Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What happened to Bruneians? (Again)

I read the many comments on my previous posting of what happened to Bruneians. Interestingly enough, yesterday noon when I was at Athirah, someone approached me and said 'minta duit pengiran'. He was a young man, looks fit and somehow does not strike me as someone who is unemployed. But looks can be deceiving and he asked me for money because he thought I was someone. I was with my son today and I saw him again but this time he did not ask for money. Yesterday I had a tie and today I only had a tee shirt. Anyway, what bothered me was this 'begging' is not the first time.

In the 1990s, I remembered when I used to park at the Customs wharf when I used to work at MOF which was at IBB building. I used to walk from there to IBB which is about a 10 minute walk and I used to be accosted by a man, a nicely dressed elderly one (guessing around 50+), who always called out 'Pengiran, minta duit'. He usually gets a couple of dollars from me and the few other people he stopped. I saw him the other day while I was in town. I think he still does his 'begging'.

When I was at MOF, at the new building, the first week I reported for duty, there was a man who urgently wanted to see me. He told me some sob stories about him not being given welfare despite the fact he earned it. I fell for it and gave him some money. Later on I found out that, he does it to all the new guys who got promoted. I think you would know who he was. He actually did his sob story a few years ago and he was actually given a boat and an engine so that he could do his moto tambang and for him to earn money. You know what he did? He sold the boat and the engine.

There has been too many people who I have met. When I was the TAP head honcho, there were many who wanted to withdraw their savings sooner and they all had sob stories. I probably have more than my fair share of listening to sob stories than other people, sometimes that it becomes too easy not to believe all of them. But I am sure some are true. It's just that I can not tell them apart after a while. It does not answer the question - are some Bruneians so hard up or they just want some free money?

I am not trying to say that there are no poor Bruneians. There are. That's why there is this effort of a zero poverty policy. Eradicating it requires not just efforts but for us as a society to balance our priorities. There are a number of people who are contend to do nothing but to earn welfare. This is proven in many countries and don't come and tell me some b***sh*t stories that there are none here.

We have to go back to basic. What do we want? I remembered one man who told me that 'kita sanang, gaji basar, keluarga kaya, apa kita ingaukan?' I told him straight. I told him 'you think I started with keluarga kaya and gaji basar? When I was small, my father used to tell me, my toys were made up of sawn up pieces of wooden planks in a basket. We were not rich but we were comfortable and contended. There was no tv. We didn't have one until almost everyone else had one. I went to a hostel and was given $30 allowance a month. I made do. When I came back from England, I drove a second hand car to go to work and I started off just like every other officer from a B2 level. I knew a house was important. I built one just as soon as I could afford it with government loan. Until today, I have never owned a Mercedes, BMW or any of those fancy cars. I guess my priority is different.

So, my question still stands - what happened to us Bruneians? Have we become too materialistic that we worry more about other things? Have we no shame anymore that some of us are openly begging? Or is out welfare institutions failing out and unable to help anymore? We have JAPEM, Yayasan and Baitul Mal. Surely if you are a deserving case, you will get assistance.

We have not always been like this. I remembered writing about it 2 years ago that in 1962, the Brunei Annual Report pointed out that "... it is necessary to point out that the Malay, Dusun, Murut and Iban social structures are such that applications for assistance are rare, members of the family considering it their responsibility to take care of relatives who are in need..." and "... there are also a number of Chinese charitable organisations which cater for destitute members and in particular, arrange for funerals and give assistance to dependents of sick members of the various Chinese communities..." Can we go back to those years?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Sultan's 40th Coronation Anniversary

I am writing a special article on the Coronation of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. Most Bruneians know the Coronation as the Perpuspaan. This article will be part of Brunei Times special feature on the Coronation this upcoming 1st August 2008. On that day will be the 40th Anniversary of the Coronation.

One of the interesting things I have discovered was that even though the Sultan ascended the throne on 4th October 1967, his title was the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah became the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam only after the Coronation. Similarly for Raja Isteri, the Raja Isteri's title can only be used after she undergoes a separate Coronation rites at the Palace (the Sultan's traditional Coronation rites was at the Lapau).

