Showing posts from 2007

Bandar Seri Begawan - a new city, an ancient capital

[The following article was published edited in the Golden Legacy column of Brunei's national newspaper The Brunei Times on 29th July 2007, 2 days before the expansion of the territory of Bandar Seri Begawan.]

On 1st August 2007, Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei Darussalam will officially be enlarged to about 10 times the size of what it is today. The current size of Bandar Seri Begawan is surprisingly smaller than that of the municipality of Kuala Belait and Seria. But come 1st August 2007, the new size of Bandar Seri Begawan (100.36 sq km) will be comparable to a number of other capitals in the world.

Even though Brunei’s capital city had been in existence for at least 500 years, the capital city on dry land is relatively new. Last year, Bandar Seri Begawan celebrated its centenary being on dry land.

Prior to that Bandar Seri Begawan or Pekan Brunei as it was then known was a city on water. Peter Blundell in his book ‘City of Many Waters’ published in 1923 stated that the…

Bedil - The Brunei Cannons

[Note: The following article was published edited in the Golden Legacy Column of Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times, on 22nd July 2007.]

As everyone stood rapt to attention at the Taman Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Saadul Khairi Waddien to the national anthem being played, the 21 cannon volleys reverberated throughout Bandar Seri Begawan thus marking the beginning of His Majesty The Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei’s birthday celebrations.

The firing of the cannons by the Royal Brunei Armed Forces is a centuries old tradition adopted not just in Brunei but throughout the world.

Not everyone knows the origin of the firing of the gun salutes and even why 21.

It is said that the origin of gun salutes is usually attributed to soldiers demonstrating their peaceful intentions by intentionally placing their weapons in a position that rendered them ineffective.

And one way to render cannons “ineffective" was to fire them as reloading cannons in the ancient days was a …

History of Brunei Newspapers

[Note: The following article was published on the Golden Legacy Column of Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times on 7th July 2007.]

As ‘The Brunei Times’ celebrates its anniversary of being the new kid in the Brunei’s newspaper industry, it is worthwhile to look at how the newspaper industry have fared since newspapers began to be circulated in Brunei.

Brunei’s media industry is relatively new compared to many other countries. Despite Brunei being an ancient country, it is considered a new nation by some which it is. After the turbulence at the end of the 19th century where Brunei had lost practically most of its territories, Brunei emerged as a new nation, having the first British Resident in 1906 to set up the new modern administration, discovering oil as its new lifeline in 1929, writing its own constitution and self internal administration in 1959 and finally achieving its independence in 1984.

Likewise the newspaper industry only began after the 1950s. Before 1950, there …

Brunei's Currency Notes before 1967

Note: The following article was published in The Golden Legacy column of the Brunei Times on 30th June 2007.

When His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam exchanged the new Brunei’s and Singapore’s $20 currency notes with His Excellency Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore on 27th June 2007 to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Currency Interchangeability Agreement between the two countries’ currencies, that day marked the first time that the Brunei currency shared a similar currency note design with another country in more than 40 years.

On that day, Brunei and the Singapore issued new $20 notes which shared the same reverse (back) design even though the obverse (front) of the two notes are different. The last time the currencies even shared the same design was prior to the 1967 issuance of Brunei’s very own currency notes.

Brunei’s currency had undergone many changes in the past. H…

The Origin of 'Brunei Darussalam'

[Note: The following article was published in The Golden Legacy column of Brunei Darussalam's national newspaper, The Brunei Times, on 23rd June 2007]

As one of the ancient kingdoms of the Malay archipelago, Brunei's historical legacy is long and can be comparable or if not exceeding that of other better known empires in the region.

Among others, its strategic geographical location and well sheltered harbour has made it a safe place for ships that ply their trade in the Southeast Asian region from as early as the 6th Century.

Brunei had been known by many names in the past.

In the Chinese historic annals, Brunei had been written about as far back as 1,500 years ago in the Liang Dynasty (502 to 566 AD).

