Monday, March 31, 2008

Brunei's Highest Value Miniature Sheet

In 1996 when His Majesty celebrated his 50th birthday, our Postal Services issued Brunei's highest face value stamps ever. Five stamps in a miniature sheet each with a face value of $50 per stamp was issued. The miniature sheet was sold at $250 in a framed cover. This remained the most expensive face value item that the Postal Services had issued in its entire history (though in 2006, the postal services issued a $60 stamp to commemorate His Majesty's 60th birthday).

That miniature sheet now has a catalogue value of some $1,000 and almost impossible to find. I managed to find one - the last one in this particular philatelic agency I went to - and luckily not at the full catalogue value. According to the agency that sold it to me, it bought 10 in 1996 and only managed to sell all 10 in the period of about 12 years. This sheet must not be that popular because of the expensive cost.

Anyway, I have the feeling that not many have seen it and since it is quite attractive and not to mention an unusual piece of Brunei's history both philatelically and otherwise, I thought I will post it up here so that everyone can look at it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Brunei's $1 note 1911

For those expecting daily postings, my apologies. I was away in Singapore and only arrived back. I managed to visit a number of philatelist and numismatist agencies in Singapore and managed to find a few gems on Brunei and the region. When I arrived back, there were also a number of items that arrived from ebay.

One of them is the Straits Dollar $1 note of 1911. This is part of the 1906 to 1924 series which the Straits Settlement Government in Singapore issued. This note was legal tender in Brunei way back then. In 1906, the first British Resident McArthur passed a law which makes only the currencies issued by the Straits Settlement Government can be used in Brunei. Though not many Bruneians would have seen the $1 note then as $1 then is worth a lot lot lot more than the $1 of today.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rural Tutong, Brunei's Different Side

[Note: I published the following article for my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times 10th February 2008.]

TUTONG District with its capital Pekan Tutong or Tutong Town is sparsely populated compared to either Brunei/Muara or Belait Districts. Despite that, it is a unique district, so ethnically diverse that it presents, in fact, a completely different side of Brunei.

Even though only a half hour's drive from the hustle and bustle of Bandar Seri Begawan, it has a diverse culture and retained the unique lifestyle of rural Brunei.

It has an abundance of natural beauty ranging from the white sands of Pasir Puteh to the rocky outcroppings of the beautiful seaside beach of Pantai Seri Kenangan and all the way inland to the scenic and mysterious Tasek Merimbun, a serpentine lake surrounded by swamps and hundred years old burial grounds.

The natives or the locals of Tutong speak the Tutong language, a language which is completely different compared to the other native languages in Brunei which maintained their similarity in words.

Tutong has an interesting history. As late as the 1910, there were factions in Tutong that did not want to remain within the Brunei Sultanate. Tutong is certainly an enigma within Brunei.

According to historians, we do not know the origin of the true Tutong natives. Based on the oral traditions of the Melanau in Mukah, the Tutong natives were under the control of the Melanau Government then based in Mukah even before the establishment of the Brunei Sultanate which existed from the 14th century.

In fact Tutong was one of Brunei's early conquests in the expansion of its territory when the Brunei Sultanate expanded from the 14th century onwards according to Lawrence in his article entitled "The First Brunei Conquests on the Sarawak Coast" published in 1911.

According to Brunei's own epic poems, Syair Awang Semaun, this happened during the rule of Brunei's first ruler, Awang Alak Betatar, later renamed as Sultan Muhammad Shah when Brunei battled against the Melanau Government. When Melanau lost, Brunei conquered all its territories stretching from Mukah to Tutong.

This means that Tutong has been occupied by the native Tutong people living near Tutong River much earlier than the natives of Brunei River.

By the time of Sultan Hassan, Brunei's ninth Sultan, Tutong has its own Minister — Manteri Tutong who has the responsibility of preparing the royal barge for the Sultan.

There are several stories with regard to the origin of the name Tutong. One story was about a warrior from the Murut tribe who had given a lot of help to people who lived in Kampong Lurah Saban from the Kayan headhunters. The warrior was named Tutong and the place or the river where he lived was honoured as Sungai Tutong. Ever since then, many people came to Kampong Lurah Saban to stay near the river and established Tutong.

According to historical records, it was indeed the Murut people which came to Tutong much earlier than the Dusun people. A number of Murut burial pots have been found in Tutong as proof of their existence there.

Another story about the origin of the Tutong name was that it was someone named Si Letong who supposedly came from the Celebes Islands, now belonging to Indonesia. According to the story tellers, he stayed in Sungai Papakan in Kampong Telisai and married a Dusun girl, a descendant of the Chief of the Dusun people. He moved later to Kampong Suran and that later the name of the River, Sungai Tutong was said to have come from his name, Letong.

Another, even stranger tale tells the story of someone named Tutong which married a shark which can transform into a human — a were-Shark. As a result of the marriage, both humans and sharks looked after the safety of both in the rivers and in the seas. It is said that if you are fishing and needed to be saved from sharks, all you have to do is shout Tutong's name.

The common theme to all the stories is that Tutong is a name of a person and hence later became the name for the whole group of people living there — orang Tutong.

Interestingly enough, the Tutong people are also called Sang Keluyoh by the Dusun people as they have been discovered living near Sungai Keluyoh near Sungai Liang.

Tutong's unique language has also been studied. According to a chart done by a linguistic expert Robert Blust, the Tutong Language belongs to a family of the Northern Sarawak language which is a part of the Austronesia language family. These languages comprise all the Malay and Indonesian languages stretching from Madagascar to the Pacific Islands and from Taiwan to Easter Island.

