I did not realise that there would be a big debate on what an 'empire' is when I stated that Brunei lost its huge empire. Of course in comparison to the Roman Empire or any of the other 'Empire', the Brunei Empire was relatively small. But at its height, it is said to have covered the whole of Borneo Island and all the islands in the Southern Philippines and some have said the empire also included parts of the Indonesian Java Island as well. How the empire was ruled in those days would also be subject to question. At its height even the Roman Empire was not in total control of some of those areas supposedly within their empire. Short of being a time traveller, there is no way we would really know. However amazingly enough, most of the historical data that we used to derive all these information are not ours. It's always written by other people, other historians. And other people will not write your history well.
All the arguments heighten my interest to delve into further readings of Brunei History. I found an article written by one of our historians at the History Centre who wrote about the origin of the name of our country, Brunei. Most of us were brought up (those who were lucky enough to be brought up with Brunei History - I was using the Malaysian History Book when I was at school in Brunei) knew of the story of a group of 'sakai' led by Pateh Berbai to search for the new capital. When they found the present location to be very strategic, it was said that they said 'baru nah' - finally we found it. Eventually 'baru nah' became Brunei. I thought when I first read this years ago, it was plausible but there was a sense of doubt there. It does stretch your imagination how 'baru nah' can in the long run become 'Brunei'. What kind of conversation were they having in those days?
I quite like the second explanation from another school of thought - more scholarly - and hence less fun, which stated that the word Brunei comes from the Sanskrit word 'Bhurni Karpuradvipa' - 'bhurni' means 'land' dan 'karpuradvipa' which means 'camphor land' as in those days, Brunei produces a lot of camphor (kapur barus) said to be among the best in the world. Some have also speculated that another Sanskrit word 'Varunai' which means 'seaborn' as Bruneians in those days are said to be great and brave sailors. Again this relates well to Bruneians who lived in Kampung Ayer.
In the Chinese Annals from the years of 518 to 1370 CE, Brunei was known as either Poli, Polo or Poni. It changed to Brunei in about 1397 CE during the reign of Chien-Wen when Brunei sent its emissary to China. The Europeans called Brunei as Borneo as one historian writes '... the islands of Borneo which is given its European name to all the rest, is correctly pronounced by the inhabitants of the country itself 'Brunei'...' The Arabs know Brunei in those days as 'Dzabaj' or 'Randj' and surprisingly it is the present South China Sea which was then called the Brunei Sea. In fact there has been many spellings of Brunei in various historial literatures such as Buruneng, Bornei, Burneu, Borney, Borneo, Bruneo, Burne, Bornui and Burni.
The word 'Darussalam' was said to be used from the third Sultan, Sultan Sharif Ali. This was the days when Brunei was very famous and visitors from the Islamic Middle East would come to Brunei to trade and they found the country so prosperous and peaceful that they called it Darussalam which is the Arabic word for peace and prosperous.