Then the Brunei predecessor state of Poli sent tributes to the Chinese bearing the produce of the country.

Subsequent visits by other Chinese tavellers to Brunei included that during the Sui Dynasty (581 - 618 AD), in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 906 AD) and Sung Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD).


Brunei’s Early Philatelic History

[Note: The following unedited article was published in The Golden Legacy column of Brunei's national newspaper The Brunei Times on 16th June 2007.]

Brunei surprisingly, was the last among the Borneo states to have its own postage stamps.

The Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) which included Kalimantan first issued theirs in 1864, Sarawak in 1869, the British Colony of Labuan, despite not being a state, in 1879 and North Borneo (now Sabah) in 1883.

We, in Brunei, only issued our first postage stamps in 1895 and even those were considered by the early stamp enthusiasts as unofficial.

Prior to that 1895 issue, the first postage stamps used in Brunei were the Sarawak stamps which were used in Muara, then known as Brooketon, as Rajah Brooke ran the coal mining operations there and used those stamps for the postal service in the community from 1893 to 1907.

The first Brunei stamps in 1895 were considered as controversial and known in the stamp world as the 'Brunei Locals'.

Printed …

Memukun - Brunei's Unique Tradtion

[Note: The following article was published in Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times under the Golden Legacy column on 9th June 2007.]

One of the unique features of Brunei Darussalam's many ethnic traditions and cultures is 'memukun'.

It is fairly hard to describe to an outsider unless one has actually listened to it.

‘Memukun’ is a very Bruneian tradition where a group of people (usually elderly) will sing accompanied by guling tangan (Brunei’s traditional musical instruments) or a small drum and sometimes accompanied with a dance.

Some have likened memukun to a 'quatrain singing to the tune of traditional hand drums'.

Normally it is a duet with one gender 'selling' pantun verses to the other 'gender' and the other side is supposed to ‘buy’ or reply with another set of pantun verses.

In the 1960s and 1970s memukun was very popular during weddings and memukun sessions can go on from evening until dawn the next day - this was called '…

The Role of "Pengalu" in Brunei History

[Note: The following article was published in the Golden Legacy Column in Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times, on 2nd June 2007]

History sometimes overlooked the small people. Yet these are the people who mattered.

In the Brunei history too, one of the overlooked group of people are the 'pengalu'. Among Bruneians, some of the words used extensively in its old history have been forgotten. Most might remember the more colourful 'padians' - the group of women vendors who used to ply goods from house to house on the Kampong Ayer.

But with the word 'pengalu', most might not even know what the word stands for. Some mistakenly called them the male version of padians which could not be more wrong. It is a pity that many Bruneians have forgotten that 'pengalu' played a very important role in the Brunei commerce as well as in the development of Brunei history.

In the old days, Brunei among others exported camphor, tortoise shells, sandalwood and wild …

History of Brunei's Musabaqah Tilawatil Al-Quran

[Note: An edited version of the following article was published in The Golden Legacy column in Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times dated 26th May 2007.]

Like many Muslim countries, Brunei Darussalam treats the annual Musabaqah Tilawatil Quran or the Al-Quran Reading Competition with great respect. The winners will be given the honour to represent Brunei Darussalam in international Musabaqah competition as well as given great prizes.

But then Brunei had been holding its annual Musabaqah competition almost continuously since 1948. Before 1948, there must have been other competitions but those were not recorded and the recorded ones began soon after the war in 1948.

By 1948, Brunei Darussalam had lost its main mosque, the Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal right at the edge of Brunei Town due to extensive bombing during the battle for Brunei during the Second World War.

By then a relatively large temporary prayer hall which can cater to about 500 people was built made completely out…

Padians: Women Vendors on Brunei Waters

[Note: An edited version of the following article was published in The Golden Legacy column in Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times dated 19th May 2007.]