The Tutong language is part of the Northern Sarawak language which is made up of languages along the beaches from Bintulu to Tutong which included Berawan, Kiput, Narum, Lelak, Lemeting, Dali, Miri, Belait and Tutong known as the Baram Hilir language.

Sir Henry Keppel in his book The Expedition to Borneo of HMS Dido for the Suppression of Piracy, published in 1846, studied the Miri language in detail and this was used by Robert Blust to study the similarity between the Miri language and the Tutong language.

Based on the study, it can be theorised that the similarity of the languages could be due to the expansion of the tribes moving from one area to another retaining the same basic languages. This can be seen by seeing that the Tutong people first staying in Sungai Keluyoh before moving on to Sungai Telamba and Sungai Tutong.

One linguistic study indicated the possibility that the Tutong people were originally living near Sungai Belait speaking a language called Belait Asli. Only a handful of speakers in Belait are able to speak that language nowadays. But based on the vocabulary of Belait Asli, the study indicated that almost all of it has similarity to the Tutong language. It is possible that the speakers of Belait Asli had moved on to Tutong and being renamed as Tutong people.

The original Tutong settlers expanded from Sungai Telamba, Telisai to Sungai Tutong. Originally these settlers stayed on the river building their houses on the river much like the houses on Kampong Ayer.

From Kampong Suran, more settlements were built such as along Tanah Buruh, Penanjong, Panchor, Suran and Petani. They later on to Tanjong Maya, Birau, Bakiau and Keriam. The economic activities also changed. Even though originally they stayed on the waters, they do not become fishermen or mariners as happened to the Bruneian who lived in Kampong Ayer. The Tutong settlers became farmers and planted rice and later on rubber.

In 1906, an officer was appointed by the British Resident became the first "District Officer" as well as Magistrate titled Orang Kaya Bandar Sabtu bin Tampan.

By 1911, more than 3,423 people were registered living in Tutong Town. With the establishment of government departments and government services, Tutong has expanded much since then.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

During the weekend, I got into a conversation with one of my older brother in laws and he started telling me all sorts of things that happened when he was still living there. The conversation went around to the subject of fishing.

He described a way of catching prawns called merigis. At that time I could not imagine it but he described as something that you go around in a boat making a noise using an instrument called rigis. Apparently the prawns could not stand the sound and out they will come and jumped into the boat! Your boat has to be appropriately fitted to catch the flying prawns.

I found a photograph of 'merigis' but I am still not sure what equipment 'rigis' is that can make a sound so terrifying to the prawns. More of this in the future.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Old Brunei Photographs

I got an e-mail with the following photographs taken of Brunei around 1970s and probably older. These are interesting as I have not seen these photographs before but they are good quality ones for a change.

The bottom three are scenes from the old Tamu which used to be the triangular area immediately behind the Jardine Wharf Building. What do you mean you don't know the Jardine Wharf Building? That's the dilapidated building immediately facing the Padang next to the IBB Takaful Building. That's the building seen in the first photograph. There is an interesting hexaganol shape just at the corner of the padang. I can't quite remember what it was used for but if I am not mistaken, for a time it was used by the parking attendants.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Brunei in Asia Magazine 1968

[Note: I am not in Brunei currently. I am recycling materials I posted on my Golden Legacy blogspot (not the newspaper Golden Legacy) where I did some of my writings when I stopped writing for BR last year.]

Remember The Asia Magazine? You don't? I guess you are not old enough then.

The Asia Magazine used to be given away with The Borneo Bulletin many years ago. Then the Borneo Bulletin was only a weekly edition and The Asia Magazine was the accompanying magazine. Nowadays our two national dailies don't give anything anymore which is sad. When I was studying in England, I used to love the Sunday newspapers. The first Sunday I was there, I bought every single one of them. All of them had magazines and it was fun. Later on I stuck to a few but the magazines that accompanied them was the fun bit.

Anyway, this particular copy of the magazine I got especially from the internet for about US$20 I think. I can't remember what price I auctioned it for. I got this one dated 13th October 1968 because there is a special feature of His Majesty's Coronation which took place about a couple of months before the article came out.

The piece about the coronation was not that much. The writer concentrated more on the economy, the social development and the infrastructure development. I won't go through the article as it is fairly dated but I thought I will include some of the photographs from the article for you to enjoy.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Save Water - Save the Environment

According to Department of Water Services yesterday, we used about 450 litres of water a day for which we only get charged 5 cents (if you had to buy Sehat Water, that will be equal to $240). How do we use up 450 litres a day? On average, you used up about half that to take your bath and your shower; about 12% to flush the toilet, 5% to wash clothes, 5% for your plants, 5% for cleaning yourself after toilet, 4% to wash your car, 4% to wash the toilet, 3% to wash the dishes and the remainder for other things.

There are many ways to save water. If you turn off your shower while soaping you can save 155 litres a day, if you use half flush (if your toilet has half flush) you can save about 29 litres a day, if you water your plants using a watering can, you can save another 91 litres a day. There are many ways to save water.

