in smaller and open member economies.

Vietnam and Malaysia would benefit from lower tariffs and non-tariff measures in large export markets and at home from stronger positions in regional supply chains through deeper integration, said the study.

In a working paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), Brunei would experience a 5.9 per cent income growth from baseline income by 2030, behind Vietnam’s 8.1 per cent and Malaysia’s 7.6 per cent.

The paper entitled ‘The Economic Effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership: New Estimates’ by Peter Petri and Michael Plummer, said that Brunei is one of the countries projected to have significant percentage gains along with other the other small economies of Peru, Singapore and New Zealand.

“Large gains are also projected for Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Japan benefits from improved market access throughout the TPP region, including early liberalisation of auto imports in markets other than the United States (US) and from domestic reforms that reduce distortions in its protected service and investment,” said the study from the Washington-based non-profit economic institution.

It added that percentage gains are especially large for Vietnam and Malaysia as the agreement should stimulate domestic reforms and provide access to protected foreign markets.

In an interview, Craig Allen, the US Ambassador to Brunei, said that the both studies show that the sultanate has much to gain from the world’s largest trade pact which would help diversify the country’s economy.

“While all these reports make macroeconomic assumptions, I think that they all point to significant improvement over time,” he said at the US embassy.

“The TPP would improve Brunei’s likelihood of diversification and growing employment, exports, output and global linkages outside oil and gas.”

He said that the TPP operates under economic stimulus regardless of oil prices and make it easier for Brunei and its TPP partners to invest amongst each other.

It will also give Bruneian small-medium enterprises the opportunity to grow beyond the small local market and help local and foreign manufacturers due to duty free entry into anywhere within the TPP world, he said.

In a November 2015 statement, Brunei’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MoFAT) said that the country’s participation in the TPP will drive national economic developments and ensure the country’s future prosperity.

Brunei’s future relies on its success as a trading nation, MoFAT said in the statement at that time.

According to the ministry, Brunei’s total trade with TPP countries amounted to $10 billion in 2014, a figure which comprises an average of 64 per cent of the country’s overall trade.

The TPP was formalised last week in New Zealand with member countries now working on completing their respective domestic processes.

The TPP member countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States of America and Vietnam.

The Brunei Times

Chinese New Year in Brunei 2016

Collage of yesterday's Dragon Dance and Lion Dance at Bandar Seri Begawan Temple to mark the New Lunar Chinese Year of 2016. Chinese New Year in Brunei. Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Monday, February 08, 2016

The Might of the Miniature Brunei Cannons

Rozan Yunos
Bandar Seri Begawan
Sunday, February 7, 2016

THERE is a Malay proverb that goes ‘kecil jangan disangka anak; besar jangan disangka bapa’, which can be translated as, ‘just because someone looks small, do not think that he is a child; but just because someone looks big, do not think he is a father’.

The same saying can be applied when you look at a small handheld cannon – do not let its small diminutive size fool you. That small handheld cannon can pack a mighty punch.

In the book entitled “The Might of the Miniature Cannon: A Treasure of Borneo and the Malay Archipelago” (2005), the author, Alex Teoh E K, noted that the miniature cannons manufactured in Brunei and the surrounding Borneo island were the preferred monetary tender, desirable marriage dowry, payment for fines, treasure heirloom and a status symbol.

The small cannons were not used in battles or wars even though they were technically capable of being fired and can theoretically hit and kill someone. Pengiran Dato Sharifuddin writing about the Brunei Cannon (1969) in the Brunei Museum Journal described the cannons as “although they look like toys to strangers, they can be dangerous at close range, like a pistol”.

 Cannons have been used in Brunei ever since it was discovered and introduced to the region either by the Chinese or the Europeans. When it was first introduced in Brunei is a date that we will never know. What is known is that by the time the Magellan expedition arrived in Brunei, they were widely used. Magellan’s Italian explorer Antonio Pigafetta noted that in 1521:

“... there is a large brick wall in front of the King's house with barbicans like a fort, in which were mounted 56 bronze pieces and six of iron. During the two days of our stay, many pieces were discharged...”