There are more interesting things but I will leave that for you to discover in my written article.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tanaman Hiasan in Brunei

The other day I got this book from Dewan Bahasa. It's a really thick book about 440 pages thick. But it certainly is a goldmine or treasure trove of all the decorative trees that you ever want to know that exist in Brunei Darussalam.

A few years ago, I wouldn't need such a book and I guess most of you out there don't need one. But once you have your own house, there is always this instinct that you need to start decorating it especially the lawns around your houses. You start noticing what your neighbours planted and you start to frequent the Horticulture Centre at Rimba. Pretty soon, you started asking for people's plants whenever you drop in during Hari Raya. One thing about plants is that once you are really interested, you don't feel shy about minta the benih or even for the plant itself.

But surprisingly most times, you wouldn't know the name of the plants. Some plants have local names which makes it easy. Most times you go to the Horticulture Centre with a picture of the plant in your head and you try to search for it. Now, this is where this book comes in handy. This book has all the photographs, the names and the description of all those plants. It's handily divided into the different types of plants from the biggest trees down to the littlest shrubs. So, if you happen to be in Dewan Bahasa and have $30 in your pocket, go get one.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Origin of the Keris

For my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times tomorrow (Sunday), I will be publishing about the kris, the Malay dagger. The accompanying photograph is that of Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien with a kris tucked into his sinjang. This photograph was taken during His Majesty's Coronation in 1951. Please go and buy tomorrow's Brunei Times if you want to read more. In the meantime, a couple of paragraphs from tomorrow's column:-

What is the origin of the kris? No one is sure how the first kris came into being. There have been a number of tales, most of them supernatural. One story widely told in Brunei is of two brothers who went on a journey. One had a bamboo staff and the other a crude blade. Both weapons were given to them by their father. Both are said to possess supernatural powers and could turn into anything the brothers wished for.

One day, they came across a palace. They saw a beautiful princess weaving a piece of cloth on a loom. The first brother commanded his staff to turn into a bird so that it could fly and spy on her. The second brother commanded his blade to change into a venomous snake that bit the girl who fell into a deep coma.

The King tried everything to revive her but he could not. He grew so despondent that he announced that he would marry off his daughter to the person who successfully revives her. The second brother was the only one with the antidote, which he obtained from the magical kris, succeeded and the princess subsequently became his wife.

So, the craftsmen from that period drew inspiration from the tale and created a weapon that looked like the story. The kris that was invented is the one with the deadly blade sinuous like a snake, the hilt taking the form of the bird’s head and the sheath representing the loom into which the snake slithered into it.

The kris was also said to be of Javanese origin. In fact the word ‘keris’ is said to be a Javanese word and is derived from the word ‘ngeris’ meaning to stab or to pierce.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What happened to Bruneians?

I was really outraged when I heard from my colleague at Health. We were in Bangar, Temburong yesterday for His Majesty's Birthday Celebrations there. While waiting for lunch, we had a chat.

It seemed that someone tried to steal the copper cables at RIPAS Hospital. When he tried to do something to there power, the whole thing tripped up and caused a massive blackout at RIPAS. One of the patients affected was a baby who was in the incubator. Yesterday, the innocent baby was still fighting for his life. He was fighting for his life because of the high price of copper (around US$3.50 nowadays). This is not the first time that life may be lost because of the irresponsible act of the thieves.

Last month, I was visiting the housing estate in Katok (near Mata-Mata) where there was already built about 7 substations. The houses are to be built soon but the engineers were telling me that the substations were useless. They have all been stripped of any valuable metals. It takes about a quarter of a million to build a single one of these. Luckily the thieves only stole from the substations which did not support any houses at the moment. Though it's only a matter of time before they moved to the ones with houses.

The PWD people told me that it's not just cables and metals. There was a public work which they did in Sungai Kebun. The contractors came in to fix the windows and when they moved to the other side of the building, thieves came in and stole the ones they just fixed in broad daylight and with the contractors unable to stop them because they were threatened.