The problem is that the demand for water in Brunei is increasing. The government cannot keep on supplying water without damaging the environment. We already have a few dams around the country without us realising it. The next dams will have to be bigger and will definitely destroy the surrounding habitat and the environment.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

World Water Day

In Brunei, not many people realised just how much water we used that the possibility of running out of water is not an impossibility. I remembered sometime last year, the Minister of Development, now my Minister, stated in a speech that each of us Bruneians consumed almost 400 litres of water per day or the equivalent of about 300 bottles of SEHAT water every single day. What is that in comparison to our neighbouring countries? In Singapore, each Singaporean only consumes 160 litres a day, in Hong Kong 203 litres a day and in Tokyo, the Japanese only consumed 260 litres a day. So 400 litres is a lot of water to be consumed by us Bruneians. You may want to ask yourself why that is so. Is it any hotter here compared to Singapore? Or are we any cleaner, say, compared to the Japanese?

Last January, when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, his primary focus surprisingly was not on the impending global economic recession but on our world’s growing water crisis. “A shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future,” he told the annual gathering of business tycoons, academics and leaders from governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations. "Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon,” he warned.

Today's Water Day Observation in Brunei is part of the international observance of World Water Day which is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. This year the day will highlight issues on sanitation in accordance with the International Year of Sanitation 2008 which the UN General Assembly declared with the goal to raise awareness and to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to reduce by half the proportion of the 2.6 billion people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Matter of Crowns

Someone asked on the comment box about the crown worn by HM Sultan Omar Ali and HM Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. I remembered our own Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah wearing an elaborate crown during his coronation in 1968. I remembered having that photograph somewhere in my hard disk. I had to search a bit to find HM Sultan Omar Ali's photograph during his coronation in 1951 (31st May). Here are both of them and here are the two different crowns.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maulidin Rasul 1429 Hijra

Last year I remembered describing that I was watching television the night before the Maulid when there was someone from the Religious Affairs Ministry talking about the history of Maulud Nabi or as we now call it Maulidin Rasul - the ceremony to commemorate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad SAW. I was quite intrigued as he was talking about how grand the first celebration was which was surprisingly only held a few hundred years after the death of the Prophet.

It seemed that the first tribe to hold the ceremony was Bani Ubaid Al-Qoddakh who call themselves 'Fatimiyyah' and this tribe came from the Syiah Rafidhah. They entered the City of Cairo in 977 (362 Hijra) and since then the practice of holding maulid spread.

It was not just Maulidur Rasul which was celebrated by the Fatimiyyah but also members of Rasulullah's Family such as Zainab, Hassan and Hussain. They also celebrated other prophet's birthday including that of Nabi Isa A.S. In 488 Hijra, Prime Minister al-Afdal Shahindah stopped all the celebrations as he based it on a kitab Al-Kamel written by Ibnu Al-Atheer. When Al-Ma'moon Al-Bataa'ni controlled the government, the celebrations were allowed.

Then al-Ayubbiah took control, all the celebrations were once again stopped. Though the society at large continued to celebrate the occassion in their own homes. In the 7th century, Prince Mudhafir Al-Deen Abi Sa'd Kawakbri ibn Zein Ed-Deen 'Ali ibn Tabakatikin did the ceremony at the City of Irbil. The prince took a keen interest in the celebrations that he prepared tents and other facilities and took care to watch the celebrations seated in his tent. The celebrations were held on the 8th Rabiulawal or sometimes the 12th.

The celebrations included reciting the history of Rasulullah SAW to slaughtering animals for a feast. According to Ibnu Haajj Abu Abdullah Al-Adbari, the celebrations were widely known during King Mudhafir's era. By the 7th century Hijra, King Mudhafir Abu Sa'ad Kaukaburi held a huge celebration which was said to be prepared with 5,000 roasted meat, 10,000 chickens, 100,000 glasses of milk and 30,000 plates of dessert.

If you read widely, among Islamic theologians, there is a debate as to whether holding the maulidin Rasul is an accepted practise. The debate centered around the argument that holding a celebration to celebrate the birthday was not done by the Prophet or among his companions. Though some argued that it was known that the Prophet does celebrate it albeit quietly by fasting during his Birthdays. So based on that, it is an acceptable practise. Wallahualam. Though one more moderate argument I read written by an Ustaz Mohd Ghouse Khan gives a better argument among which is that the debate around this is 'furu' which is that the debate is over small matter and not matter which affects the Islamic principles.

In Brunei, we have always celebrated it by having a procession around the cities of the four districts. Today we will continue to do so. I have a number of photographs of old Maulidun Rasul celebrations both in BSB and Seria.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

National Car Workshop?

It's only three days into my mandatory leave and I am trying to get rid of all the stresses of my life. So, I am not into anything serious, no siree... Not even on the blog. Today is the not so serious stuff. I have time to go through my photographs collection - about 22 CDs full of old black and white Brunei photographs from a friend of mine who burned them from ... let's just say somewhere ... in the government.

I found this intriguing photograph of a workshop in Seria, photo taken around 1950s. My university lecturer would say look at this photograph and what does it tell you? Lots of things. For instance why would a workshop like this be allowed to call itself the National Workshop? Seria only had 3 digit telephone numbers?! Lots of other things in that photo.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Brunei's Beauty Queen Pageant

In the 1950s and 1960s, Brunei still have beauty queen pageants. In those days, I was told that the contestants did not wear bikinis or swimming suits but the much more modest baju kebaya. But even then those were the days. I don't know who these winners were. It would be interesting if they could tell us how it was like in those days.

Monday, March 17, 2008

No Water in Kampong Ayer

Throughout its existence Kampong Ayer residents only had the waters of the river but that water can be salty and normally water is taken from elsewhere.

One of the interesting place names near Sungai Kebun is called Ayer Terkunci or Locked Water. This name was derived if I am not mistaken when the Americans or British mining for coal and oil had water tanks. The water tanks had taps which of course can be turned off or 'locked'. Hence, the area known as Ayer Terkunchi.

