I thought I will share two books with you on the day of our 23rd National Day celebrations. These two are written in Malay and and one is written partly by our own Brunei historians. Both are published by Dewan Bahasa Pustaka Malaysia and both surprisingly published in 1995, though one of them has been republished in 2001. The two books entitled “Sejarah Brunei Menjelang Kemerdekaan” written by Prof Sabihah Osman (UKM), Dr Hadi Abdullah (History Centre) and Sabullah Hakip and entitled “Sejarah Sosioekonomi Brunei 1906-1959 written by Assoc Prof Jatswan Sidhu (Univ Malaya) wrote interesting perspectives – one prior to Brunei’s independence in 1984 and the latter prior to Brunei’s 1959 proclamation of the Brunei Constitution and prior to self rule.
“Sejarah Menjelang Kemerdekaan” available from Mega Bookstore for $24 hardcover goes through the entire Brunei history from the earlier ‘golden’ years of Brunei, through its downfall, the war years, losing independence and gaining independence again in 1984. The book is divided into ‘themes’ and unlike many history books written about Brunei by non-Bruneians, does not focus solely on Brunei’s previous achievements and its downfall but rather focus on a few themes which are important to understand the basis of the future of Brunei namely that of 1959 constitution, the Malaysia Brunei movement, the PRB and the 1962 Rebellion. It focused too on the role played by Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien in the handling of the many challenges in maintaining Brunei Darussalam as an independent Islamic Malay Monarchy nation.
What was clear was that it was pretty much the regional events and interplay the 1950s and 1960s which defined the political makeup of the country today. We failed to appreciate the regional tension in the defining South East Asian politics between the bigger nations and the smaller nations like Brunei caught in the regional power struggle between the bigger countries. Some have said that the spillover of the tension between the various countries culminate in the 1962 event when that became the proxy battle.
“Sejarah Sosioekonomi Brunei 1906-1959” also available from Mega Bookstore for $14.40 focused primarily on the years when Brunei was governed under the 1888 and 1906 treaties by the British Resident. By 1906, the first British Resident McArthur was in the country essentially taking over Brunei which by then had reached its lowest depth in recorded history. Brunei by 1906 was down to our knees. We had nothing. Even Britain was ready to give us up.
The lesson on the rags to riches story is one where young Bruneians have to take heed. Prof Jatswan focused on both the economic and social aspects on the many changes brought in by then. The book is interesting as we looked at the changes in the economic situations of Brunei. In the early 20th century, cutch, coal and rubber provided some 90% of Brunei’s exports. By the 1930s, it was rubber which provided up to half of Brunei’s total exports. But by the 1950s, it was oil providing some 90% until now. In terms of expenditure, in 1932 we owed some $389,000 to Malaysia but by 1959 we were running budget surpluses of $100 million a year. The changes to the socio-economic makeup such as the growth in education, health and medical, housing and the change in demography was also described. The blessing that we get from oil and by virtue of our small size has enabled Brunei to become what it is today.
Read both books – you will get an interesting combination of the political process as well as the socio-economic process which defined Brunei as a country today.