Alex Teoh described that with over four hundred years of cannon-making history, the Borneo region is reputed to make the finest cannons in the Asian region. Comparing the cannons manufactured in Brunei and Borneo, the Borneo cannons are superior in both workmanship and finish, compared to the cannons made in Terengganu in Malaysia or Acheh in Indonesia.

Brunei and Borneo cannons also have better finishes, ornamentation and decorations compared to the ones made by Europeans. However the European cannons have a longer firing range and is much heavier in comparison to the Brunei and Borneo cannons. This is due to the purposes and multiuse of the local cannons as they were not just used as weapons but also as instruments in both the economic and socio-cultural settings.

Cannons in the region are used for decoration, that is, they were installed in boats to decorate and show the importance of the boat owners. A pirate ship does not carry it merely for decoration purposes but to show their might to those who disobey them.

Cannons were also used as a means for communication. They are fired for signalling and warning, where they were usually placed in strategic locations like a fort, riverbank or hill. The cannons can be fired to signal the approach of the enemies or suspicious vessels. In Brunei, cannons are still fired to mark the end of each fasting day just as cannons are used to transmit important messages including the announcement of a royal birth or a death.

Cannons were also used for royal family ceremonies. The number of cannon shots determine the rank and importance of the person being celebrated.

Most importantly, the cannons were used as a token or as a medium of exchange to facilitate trade and socio-cultural activities.It was used as money to trade for goods, especially in purchasing rice and jungle products.

In an article “Malay Cannon” (1947) written by GC Wooley and published in the Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Arts Society (JMBRAS), cannons had value as currency. The ordinary gun, with normal decoration, was valued at approximately $25 to $30 a pikul. A pikul, an old Malay weight system, was equivalent to 100 katis which worked out to be around 60 kilogrammes. A good metre-long cannon would weigh around 60 kilogrammes.

Fines could also be paid by using cannons. Fines for the more serious offences could be expressed in terms of ‘so many pikuls’, and the offender could then use as many cannons of equal weight to pay the fine.

Wooley also noted that the cannon also formed a regular item in “Brian” or wedding dowry from the groom to the bride. A cannon was not difficult to store, and in most cases were stood up and tied to a house post, which can still be seen in some long houses nowadays. Cannons would not deteriorate by rusting away whereas other forms of dowry may not last as long, including animals which could die. Futhermore, cannons can be used to fire at intruders if need be, or to be fired on festive occasions.

But nowadays, cannons became very valuable when they are not as large as the normal ones. A number of exhibits at the Currency Gallery of the Brunei Currency and Monetary Board – next to the Ministry of Finance building – showcase miniature cannons between six inches and 12 inches long, that were once used as currency in Brunei, in place of coins and other monetary tokens. It was said that the value of these miniature cannons in those days can be as high as $30 (straits dollar) each. Nowadays, each could easily cost around $400 to $1,600 depending on the size, condition and rarity of the cannons.

Miniature cannons are generally between 10cm to 60cm in length. They are designed and decorated like their larger cousins. Interestingly enough, they are also designed in the form of a fat buffalo, crocodile and can be single or double barreled. Pengiran Dato Sharifuddin noted that the miniature cannons have been made for a long time in Brunei, and they continued to be made long after the firing days were over. They were used to open ceremonies; drive away evil spirits and epidemics; and generally for spiritual purposes.

Pengiran Dato Sharifuddin also noted that there are many variants of miniature crocodiles, and or of ordinary barrels decorated with crocodiles and other motifs, especially butterflies. Buffaloes also make up the other most striking and distinct miniatures.

It was not just in Brunei and Borneo that these miniature cannons play important roles. They were also used in Indonesia, especially during the Portuguese and Danish colonial rule, as currency for trade in spices. The demand became overwhelming that the Dutch and Portuguese cast them in their own countries.

The more varied designs in Brunei suggests that there are influences of her trade partners over the centuries such as China, India and the Middle East.