The other source of water was the small river near the British Residency or Bubungan Duabelas. The water was piped from the river down to the riverbank and many small boys were asked to go there with all sorts of pots etc to fetch water. If the pots are too heavy, the boat can flip over. The boys then were always scared of being scolded by their parents and the boys would literally flung themselves overboard to retrieve the pots from the river bottom.

Piped water direct to Kampong Ayer started either in 1930s or 1950s. This is an interesting photograph of one of the earliest water pipes dragged from the shore to Kampong Ayer.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Our Young Ruler

I am starting my two week leave (my very first double digit leave in about 5 years, would you believe) from today. But today is also my son's birthday party, so I don't really have much time to update this blogsite from today onwards. Technically I have plenty of time but I rather spend it catching up at the museum and searching for hidden treasures at the tamu and elsewhere.

I did a little bit of spring cleaning last night and I found this photo on a Brunei Times supplement sometime last year or the year before. You would not believe that this cheeky little boy is now our beloved ruler. I thought this photograph is rather cute. It is actually much bigger than this on BT's supplement last year.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bunut - the 1st Perpindahan

Tomorrow's Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times will be my article on the history of public housing in Brunei. I wish I had more words but I am limited to about 1,000 words and that's not a lot. When I first started writing for BT, the column space I had was limited to 800 words (about 3 column space) but I regularly submitted about 1,200 words (now with one or two photographs, about half a page).

It is interesting that despite the government's efforts as early as 1906 when the British Resident declared that he would like Bruneians to move onto dry land, no systematic efforts were made to do so. It was not until 1952 when the first systematic program was made to move a group of villagers from Kampong Pengiran Bendahara Lama in Kampong Ayer to Kampong Bunut in Mukim Kilanas. The area that was allocated for the program was some 56 acres.

Twenty eight families were allocated two acres each. This enabled them to build a house and to plant fruit trees. The mostly wooden houses were built by the villagers themselves without any supervision from the authorities. The resettlement area began to be lived in by the new settlers from November 1952 onwards.

Even though the settlers had to build the houses themselves, they were given financial incentives. Each family was given $100 for demolishing their Kampong Ayer houses which they left behind, $100 to help them move to Bunut, $100 for cleaning their area and another $100 to cover the cost of the move. On top of that, while waiting for their fruit trees to grow and provide for the owners, the government gave each family $2 a day for 18 months.

Bunut has changed a lot since then and if you drive around the area, you could not have imagine it being a resettlement area compared to the Lambak Kanan or Rimba housing estates that you see nowadays. But nevertheless Bunut remain the first resettlement area and the fruits of the first government's efforts to provide housing for everyone in the country.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Bruneian in Hiroshima in 1944

In 1944, when the Americans dropped the two atomic bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the Second World War, not many people know that, our elderly statesman Pengiran Haji Mohd Yussof was a student at the Hisroshima Bunrika Daigaku school Hiroshima. Pengiran Yusof survived the bombing and eventually became the State Secretary in 1964 and Menteri Besar in 1967. Along the way he was made a a Cheteria and carry the title Pengiran Setia Negara, he also wrote the lyrics to our national anthem as well as a number of books. He was also formerly an Ambassador to Japan and currently is a member of the Legislative Council.

I first read Pengiran Setia Negara's personal account of the Hiroshima bombing when I was in Primary 4. At that time, an excerpt of his account was part of the stories in my Malay comprehension text book. I was not sure where the excerpt came from. Last year, I came across his book entitled "Barat-Timbur dan Bom Atom" which was published by DBP Malaysia in 2002. In this book that same personal account was there on what happened during the aftermath of the bombing and how he and a group of friends, both Japanese and International made their way out of Hiroshima and for him personally how he managed to get back to Brunei. It is really a moving account.

The book is available at Syarikat Mega for $9.60.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Economic Growth

This table is what my JPKE (Economic Planning and Development Department) colleagues love to highlight to me. During the last Leg Co, only one member if I am not mistaken raised this issue - the government's under capacity to spend despite the ability to have money. This problem I can assure you is what other countries love to have but a problem we don't need.

Every year, all agencies are given a sum of money to spend under the RKN which amounts to some $1 billion a year. Out of that amount, sometimes only as much as 30% are spent. Some people might think 'oh that's good, the amount unspent gets saved'... Well, technically yes. If you don't spend it, then the government gets to keep the money and use it another year or invest it. But economically, it's not so good. Any $1 the government spends is $1 that gets into circulation. And that $1 can go a long way depending on many factors. Imagine $1 that gets paid to contractors who in turn pay their workers who then buy stuffs from the shops who then purchase more goods from suppliers who in turn then .... You get the picture. Economic growth is partly derived from the government's expenditure.

Why the undercapacity to spend? Many factors. A number of them unfortunately is in the ministry that I am in. Practically all the projects require engineers, architects etc. The ministry also does its own projects and at the same time help others, there is a constraint of resources. At the same time, there are other factors. Projects are delayed because lands need to be acquired including land which is on TOL. The government technically does not have to compensate for TOL but invariably it does because we are kind. So even TOL which only has fruit trees also have to be compensated. Land need to be surveyed and gazetted etc. Our local consultants lobbied for more consultants to be appointed to run the projects. Yes, but consultants also need to be supervised and monitored. Whatever it is, lack of manpower is certainly a factor. My ministry alone has about 300 vacancies, about 40 of them at Division II (graduates) and Division III (HNDs). Our Admin Division is working on a work expo next month where we will try to fill in all these jobs. Hopefully we can get the projects completed target much faster than the previous RKN.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Leg Co Debates and the Environment

Today will be the end of the current session of the Leg Co. Members will be making their speeches and it's back to one speech per member in the main Council. Over the last few days, the Council sat as a Committee making a free for all and asking as many questions as the Speaker lets them. I have not been able to sit in all of them but the four members of the four districts compared to the other members have been particularly full of questions which no doubt are fed from their constituents. I have been following the debates over the last 3 years and the style of questioning too has been changing. You would get the members first doing a little praise and then coming in with the thorny question. This is more akin towards the British MPs which I used to follow back in the 1980s. I just wished we have longer session especially in approving the legislations.