“When the tide rises, the women go in boats through the city selling provisions and necessaries,” Pigafetta, the Italian chronicler with the famous seafaring adventurer Magellan wrote this of Brunei way back in 1521, almost 500 years ago.

As late as the 1980s, every early day along the Brunei River, a visitor to Brunei can see a number of small Brunei sampans called ‘bidars’. These boats were rowed by women vendors with their extra large circular hats moving along up and down the houses along Kampong Ayer. Some of them also plied their wares along the jetties near the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. These women vendors were known as Padians.

However by the 1980s, the Padians were already a dying breed. In the next 10 years, none would be seen and today, the Padians have become completely extinct only remaining in the memory, …

The Story of Brunei's Oil Discovery

Note: An edited version of the following article was published in The Golden Legacy column in Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times dated 12th May 2007.

The story of the discovery of oil in Brunei’s oil town, Seria has often been told even in school text books but no body remembers how difficult it was to find oil in Brunei Darussalam at the beginning.

When we look at the approximately 200,000 barrels of oil that our nation produced daily and the billions of revenues that we get from the sale of oil and gas, it is a wonder that it was ever found in the first place.

By the early 20th century, Brunei, once a powerful regional thalassocracy (maritime power) had become a poor country. Brunei had lost almost all of its territories and was confined to the current tiny area in the vast Borneo Island. It needed something of a miracle and it found it when oil was discovered in Brunei and in particular in abundance where Brunei is currently.

Oil has been more or less expected to be…

The Mosque in the Capital City

Wherever we are in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei's capital city, we can't help noticing the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque dominating the skyline of the city centre of Bandar Seri Begawan.

Mosques have long dominated the skyline in Brunei. In 1578 during the reign of Sultan Saiful Rizal, a Spanish traveler, Alonso Beltran described the main mosque as one made up of five layers.

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is said to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the Southeast Asian region. It symbolised the country’s official religion of Islam.

However not many people realised that prior to its completion in 1958, there was no proper mosque in the capital city, then known as Pekan Brunei.

Before the Second World War, even though there were a number of other mosques built in the countryside, the only mosque that was built in the capital city was called Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal (also known as Masjid Pekan Brunei) which was built during the era of Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam I…

2 Brunei Bay Legends

[Note: An edited version of the following article was published in The Golden Legacy column in Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times dated 28th April 2007.]

There are two islands on Brunei Bay which are more interesting than all the others. One is called Pulau Pilong-Piolongan and the other very much smaller, more like a raised sandbank called Lumut Lunting.

Lumut Lunting is situated in between Pulau Sibungur and Pulau Berambang and is located at the mouth of the Brunei River whereas Pulau Pilong-Pilongan is out in the sea nearer to Muara.

Both islands - Lumut Lunting and Pulau Pilong-Pilongan have been associated with an old legend that stretched back in time to more than 500 years ago.

The origin of both islands have been chronicled in the Syair Awang Semaun, which is equivalent to the local folklores or in English known as the oral tradition of Awang Semaun’s epic poems. The story was said to have taken place in the early days of the first sultanate of Awang Alak Beta…

A History of Brunei Flight

Note: An edited version of the following article was published in The Golden Legacy column in the Brunei national newspaper, The Brunei Times dated 21st April 2007.

When did Bruneians first fly? According to local civil aviation historians, the first airplane to fly over Brunei was a seaplane spotted over Tutong in 1922. Nobody knew whose plane that was.

Despite the current modern international airport in Berakas, not many people knew that sixty years ago, prior to the Second World War, let alone an airport, there was no airfield whatsoever at all in the entire country of Brunei Darussalam.

The first runaway was constructed during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War at the current Old Airport Government Buildings Complex. This was then used by the Japanese fighter planes coming to defend their occupied territory.

After the end of the war, despite being heavily shelled by the Allied Forces, that runaway was repaired and improved by the same forces and a proper airport was plann…