Alex Teoh noted that these miniature cannons play important roles in the economy as well as in socio-cultural. The intricate decoration of the barrel and elaborate detailing of design and engraving suggest that the miniature cannons could also have played a part in the spiritual and magical use.

Whatever the previous usage, the small miniature Brunei cannons are indeed of historical significance, and deserved to be preserved and valued. They make excellent display and conversation pieces and can become excellent investments.

The Brunei Times

Friday, February 05, 2016

19th Century - A Century Filled With Upheavals for Brunei

A century filled with upheavals

Darul Aqsha
Sunday, August 9, 2009

THE 19th century was a difficult and critical era for the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. His Majesty Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin ibn Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien II, the 25th Sultan of Brunei Darussalam (1885-1906), inherited Brunei which comprised an area including Modern Brunei plus the districts of Limbang and Pandaruan.

The Sultan was a witness to the country's deterioration - economically, legally and politically - particularly since the arrival of British James Brooke in Sarawak in 1839. The British had begun to collect taxes in the Tulin territories in North Borneo which had been sold by the Wazirs and Cheterias, even Sultan Hashim himself, to the British North Borneo Company and Sarawak at the end of the century.

Before 1906, Brunei's property rights were closely linked to the feudal system and its customs (adat). As mentioned in History for Brunei Darussalam: Sharing Our Past - Secondary 1 & 2, territories under the Brunei Sultanate at that time were governed in line with traditional land rights, comprising Kerajaan, Tulin, and Kuripan.

The Kerajaan territorial rights were the property of the Sultan, who held sole authority over Brunei territories which were administered by his officials. The Sultan also had the right to collect taxes from the holders of Tulin and Kuripan.

The Tulin territorial rights were those given to the members of royal families which were hereditary. The money earned from these lands belonged to the head of the family. The Kuripan territorial rights were those granted by the Sultan to important officials such as the Wazirs and Cheterias by virtue of their office, but they were not hereditary. They were handed down to the next official. Money earned from these lands provided the salary for that official.

Another territorial rights was the Monopoly Rights which were mainly controlled by Chinese businessmen. They had gained the rights to collect taxes on items such as rubber, tobacco and opium by advancing cash payments to the Sultan.

Sultan Hashim sold his Tulin territories apparently in order to finance the Sultanate as it was becoming economically weak. British Charles Brooke used this critical moment to annex the area of Limbang in Sarawak. In his efforts to regain the land, Sultan Hashim asked for help from the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid. In his letter to the Sultan of Ottoman, Sultan Hashim wrote, "My lands and the Religion of Islam have been destroyed by the infidel and one of my land named Limbang has been seized by the infidel, namely Charles Brooke in Sarawak." But the letter was never been received or read by Sultan Abdul Hamid after a British spy confiscated it.

When the Land Enactment was introduced by the first British Resident Malcolm McArthur in 1907, these traditional land rights were abolished. The enactment required that all personal incomes earned from these territories become state revenue. Meanwhile, the government bought back the Monopoly Rights from the Chinese businessmen with a large loan obtained from the Federated Malay States. The Land Enactment of 1907 was replaced with the Land Codes in 1909.

"Under that enactment, all personal income earned through payments on territories as well as revenues from farms or trading monopolies became state revenue. A system of land codes was introduced the following year where land was systematically transferred with proper land grants and titles," Rozan Yunos wrote in his article on the history of rubber plantation in Brunei (The Brunei Times, April 27, 2008).

The Residential System (1906-1959) brought many changes and improvements including the discovery of oil in Seria (1929); the introduction of a land policy with the issuance of land grants and title; the formation of departments in the government; the division of Brunei into four districts, including its mukims and villages; as well as the guarantee of the dynastic line of Sultan Hashim and the survival of the line of succession until today. It also prevented the Brookes or the Dutch to gain territorial control over Brunei.

However, it weakened the Sultan's power as the British Resident assumed more executive control and disrupted traditional responsibilites and rights of Wazirs and Cheterias, forcing them to give up their land rights and privileges.

The British did not even assist Brunei in recovering Limbang; and now, Limbang is a thorn in modern Brunei-Malaysia relationship.

The Brunei Times

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