A couple of members stood out and hopefully they will continue to do so in the future. But what is frustrating is still the lack of debates on some national issues. From time to time the Speaker often chided the members for asking questions that could be asked by the members calling the Ministers and finding out what happened to a particular project rather than waste the time of the Council by asking that question when they should use the precious time of the Council to debate other important and strategic issues. I did not say that but the Speaker did and I think that sums up the Council sessions. Half of the time, time was taken up to debate issues of what's going in my backyard rather than nationalistic issues. No doubt these are important but there are other channels for that. I guess one of the difficulty is that the members are not representative of a particular area. If they had been a particular area, I am sure that they will nurse that area and give priority to the constitutents without waiting for the Council to meet.

Then probably we wouldn't have the waste crisis at Sungai Akar. This I have to admit has been the slowness on our part over the last few years. Sungai Akar was supposed to have close down before the end of 2000. What I have learnt in my one and a half month is this. Many vendors have come out with solutions to the point we are bursting out of our ears with them. All wants to make money which is obvious enough. One solution which was bandied about was to build an incinerator. Then you have the issue of where best to place this with almost everyone saying 'NIMBY' which is 'not in my backyard'. Then you have other issues - our garbage apparently is not dry enough to be dumped straight into an incinerator, you would have to 'dry' it before doing so, our garbage total is not large enough despite what you think of the volume in Sungai Akar for an incinerator to operate economically, incinerators need power - really large volume of power and hence very costly. In West Malaysia, with population much much larger than ours, the two they have are not being used because of these similar problems. Hence we need a new kind of incinerator or a more modern way of disposing our garbage.

Someone asked for a list of RKN projects approved for the environment, there is only one page (guess what's missing from the list - but I have been assured the missing one will be included as soon as we finally figure out what we want) -

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Roads Galore...

There were many questions about roads yesterday at the Leg Co. So I thought why not post the entire list of RKN roads that will be built from April 2008 onwards for the next 5 years. I have been told that projects can be added on later. Here are pages 192 to 194 of the NDP including that bridge ........


Monday, March 10, 2008

Seria History in Brief

Everytime I go to Seria, I remembered the Shell Wooden House at Lorong 2 - my aunty's house and my birthplace. I was born in that house and where today's birth certificates mostly say RIPAS or any of the major hospitals in Brunei, my birth certificate says "Wooden House, ****"

But Seria is still a new town relatively speaking. Carved out of the swamps for the oil company. It was once known as Padang Berawa (Wild Piegon field). The town sat on extensive marsh and peat swamp. It was cleared to allow for oil exploration work. The only structure standing in the 1920s were two nipah roofed, log ladder houses occupied by the exploration company crews. Soon after provision shops sprouted, catering for workers working on the oil fields. It began with two rows of wooden and kajang roofed shops. As work on the oil field intensified, the town too grew.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Tobacco Smoking Tradition in Brunei

[Note: I wrote this for my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times' Sunday 17th February 2008 edition. No wonder sometimes it is a uphill battle for the health authorities to eliminate smoking.]

IN DAYS of yore, a Brunei man sat on the steps of his house on the Brunei River rolling a piece of leaf with tobacco, lighting it and inhaling the smoke without a care in the world. In those days, the scene was one of tranquillity, about Brunei being quite literally an abode of peace.

Today, such a scene is no longer tolerated. Health concerns have taken such a serious turn that even Friday sermons at the mosques cite the dangers of smoking as well as the sins that one may be committing by unnecessarily endangering oneself by inhaling all the poisons from cigarettes — and endangering others by exhaling them. With such high levels of warning, the Brunei "sigup" or cigarette is almost nowhere to be found.

But then, the Brunei "sigup" has disappeared many many years ago. It was put out of circulation due partly to the importation of the multinational brands of other cigarettes.

Soon after the end of World War II, the international brands became popular and became in fact a part of Brunei's culture.

Names such as Capstan, Players, Rough Riders — better known as "sigup timbak" because of its rifle icon — and Torch Light — better known as "sigup lampong" — are better known. Other later known brands include Diamond, better known as "sigup kucing", Camel — better known as "sigup unta" — and Lucky Strike.

Smoking in Brunei in the days of old was seen as a cultural thing. The saying went, kalau balum pandai besigup belum lagi bujang tu — if you do know how to smoke you have not grown up yet.

So in order to become grown up, one must first learn how to smoke or "pandai besigup". The ability to smoke was equated with adulthood. Being able to smoke was not the only criterion — there were other criteria as well — however, it was the more visible one, at least according to this cliche-esque attempt to pass off toxicity for maturity.

A Brunei "sigup" was considered different than other cigarettes. Even the word used was a Brunei Malay word which singled out Brunei's cigarettes from any other. Non-Brunei cigarettes were known as "rokok", the Malay word for generic cigarettes. "Rokok" refers to the foreign brands.

