Sunday, August 26, 2007

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. Historically Brunei’s ancient history, its long lineage of sultanate, its central strategic position in the trade between East Asia and Southeast Asia had meant that many goods and trades took place in Brunei as well as the circulation of many currencies such as those of China, India, the Arabic countries and the likes.

At the same time, the various Brunei’s Sultans also produced a number of their own coin currencies commonly known as pitis. Numismatists divided Brunei’s many historic coins into three – one made up of issues by known Sultans, a second made up of issues by unknown Sultans and the third made up of issues of flowers and patterns.

The last Sultan to issue his own coin was Sultan Hashim who issued the ‘star coin’ in 1886 which was minted in Birmingham, England.


When Sultan Hashim agreed to have the British Resident in Brunei in 1906, he also acquiesced that the other currencies used by the British in the Straits Settlement (Malaya), Singapore, North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak to be used in Brunei Darussalam.


By the beginning of the 20th century, there were a number of these currencies being used in Brunei. The Straits Dollar issued by the Straits Settlement government then included that of Queen Victoria used from 1889 onwards (together with notes issued by Chartered Bank and Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank); King Edward VII; King George V and King George VI.

Sarawak had issued its own currency too. Between 1858 to 1953, the various Rajahs of Sarawak - Rajah James Brooke, Rajah Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke, and Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke each issued their own coins and notes. The British North Borneo (Sabah) too issued its own currencies between 1882 to 1953.

In 1939, the Board of Commissioners of Currency Malaya was formed and it issued a new currency for circulation in Malaya (as well as in Brunei and Singapore) called the Malayan Dollar. However the currency originally printed in 1940 was short lived with many of the notes captured by German forces at sea and then in 1942, the occupying Japanese Government had issued its own currency notes popularly known as ‘duit pisang’ even though only one of the currency notes ($10) portrayed the picture of the banana tree.

The Malayan Dollar was revived after the end of the Second World War in 1945, the notes (dated 1941) and coins were reissued. One of the more popularly known coins then was the square ½ and 1 cent coin.

The notes were printed in $1 (blue), $5 (green), $10 (red), $50 (blue), $100 (violet), $1,000 (violet) and $10,000 (green) – the forerunner to today’s currency notes’ colours. The coins replaced the paper notes that were issued prior to the war which were originally issued because of the possibility of shortage of metal during the war.

The design on the currency notes had the portrait of King George VI and on the back, it had among others the crest of Brunei Darussalam as well as the crests of the various states making up Malaya and Singapore.

In 1953, the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Malaya and North Borneo was constituted. The currency notes featured Queen Elizabeth II and were issued at the same denomination as the King George VI’s issuance. Brunei’s crest was maintained at the back of the note together with other crests.

This new currency note replaced all the other currencies that had been issued by the Straits Settlement, the Sarawak State Government and the North Borneo Government. This new Board is now responsible for issuing new Malaya and British Borneo Dollar to be called officially as the Malayan Dollar meant for use by Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, British North Borneo and Brunei.

In 1959, the Board discontinued issuing the Malayan Dollar with Queen Elizabeth II on its cover for its $1 notes and later in 1961 the $10 notes.

The new $1 notes had the sailing boat (duit kapal – ship’s money - as some Bruneians called it) and the new $10 notes had a portrait of a farmer plowing with an ox (popularly known as ‘duit kerabau’ – cows’ or ox’s money). The latter can be found for purchase at the Tamu for more than $200 a piece now.


In between those years, the three countries, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore also signed the Malaya and British Borneo Currency Agreement of 1960.

In June 1967, the single Board of Commissioners was replaced by the three countries’ new bank and boards - the Brunei Currency Board, the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore and Bank Negara Malaysia with each issuing its own currency.

However the Malaya and British Borneo currency continued as legal tender for a few years at a reduced 85 cents per dollar as the British pound which it was based on was devalued in November 1967.

The Brunei Currency Board issued the first Brunei Dollar on 12th June 1967 with the portrait of His Majesty Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III and maintained the same colour schemes as those of the last few issuances. Malaysia and Singapore also issued their own currencies on the same day. All three maintained the same sizes and the same colour schemes of the old Malayan Dollar.

The three countries also agreed to maintain the exchangeability of their currencies but Malaysia left in 1973 leaving Brunei Darussalam and Singapore to maintain its currency interchangeability agreement until today.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

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).