What happened? Have our society become so hard up? We have all the welfare policies in place. We have welfare allowances. We have welfare housing. If these are not the poor Bruneians then who are these people who stole our stuffs and put us in danger?

When we widened our scope and read and watch more - this is what we get. Smugglers smuggling out our subsidised petrol and subsidised rice. Bruneians selling fuel to foreigners using their 4 wheel drives. The government subsidised fuels and rice so that we Bruneians can enjoy the fruits and wealth of our own petrol. And yet this is blatanly abused. What has happened to our people? Do we not care about putting innocent lives at stake anymore?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Photographs Request

There was a request in the box for a signing of the Brunei Constitutiton photo. As far as I can tell the Constitution was not signed in public. The constitution was and is part of Brunei Laws. However what was signed at the same time of the launch of the constitution was the 1959 Brunei-UK Agreement which replaced the 1906 Agreement. This replaced the British Resident with the new British High Commissioner. This Agreement mirrors the changes in the Constitution and allows for internal self rule with the exception of defence and foreign affairs.

The second request was a photograph of Japanese soldiers. I am not sure what was requested but I do have this photograph of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin together with the Japanese Army High Command that was here. Though this photogprah was more for public relations by the Japanesea occupying force. The Sultan and his family was forced to run for their life to Tantuya as the Japanese became over bearing in their occupation of Brunei.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brunei Stamps during Japanese Occupation


When the Japanese invaded Brunei in 1942, they occupied the entire country. They still need a postal service. Being practical, they went to the Post Office and discovered that the British conveniently a large number of unused stamps. All the Japanese had to do was to overprint the stamps with the words Japanese Imperial Government.

I thought I had the entire set, and it was only lately that I discovered I had a missing 1 cent stamp which I had since tracked down and obtained. The above is the entire set that was used by the Japanese. There is another 3 cents stamp (which I would love to get my hands on) which was later overprinted and that for the time being became the most expensive Brunei stamp valuing at about $20,000.

The 8 cents and 15 cents stamps were not used during the British rule. They were procured early but unused until the Japanese came. So these two stamps were only used between 1942 to 1945.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Majlis Ilmu 2008

Last night was the final rehearsal for the opening of the Majlis Ilmu. The Majlis Ilmu which is an annual gathering now since about 2001 has showcased many knowledge products. It will be officially opened by His Majesty this coming Saturday at the International Convention Centere in Berakas.

The main programme will be the 'Negara Zikir' seminar. Several prominent speakers will deliver the lecture including State Mufti Pehin Dato Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia (Dr) Ustaz Hj Awg Abdul Aziz bin Juned. And I was told that one of the speakers for the Majlis Ilmu will be the Malaysian Astronaut Datuk Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. That would be interesting to hear him talk.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Memories of Iran

After the morning event yesterday, I spent sometime going through and rearranging my digital photographs collection and I came across my photographs while I was in Iran last April or May. I was attending the Asia Pacific Housing Ministers Meeting. I thought I will show a few interesting photographs during my trip.

Together with my officers, we dropped in at the makam of Ayatollah Khomeini who was Iran's spiritual leader. The makam was still under construction, the main dome has not been completed despite the 20 year period since he passed away. The makam is huge and the actual grave of Ayatollah Khomeini is in another smaller enclosure. He was buried there together with his son.




Many visitors donated money. In the second photograph we can see lots of paper money lying around the walls. There is a small opening in the glass walls you can put through. Every day the money is collected and given away to charity.

Around that makams, there are a number of other makams for other imams who were buried there. In Iran, it is interesting to note that they have photographs of the people who were buried there.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sabah and Sarawak

I am recycling some of my older blogs - I figure there are enough new readers who could not be bothered to go read some of my older entries and the old readers whould have forgotten about the old blog entries.