A Brunei "sigup" was hand-made.

At first it was made out of a leaf called "daun kirai", the tobacco leaf which acts as the outer layer to hold the tobacco. The tobacco was placed inside it and the leaf was then rolled up, much like today's cigarettes.

The "daun kirai" and the tobacco provided a combined taste to the smoker. In order to have a good smoke, one would need to know what kinds of leaf and tobacco to buy.

Smokers praised the tobacco's good quality if it was "licak" or smooth when held tightly in one's palm and if the ash it produced was white and did not fall on its own.

Later, the "daun kirai" was replaced by a piece of paper. Despite this substantial difference, this kind of hand-made cigarette continued to be known as "sigup Brunei".

Bruneians not only smoked "sigup Brunei" but also used a smoke pipe to inhale their smoke. In Brunei, the pipe was better known as "pasigupan". This pipe was held in such high esteem that it formed part of Brunei's wedding culture. It was included among the accoutrements a bride was expected to present to her prospective groom.

The better tobacco that one used in the "pasigupan" or pipe left a better residue known as "liru" and a better ash. When lit and inhaled, the tobacco became white and, together with the liru, made the mouth of the pipe smaller. This was considered to provide a saving to the smokers. One did not have to keep stuffing the pipe in order to have a good smoke.

The long-burning pipe was especially appreciated during the war, when tobacco was not easily available and the pipe was one's handy companion on many a sleepless night.

The liru was also used as medication. It stilled tooth ache, was used for ointment against itch and also as an anti-termite repellant. The ashes were also rubbed against one's teeth so that they become whiter.

During weddings in Kampong Ayer, the pasigupan pipe was part of the groom's dowry. He would hold the long pipe during the wedding ceremony and it would be especially decorated for the circumstance. The pipe would have a holder decorated with flying butterflies (pemigangan berhias kupu-kupu terbang) which was made out of gold or gold plated metal. The pasigupan would not be lit, though some would light it symbolically — without inhaling — during the wedding. This ensemble became complete with the groom donning a "kris" tucked into his "sinjang".

Unlike today, cigarettes were served during wedding ceremonies.

This practice went on until at least the mid 1970s then fell into disuse, most probably due to better health education. The wider availability of cheap cigarettes had partly contributed to this smoking culture.

Cigarettes were not only served during wedding ceremonies but were also served during other social events as well, even strictly religious ones such as "tahlil" and "doa selamat" ceremonies, as well as circumcision events and the likes — in fact at any social gathering. Without cigarettes being served at the end of the meal, the event was seen as incomplete.

Today, when someone is invited to a social event, he or she has to make his or her own way there. In the olden days, someone would be sent to fetch the guest using a sampan. When the guest came down into the sampan, he would be served a cigarette either with a "daun kirai" or a branded cigarette.

Today, the Brunei sigup has completely disappeared and there are tales that there are still pockets of elderly Bruneians enjoying their hand-rolled Brunei sigup, but they are not easily found. The pasigupan, however, remains part of the royal regalia either during wedding ceremonies or for other ceremonies. The "pasigupan emas" or royal golden pipe is made out of gold and is usually carried by two sons of a Cheteria during Royal Wedding Ceremonies.

The Brunei sigup also lived on as part of the dressing of the Royal Groom.

The last item that he must have on his ensemble is segolong sigup berbujungkan emas dan bujungnya itu berkepalakan kalimambang yang dipegang oleh pengantin which is a roll of cigarettes with a golden tip decorated with butterflies to be held by the groom.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Leg Co - the old days

Nothing much today. I spent my Friday desperately trying to complete my Sunday article for the Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times about the history of the Brunei's Legislative Council. You have to buy tomorrow's Brunei Times if you do want to read it with the nice photographs.

For those who don't want to wait till tomorrow to see the photos, attached are two of them. The first is a Legislative Council meeting in 1948 with Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin chairing and the second in 1952 with Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin. Compared to the grand and opulent building of today, those days were very much less.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Day 3 Leg Co

I can only talk about a bit of yesterday's Leg Co afternoon sessions. I was only able to attend for a couple of hours yesterday but I was told that a lot of the more interesting discussions took place in the morning. Currently the members are still in committee session and going through the individual ministries and departmental budgets and approving them one by one. Technically questions about the budget should be raised but members take the opportunity to ask related matters to the ministry or department concerned.

Nobody asked anything during Foreign Affairs and Defence budgets which surprised me. Plenty of questions there. Lots of questions for departments under the PMO. The only one I managed to listen to was the Belait member asking whether with the new Lumut Methanol Plant this will have any impact on the supply of electricity to Belait (Electrical Department comes under the Energy Division, PMO). One member raised two popular issues - higher bonuses for government officers because of higher expenditures and possibility for government officers who are not able to complete the haj due to medical reasons are allowed to take the tambang out so that they can 'upah' someone to do the haj. A few members praised the Home Affairs Ministry for taking quick actions during the recent flood. I was a bit miffed with this one as clearly roles taken by the Welfare people etc were forgotten.

Anyway, the point is, Ministers do have to reply. I agree that we are miles away from established parliamentary system but it is still interesting to come and watch. So I do urge those who read this to take a bit of time and come to the new Leg Co building. Bring your IC and dress smartly as the advice from Leg Co and you will be allowed into the public gallery. I mentioned this last year and I don't really see anyone from the public come.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Day 2 Leg Co

It was an interesting day yesterday. After the pomp and ceremony on the first day of the Leg Co, yesterday the members got down to business. The first order of the day was the notified questions. This is the time when members ask question to the government members in advance. This allows the government members to prepare and when called upon the various ministers stood up to answer the questions. This would have been a wonderful opportunity if members of the public had asked one of the sittng members to post a question. This feature, common place in other parliaments were not in the new Brunei Leg Co until this year.