During those years, the name Poni had also been spelled as Bu-ni, Fo-ni, Po-ni and Po-lo.

It was recorded that the King of Po-lo had sent a mission to China in 669 AD.

The differences of the names are said to be caused by the changes of the Chinese dynasties, each preferring its own way of spelling.

The Arabs however called Brunei by other names including that of Sribuza.

It was believed that around the 7th century, Brunei was captured by members of the royal family of Funan who in turn had fled when their own kingdom was attacked by Chenla, another historical empire.

The captured Brunei was renamed Vijayapura which the Chinese referred to as Fo-shih-pu-lo and the Arabs rendered it as Sribuza but would have been pronounced in the tenth century as Srivijaya.

Other Arabic names for Brunei include ‘Dzabaj’ and ‘Randj’.


When did Brunei became Brunei?

According to the local historians as well as transmitted through the centuries and narrated in Syaer Awang Semaun, Brunei’s legendary epic poem, the name Brunei came about when it was discovered.

A group of 14 brothers led by Pateh Berbai and 90 dayaks went in search of a new place to live.

Then they were living in the present Temburong district area called Garang.

They landed at a place called Burit at the Brunei River and found that the place seemed to be the most suitable as it was flanked by hills with ample water supply and the river abundant with fish.

When they found the place, it was said that they exclaimed ‘baru nah!’ which loosely translated into ‘now we found it’.

The Brunei epic poem, Syaer Awang Semaun (translated) described the finding as:

Pateh Berbai then said,
We entered into the country of Brunei River
With a total of ninety in number
All of them were Sakai.

They rowed up the river,
And caught a lot of sharks and rays,
Pateh looked left and right,
For a good place to rest and open a country.

To Damang Sari, Awang Alak says,
After looking left and right with Pateh,
If Awangku agrees with me,
In Brunei we shall build a country.

Each member of the group set up his own house on the Brunei river and eventually more people came to stay there.

It was said that ‘baru nah’ over time became Brunei.

The move and the change in name was said to correspond to Chinese records of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1643 AD).

It was stated that in the year of 1397, several countries which before then had stopped sending gifts to China had resumed sending gifts to China and included among the few was a country called ‘Bruni’.

It can be summarized that the move to the Brunei river and changing the name to Brunei took place around that time.

The Chinese later described Brunei as ‘Wen-lai’ and ‘Bun-lai”.

In historical annals around the region, in the earlier days, the word ‘Brunei’ appeared in many forms including as ‘Buruneng’, ‘Bornei’, ‘Burneau’, ‘Borney’, ‘Borneo’, ‘Bruneo’, ‘Burne’, ‘Bornui’ and ‘Bruni’.

However the Europeans called Brunei as Borneo.

Hugh Low in 1848 wrote: “… the name Borneo, by which the island has always been distinguished on European charts, and which was probably applied to it by the Portuguese from information received prior to any of their visits to the island, is a corruption of the word Bruni, the name of a kingdom and town on the N.W. Coast of the island – Bruni being called by the inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula …”

In another writing in 1812 by a J. Hunt, he says: “… Borneo was the name only of a city, the capital of one of the three distinct kingdoms in the island, ……. The natives pronounce Borneo, Bruni, and say that it is derived from the word ‘Brani’, courageous …”

However, if one is to trace through history, it is possible that the word Brunei could have come from other sources.

J.R. Hipkins wrote in 1971, that the word Brunei is said to have come from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhurni’ which means land or country.

Brunei could have been called ‘Karpuradvipa’ which means camphor land as camphor was one export which Brunei was well known for in the ancient days.

One J.H. Moor writing in 1871 noted that the Sanskrit word ‘Varunai’ means ‘seaborn’ – again another characteristic of the Bruneian of old – seafarers, mariners and living on water (Kampong Ayer).

Interestingly enough, one Leon de Rosny writing in Paris in 1861 noted that when the ‘Po-ni’ characters were transposed into Japanese Hira-Kana script, Po-ni became ‘Borneu’ or ‘Bornerei’.


And ‘Darussalam’?

It was said that the word Darussalam was used by the third Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Sharif Ali which is the Arabic word ‘abode of peace’.

However, according to Groenvelt writing in 1960 that in the Ming Shih, it was said that Emperor Yung-lo conferred upon the mountain range (Kinabalu) behind Po-ni the title of ‘Mountain of Lasting Tranquility’.