So I thought I will turn my attention towards our neighbouring states, Sabah and Sarawak, favourite holiday destinations for Bruneians especially in this month of December. I have written once about Sabah in passing when I was talking about how the name Istana Manggalela in Kuala Belait came about. I was going through my collection of books in the hope of finding something to write about today. In some days, writing comes easy but in other days, it takes a little bit of effort. I came across a book I bought many years ago entitled 'Asal Usul Negeri-Negeri di Malaysia' (the Origins of the States of Malaysia) written by Zakiah Hanum and published in 1989. I bought the book from the Times Bookstore - remember? We used to have a Times Bookstore in Brunei.

I will concentrate on the origins of the names of Sabah and Sarawak only even though all 13 Malaysian states are mentioned in the book. Sabah was originally known as Api-Api (Fire) because in the 16th century, a map described Sabah as Fire Islands - due to the existence of mud volcanoes in Pulau Tiga (near Labuan). Unlike Brunei, Sabah was hardly mentioned in ancient writings. The earliest reference to Sabah was in 1292 when a Kublai Khan emissary came to visit the Kinabatangan area. In 1365, Sabah was known as Saludang. The name Sabah became widely used in the 15th century when it was a part of Brunei. But when the British came, they renamed it North Borneo before becoming Sabah again when it joined Malaysia in 1963.

According to the book, the name Sabah came from the banana 'Pisang Saba' which grew along the coast and is very popular in Brunei too. It is said that because the banana grew very well along the coasts and that many people planted and ate it, the name Sabah was applied to the place and that subsequently became the name of the state. Though a couple of historians tried to give Sabah a more romantic origin by linking it with 'Shaba' in Yemen. The Arabic origin theory has gained popularity - when you think about it, do you want your country to be named after a banana? - but according to Tom Harrison, a famous historian, Sabah is a local name and its origins cannot be traced as are many other local names around the region.

The origin of the name 'Sarawak' is even harder to trace. Some said the origin of the name was when Pengiran Muda Hashim surrendered the early parts of Sarawak to James Brooke in 1841 - he said, 'serah pada awak' (given to you) and hence Sarawak. But the name Sarawak was already given to the Sarawak River even when the whole of Sarawak was a Brunei territory. However the origin of the name Sarawak River remained unknown.

The name Sarawak was also applied to the capital of the state, Kuching. It was known as Sarawak proper. It wasn't until 1872 that the state government decided to call the capital as Kuching and the state as Sarawak. Kuching itself was said to come from the word 'Cochin' which means 'port' and the name is also used in India. Though there are also those that said the name Kuching came from the river 'Sungai Kuching' which is a small river that adjoined the Sarawak River. The name itself came from the many 'mata kuching' trees (a local fruit that came from the same family as the lychee and the longan) that grew along the hill beside the river. The hill is known as Bukit Mata Kuching.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Kain Tenunan Brunei


For my article on Brunei Times tomorrow I will be writing about Kain Tenunan and Jong Sarat of Brunei. When I did my research, kain tenunan Brunei has been in existence for at least 600 years or more. Two paragraphs from the article:

According to the Information Department’s handbook entitled ‘The Traditional Handicrafts of Brunei Darussalam’ published in 1994 argued that the earliest recorded mention of cloth-weaving in Brunei Darussalam can be traced to Sultan Bolkiah's reign from 1485 to 1524. Magellan visited Brunei sometime during this period and his official chronicler, Antonia Pigafetta, reported seeing beautiful examples of Brunei handicrafts in particular the woven cloth.

But according to Hajah Kadariah in her book ‘Collection of Brunei Traditional Woven Cloth’ published in 2003 argued that according to the history of China, during the Sung Dynasty (969 - 1279 AD), it was reported that the King of Puni (Brunei) wore a certain cloth around his waist (sinjang), known as Kain Ujong Sarat, a Brunei woven cloth. So by the time of Magellan about 200 years after, the woven cloth should have long established itself in Brunei Darussalam. This shows that in Brunei, cloth weaving was a common cottage industry even in those days.

Buy tomorrow's Brunei Times if you want to read more.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Katam-Katam again...

It is still His Majesty's birthday celebrations and I was wondering whether to write about something serious or anything. I wanted to write about Harun Majid's book entitled 'Rebellion in Brunei: The 1962 Revolt, Imperialism, Confrontation and Oil' which is an interesting read. But I will do that review in the future.