The questions were interesting ranging from that bridge (yes again) to TAP to narcotics. The various answers given by the ministers were okay - remember, they were notified and therefore prepared. What's not in place is the 'supplementaries'. In most other parliaments, the supplementary question is a place where the minister after giving a glorious answer to the first question sometime goes flat in the face when faced with a supplementary question normally debunking whatever he had said in the first place. I could imagine all sorts of supplementary questions today.

After that two motions were passed. The first was to thank His Majesty for the speech. The second was the reason why the Leg Co was convened - approving the budget. The Second Finance Minister gave his budget speech which had I been in old Ministry, I would have a hand in preparing but not this time round. Other than the usual yes the oil price is good but... there was an important measure which MOF had finally shifted ground - there is a change in the income tax rates - a rate which has not changed since its introduction in mid 1950s.

Our corporate tax rates of 30% which is among the highest in the region of 30% will be 27.5% this year and 25.5% the year after. Hopefully that should prove a boost to foreign companies wanting to operate in Brunei. Admittedly this is still far from Hong Kong's 17.5% and Singapore's 18% but is now more competitive compared to Malaysia's 28%, Indonesia's and Thailand's 30% and Philippines' 32%. The Minister also announced several measures including stepping the rates as well as announcing better capital allowances. This is indeed historical as budget speeches throughout the years has never touched on corporate taxation as a fiscal measure. The government is sacrificing its income in order to make Brunei more competitive and to get more investments coming to Brunei.

Anyway, you should all read the papers as they can give much better analysis than I can.

PS. By the way, someone went over board praising me yesterday for posting photos of the members. Actually the State Councils Department (the department in charge of the administration of all the Councils in Brunei including the Legislative Council) even provided profiles for all members. If you are interested in knowing who are your representatives, click here. A word of warning - do not click on the 'versi Bahasa Inggeris' as that will take you to their old website complete with the old Lapau. And if you are at all interested on what was actually discussed, the Hansard (that's the verbatim report of the discussions), you can also download it. Unfortunately the only year available is 2006. The 2007 is available on hard copy and hopefully they put them on-line soon.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Leg Co Members

A few people asked me how to get in touch with the members of the Legislative Council and whether that can be done. I asked them whether they knew who the members were and most indicated the negative. So I thought I will do a service and put the members faces up which yesteday's opening session program has kindly provided. The full list I have made available since 2005 on my library website The council is made up of all the government ministers as ex-officio members and appointed members made up of members of the public representing the communities, businesses and the mukims and kampongs. In fact the ketua kampong institutions is an alternative mechanism - get issues of your kampong to be brought up by the ketua kampong and he can contact the Leg Co representative.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A New Leg Co!

Today is the start of the Legislative Council since it reconvened in 2004. I won't say much but look forward to it. I wrote about it last year which you read here and I also wrote about it in 2006 which you can read here.

The very first Council meeting took place on the 29th June 1907 with the following members in attendance i.e. the Sultan Muhammad Jemalul Alam, the Acting Resident H Chevallier, the Pengiran Bendahara Pengiran Muhammad bin Pengiran Tajuddin, the Pengiran Pemancha, the Pengiran Shahbandar bin Pengiran Anak Ismail, the Pengiran K[erm]aindera bin Pengiran Suma, Dato Perdana Menteri H. Abdul Rahman bin H. Othman, Jawatan Abubakar, and the acting assistant resident JC Sugars. The two absentees on the day were Tuan Imam bin Jambul and Orangkaya Laksamana bin H. Nuruddin. The Brunei State Council, known as Majlis Mesyuarat Negeri in Malay, functioned for little more than half a century from 1907 until the promulgation of the Brunei Constitution on 29 September 1959. During this period Brunei underwent a significant makeover from being a traditional into a neo-traditional Sultanate.

This year I might not be able to sit through the entire debates as I managed to do last year. Last year, at this time of the year, we were already preparing our Minister for any question that may arise. This year, I am working for a different Minister and his team had already prepared for him. Anyway I look forward to the debates and I will try to write about them.

Today's will be the formal part. His Majesty giving a speech and the members if given time may be debating it later in the afternoon, otherwise it be tomorrow. Then the Minister of Finance II will be giving his budget speech and the motion for it to be debated. After that the council will go into committee mode. In committee mode, the members can ask any question, unlike the formal mode of only one question each. Unfortunately the committee sessions are not televised. The interesting questions are during this session.

[Photo Credit: I don't know who owns the photo but it is one which I like, Thanks!]

Monday, March 03, 2008

Help me, please....

I read the attempted suicide on Leo and I blogsite about that guy off the Gadong overhead pass. In the first place, I am not even sure whether that guy wanted to commit suicide or otherwise. Whatever the merit of his case, it does raise to one big issue. We either in the government or among the NGOs do not have an outlet in whatever form for anyone to ask and be counseled. If there is, it sure is hidden.

I only know of dialing 141 where you can call JAPEM (Development and Community Development Department) if you want to ask for assistance (I am not sure if this number covers suicide help) but other than that, I have not seen any. I don't know if the hospital does it. Someone correct me please if I am wrong.