Lasting Tranquility translated into Darussalam and that in the Chinese records in 1408 Po-ni had been known as ‘Chang-ning Chen-Kuo’ or ‘City of Lasting Tranquility’ thus ‘Brunei Darussalam’ of today.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

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 in Glasgow by the Manager of the Central Borneo Company of Labuan, a John Robertson who managed to get a monopoly concession from His Majesty Sultan Hashim, (the government gets all internal revenues but he gets all external revenues) was considered as purely speculative.

According to a book about Brunei entitled “On the Fringe of Eastern Seas: The City of Many Waters” written by Peter Blundell, published in 1924, John

Robertson ‘persuaded the Sultan to accept payment for the monopoly with stamps at their face value which he got printed in Germany for a trifling sum.’

The stamps could only be used in Brunei and were unfortunately labeled 'bogus' in its early history.

For Brunei letters to be sent abroad, they had to have additional Labuan stamps as Brunei then was not a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU).

The Brunei/Robertson’s postal services were also described at best 'spasmodic' during its life but it was the first postal service for the country nevertheless – it ended sometime 1902/3 when John Robertson was transferred to Taritipan in Marudu.

In 1906, the Brunei government started to operate its own postal service.

However the first postage stamps that were due to arrive in Brunei from United Kingdom did not arrive on time and the solution was to overprint the Crown Colony of Labuan postage stamps with the word BRUNEI in Singapore.


The first of these stamps were used in the inauguration of the Post Office located in the Customs House on October 11th, 1906 (some historians argued that it was on October 15th).

In the beginning, the stamps were scarce as collectors and dealers were heavily speculating on the value of the stamps by buying up quantities of the mint stamps for investment.


By 1907, the first official Brunei stamps had arrived known as the Brunei River Type as the stamps depicted a typical Brunei river scene.

A London company, Messrs De La Rue & Co Ltd printed the 1907 stamps and interestingly enough this same company carried on printing other Brunei stamps until about the 1970s.

Between 1908 and 1920, the stamps colours conformed to the UPU requirements of three standard colours - one for printed matter, another for postcard and the third for single letters.

In those days, unlike today's multicoloured and multi-image stamps, the colours were standardised to help assist international recognition of the three classes of mail.

Uniformity of colours was also carried out under the colonial colour scheme so the colours also conformed to their counterparts under the Straits Settlement.

However for today’s stamp collector, it can be quite confusing as there was a proliferation of colours with a number of the stamps undergoing changes in colour – for instance, the 1 cent stamp originally appeared in black and green in the 1907 issue but in subsequent years, in other colours such as all black and all brown.

Postal services in Brunei’s other major towns began son after 1906 with the Tutong Post Office opening in 1908, Bangar in 1909, Belait in 1910, Seria in 1933 and Labi not until 1956.

During the First World War, for the third time in its history, (the others being the Sarawak stamps in Brooketon and the Labuan overprints) Brunei used a different country’s stamps – the Sarawak stamps were used in Brunei as the stock of stamps in Brunei ran out.


In March 1924, a new design was introduced as well as a change in size.
The new stamps showed a panoramic view of Kampong Ayer with Brunei Town in the background.

The designs were adapted from a sketch made by Mr. LA Allan, a former British Resident who in turn took it from a photograph taken by the Mr. Pretty, another former British Resident with the view from Bubungan Dua Belas, then used as the official residence of the British Resident.

When the Japanese occupied Brunei during the Second World War, the Japanese government found and used unused Brunei stamps in 1942 and overprinted them with the words Imperial Japanese Government in Kanji characters.

These stamps were originally sent to Brunei in 'changed colours' and were deliberately unused until the existing stocks had run out.

During the British Military Administration after the end of the Second World War, the three Borneo states used the stamps of Sarawak and North Borneo overprinted "B.M.A." until 1947.

The first commemorative stamps were those that were used to commemorate Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin's Silver Jubilee on 22nd September 1949 (it was supposed to be released on 20th September 1949 but delayed due to public holidays).

The design was similar to the 1924 stamps but with the portrait of His Majesty Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin, the 27th Sultan of Brunei, marking the first time a ruling monarch of Brunei appearing on the stamps of Brunei.

Another release in 1949 was to commemorate that of the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Postal Union.

It wasn't until 1952 before the government issued the first Brunei stamps with the portrait of His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saiffudien, the 28th Sultan, thus beginning the modern era of Brunei postage stamps.

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