I was searching for a topic to write for my Golden Legacy column and found something else which I should have put up for my 'gambling in Brunei' article two weeks ago.

In Peter Blundell's City of Many Waters, which I often quoted from I found a description about Chinese gamblers. One thing about Peter Blundell is that even though he wrote endearingly but his writings are sharp and hurts but I guess that's where the good writing lie. He calls a spade a spade and every races and every single strata of society gets written about in his book and most of them not exactly writing about our best sides.

He described a game called 'put and take' which was 'a favourite form of gambling among the Brunei Chinese years before it came to England. Thes dies of the top used are ornamented with pictures of a fish, a crab, a cock, a prawn, a frog ....' Recognise that? Peter Blundell was describing the katam-katam gambling in Brunei more than 100 years ago. I didn't realise katam-katam has been with us for that long.

Another game is called ti-chow. In those days too, gambling was 'legal'. It was controlled by a syndicate of chinese businessmen who were given a license by the government to collect fees etc.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Brunei-Singapore CIA

Last year, Brunei and Singapore marked its 40th Anniversary of Currency Interchangeability Agreement between Brunei and Singapore. When I was at MOF, we used to call the agreement the CIA. If you remember your history of currency notes, up to 1967, the three countries of Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore used the same currency notes issued by the Malaya and British Borneo Currency Board. Come 1967, all three countries decided to issue their own notes but kept the exchange at par with one another until 1971 when Malaysia decided not to keep it at par. Their economy was going strong at that time with the primary commodity market shooting high. Only Brunei and Singapore kept their CIA going until now.

Last year, to mark the 40th anniversary, the two countries issued a set of currency notes with similar serial numbers. The special issue notes sets went like goreng pisang and by the end of the day, none was left. This time round the two countries issued a set of currency notes with silver ingots. I don't know what's the take up rate for this one but based on last year's, this one should be very laku as well. Only 470 sets are available here in Brunei and another 1,100 sets will be sold in Singapore.

The box contains two currency notes with similar serial numbers, two ingots, each has 0.999 silver, weighing 31.0 gm, 2.5 mm thick and size 51 mm x 30 mm. It's already sold on ebay for an opening price of US$395. So, what are you waiting for. The Brunei Currency and Monetary Board is located at the ground floor of the Ministry of Finance Building. Bring $370 or a credit card....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Your Majesty!

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah in a group photograph at the Royal Sandhurst Military Academy, United Kingdom as a Cadet Officer. His Majesty was later commissioned with the rank of Captain in the Coldstream Guards in 1966. Happy 62nd Birthday Your Majesty!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Brunei Honours System

[note: Brunei Times published my article yesterday. This is based on an earlier blog entry in 2006]

On the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday which is the fifteenth of every July for our current Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzadin Waddaullah, there will be a few very deserving people who will be getting their honours. For some of them, they will also automatically get a title that goes by receiving that honours.

The Brunei Birthday Honours is similar to the British Birthday Honours given by the Queen. The honours system is a means of rewarding the citizens and other individuals for their personal bravery, achievement, or service to the country. The system consists of three types of award: honours, decorations and medals:

• Honours are used to recognise merit in terms of achievement and service.
• Decorations tend to be used to recognise specific deeds;
• Medals are used to recognise bravery, long and/or valuable service and/or good conduct.

Historically, it is not known when the first honours and titles were awarded. But certainly by the 14th century, when the Brunei Sultans were already reigning in Brunei, titles and presumably honours were already in place. The Sultan was at the top of a pyramid of officials with wazirs and cheterias as well as pehin manteris assisting him. Titles must have been given to lower officials who assisted them including the title of Dato.

Honours are split into different classes ("orders"). Each order is graded so as to distinguish the different degrees of achievement or service. In Brunei, there is a committee which meets to discuss the candidates and decide which ones deserve which type of award and at what level.