I remembered when I was beginning my Masters in the States, I was surprised that our whole group was asked to attend a depression counselling session. Apparently the university had experiences in the past about overseas students facing depression studying there. Depression comes about because of family left behind, difficulty in adjustment etc. I was quite surprised to discover that depression comes in many forms and I too was mildly depressed then according to the signs and many of my colleagues suffer higher levels of depression. And these believe it or not, we were not young kids, we were among a group of professional mid-careers aged averaged between 30 to 40.

There was even a crying session and the university allocated a little corner in the garden where you can sob your hearts out and have someone come out and I guess rock you or hold you until you are okay or have cried enough. There was even a suicidal watch should anyone have extremely high level of depression. We were given telephone numbers of people to call should you really need any help.

Having gone through that, I realised how important it is to have someone to talk to on any problem. I have seen my fair share of people who are down in their luck when I was the head honcho of TAP. Almost every day there will be request to withdraw their funds because of really tight financial problems. I remembered my last cases before I left, there was a guy who ran through two cars driven by people who wanted to posses his car. He slept in the car in his farm to avoid them as he needed the car badly. He didn't have anyone he could talk to. His creditors certainly did not want to listen to him anymore. And there was this lady whose mother had passed away. She wanted to withdraw her funds because she was the only daughter and she wanted her mother to have a good funeral and for her to be sent off well. The rest of her family had emigrated and she had no one to turn to for help.

Most of us are lucky. Like me, I am lucky to have my wife and my son and my extended family. But there are others who are not as lucky probably like the guy who wanted to jump off that bridge. There must be more of him and her out there. I hope that one of my senior colleagues reading this will be able to pick this topic up.

In the meantime, click here if you want to know what you can do to help someone who may be suicidal.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Conservation versus Development

I was at the ICC yesterday for the opening of the ISB Borneo Global Issues Conference VI by Her Royal Highness Pengiran Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah. I was very impressed with her delivery. I was also impressed with the organisation of the whole affair bearing in mind I did not see a single Adat Istiadat people. Protocols were correct. But most importantly it was not a boring opening.

We had Monty Halls of Animal Planet and Alison Cronin, Director of Monkey World-Ape Rescue Centre, also another Animal Planet presenter. Monty Halls was a very dynamic and inspirational speaker. With his humourous touch, the whole opening was made that much more livelier. Though he did remind me a bit of that British actor Monty Price. He also brought reality into what goes on if anyone wants to be a nature conservationist. I thought that was really good. It is a lot of hard work but in the end, you get a planet that is safe to live in complete with its biodiversity.

The Borneo Global Issues Conference has now become more or less a Brunei Tradition. It is a three-day, student run MUN (Model United Nations) conference that brings together secondary school pupils from around the region to discuss major global concerns of the day. In this forum, aspiring young men and women will debate key issues and produce resolutions on these issues in a mock United Nations simulation.

The objective of the conference is to encourage international cooperation, understanding and world citizenship among young adults at a time of increasing globalisation. Additionally, the conference will offer the participants the opportunity to develop debating skills in the English language. More than 20 schools participated in the conference coming not just locally but also from UK, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

The Conference with its Million Tree project is something we have to laud to. We produced roughly 9,000 kg of CO2 each. Each tree can only consume about 20kg of CO2. That means we have to plant for every single one of us 450 trees per year. That's a lot of trees and not to mention a lot of areas too.

There is indeed a debate between the conservation and development. We in Brunei are not yet debating that, at least not widely. In the future that may change. I can already see it in one of our future projects - a dam versus lost of forests and its habitat. It would not be too far wrong to suggest that the general issue of balancing between environmental considerations, and economic progress and development will assume even greater central prominence in the Brunei public fora in the years ahead. This brings into the picture time and again, of the often-heated debate of balancing between the need to preserve environmental resources and the necessity of economic progress and development in Brunei.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Royal Brunei Police and My Grandfather

Within the last 7 days there were 20 thefts according to the papers. I thought that was a bit worrying. I spent my Thursday evening and early Friday morning researching about the Brunei Police for my Sunday Brunei Times weekly column. That recent statistics was a far cry compared to Brunei in the early 20th century.

I discovered that in those years, murder, rape and armed robbery were virtually unknown even theft was considered as rare. Luckily for the Brunei Police in the early years as it was manned by a detachment of sikhs from Labuan considered relatively inefficient. According to records at the end of 1914, there were only 14 people who had ever been held. At the end of 1936, there were only 2 people who were actually in jail then.

Brunei prior to 1904 did not have a single policeman. As soon as McArthur was appointed as the first British Resident in 1906, among his first act was to get two policemen from Labuan who was a Pathan and a Sikh. After this there was a detachment of Sikhs. Ironically one of the Sikhs murdered a British Resident, Mr Maundrell in 1916.

It wasn't until 1921 that the Brunei Police had its own citizens in it. Even then the Police was asked to look after other things including fire services, registrar of all sorts including aliens to firearms and dogs to motor verhicles. In 1931, they were also asked to man the telephone exchange.

My grandfather was one of the earlier policeman. He retired in the 1970s as a Sergeant Major. When I was a very small boy, I remembered sometimes staying overnight at his barracks at Panaga Police Station in Seria and hearing his voice commanding the policemen there. I wish he was still alive. I would have asked him many many things now. As it is I have all these books that I have to read to find out about the Brunei police. As a memory to my grandfather, I have posted a photo of him and his policemen mates taken in 1930s or 1940s.

My article and that photograph will appear tomorrow on Brunei Times if ever you are interested in reading further about the history of the Royal Brunei Police Force.

Inspirational Quotes