Candidates are identified by the various ministries and departments. Normally if the recipient is a foreigner, permission is asked before the candidate can be awarded. Similarly if a foreign country was to award any form of honours to a Bruneian, permission must be sought from the government before that honours can be received or before the title, if any, can be used by the recipient.

Honours awarded by His Majesty are given at separate occasions depending on the level of award. The 'Bintang Kebesaran' or Decoration Orders are awarded during His Majesty's Birthday by His Majesty himself. If there are too many recipients to be awarded on a single morning, some will be awarded by His Majesty at another smaller ceremony after the birthday.

In the past, the honours were also awarded during His Majesty’s visit to that particular district. Usually several honours will be given out to the residents of the district. Honours can also be awarded during visits by foreign dignitaries to Brunei. Sometimes it can also be awarded to the foreign dignitary when His Majesty is visiting those countries.

Whereas medals are awarded by His Majesty but are always presented by HRH The Crown Prince or by one of His Majesty's brothers a few months later.

The Bintang Kebesaran come in several different categories. Each category is for different classes of recipients.

For instance Darjah Kerabat Mahkota Brunei (Order of the Crown of Brunei) or the Royal Family Order of the Crown of Brunei are only awarded to members of the royal families either Bruneians or other royals.

Darjah Seri Ugama Islam is of course awarded to Islamic clerics or those who served in the religious service.

Darjah Paduka Seri Laila Jasa Keberanian is of course for the military and the police.

Each category has several classes. It is the second and first class of each category which will give the title Dato. However for being awarded the decoration or bintang kebesaran, the recipients in addition to the title in front of their names, if any, will also get to keep the letters behind their names. The list of different categories of Orders, the classes in each Order, the letters to be used at the end of one’s name and the titles, if any (to be used in front of the recipients’ names), associated with that class:-

• Darjah Kerabat Mahkota Brunei (The Royal Family Order of the Crown of Brunei) - 1st Class only: DKMB

• Darjah Kerabat Laila Utama Yang Amat Dihormati (The Most Esteemed Family Order Laila Utama) – 1st Class only: DK – carries the title of Dato Laila Utama

• Darjah Kerabat Seri Utama Yang Amat Dihormati (The Most Esteemed Family Order Seri Utama) - 1st Class only: DK – carries the title of Dato Seri Utama

• Darjah Seri Ugama Islam Negara Brunei Yang Amat Bersinar (The Most Eminent Order of Islam Brunei) - 1st Class: PSSUB – carries the title of Dato Paduka Seri Setia; 2nd Class: DSSUB – carries the title of Dato Seri Setia; 3rd Class: SSUB – carries no title; 4th Class: SUB – carries no title; and 5th Class: PUB – carries no title

• Darjah Paduka Seri Laila Jasa Keberanian Gemilang Yang Amat Cemerlang (The Most Illustrious Order of Paduka Laila Jasa Keberanian Gemilang) - 1st Class: DPKG – carries the title of Dato Paduka Seri; 2nd Class: DKLG – carries the title of Dato Laila; 3rd Class: DKG – carries no title

• Darjah Paduka Keberanian Laila Terbilang Yang Amat Gemilang (The Most Exalted Order of Paduka Keberanian Laila Terbilang) - 1st Class: DPKT – carries the title of Dato Paduka Seri; 2nd Class: DKLT – carries the title of Dato Laila; 3rd Class: DKT – carries no title

• Darjah Pahlawan Negara Brunei Yang Amat Perkasa (The Most Gallant Order of Pahlawan Negara Brunei) - 1st Class: PSPNB – carries the title of Dato Seri Pahlawan; 2nd Class: DHPNB – carries the title of Dato Hamzah Pahlawan; 3rd Class: PNB – carries no title; 4th Class: PJB – carries no title

• Darjah Setia Negara Brunei Yang Amat Bahagia (The Most Blessed Order of Setia Negara Brunei) - 1st Class: PSNB – carries the title of Dato Seri Setia; 2nd Class: DSNB – carries the title of Dato Setia; 3rd Class: SNB – carries no title; 4th Class: PSB – carries no title

• Darjah Paduka Seri Laila Jasa Yang Amat Berjasa (The Most Distinguished Order of Paduka Seri Laila Jasa) - 1st Class: PSLJ – carries the title of Dato Paduka Seri Laila Jasa; 2nd Class: DSLJ – carries the title of Dato Seri Laila Jasa; 3rd Class: SLJ – carries no title

• Darjah Seri Paduka Mahkota Brunei Yang Amat Mulia (The Most Honourable Order of Seri Paduka Mahkota Brunei) - 1st Class: SPMB – carries the title of Dato Seri Paduka; 2nd Class: DPMB – carries the title of Dato Paduka; 3rd Class: SMB – carries no title

Usually, the greatest number of new Datoships will receive the Darjah Seri Paduka Mahkota Brunei Yang Amat Mulia 2nd Class - DPMB which will give the title Dato Paduka.

Non-Bruneians traditionally get the Darjah Paduka Seri Laila Jasa Yang Amat Berjasa even though Bruneians have also been awarded this in the past. It is possible to get even higher and higher orders. The title that will be used will be the highest one that the recipient received.

Normally the lowest decoration order government officers get will be the PSB and for religious officers the PUB.

So, come 15th July 2008, if you are watching on television or reading the news of His Majesty handing out the awards, this writer hopes that this article can be used as a guide. If one of you readers is one of the recipients, this writer offers his heartiest congratulations for receiving the well deserved award.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Life without Oil

Someone asked on the comment box as to whether I can write about life without oil. I supposed I could given the amount of information that I have acquired through my working career. Though I have to say that I am still bound by the OSA and have to word my words carefully.

I won't answer that question directly but probably point to some figures and pointers that probably can be used to start the ball rolling. And I would be relying on information available on open source such as the figures that I gave sometime last week about how much the government's income-expenses. From the income of roughly $8.7 billion in 2007 you can see the following:-

Tax Income from oil and gas is around $5.1 billion
Non-Tax Income from oil and gas is around $0.9 billion

in which case makes the figure around $6 billion. Income from the other non oil and gas is around $2.7 billion. Our expenses is around $5.8 billion. That means that take out the income from oil and gas, our other income barely covers half of our current expenditure.

There are two ways around this. One is to cut down our expenses and the other is to increase our income. Cutting down expenses would mean a much smaller government and the possibility of decreasing subsidies. Increase our income would mean to charge more for services and to find other sources of taxation. Both of which would hurt. Some would say that there is a third way. The government does have sufficient savings and investments and over the last few years, those savings would have grown as there have been a number of surpluses.

There is a lot of argument as to whether we should go, say the Dubai way, or not. Dubai has its successes and whether their methods are repeatable elsewhere depends very much on what one is willing to tolerate and the changes that has to be made. Our other way at the moment admitedly has not been as fast paced as most would have hoped for. But so far it has held steady and a little bit more push wouldn't hurt a bit. The 2007-2012 NDP is here to make sure that that will happen.

Life without oil would depend very much on what is our tolerance level and the level of savings that the government has. Compared to, say at the beginning of 2000 and now, personally I am more optimistic that life without oil would be something that we all can go through with.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Padang Besar Again

When I wrote the article on the Padang Besar, there was one photograph that I wanted to be published in Brunei Times. I remembered having a photograph of His Majesty, our Sultan playing football on that field. However I could not find it despite searching high and low for it.

Today when I was searching for something else in my library, I found that book which had that particular photograph. So I thought I will reproduce that photograph for you all out there. His Majesty was involved in many sports. But this particular one is interesting as we don't often see him as a soccer or fooball player.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mile 0, Jalan Tutong

Most people would know Kuala Belait is 67 miles from Bandar Seri Begawan. Where do they measure it from?

I had a light argument with my editor - I am helping write some television scripts for a historical documentary series - and this topic came up. I said I clearly remembered when I was a little boy there was a mile 0 stone sign outside the Post Office where everything was measured from. Mile 0 supposedly the centre of town is not in Jalan Sultan. It is in between the General Post Office building and the State Secretariat Building. I could not prove it.

Yesterday, I found in my collection of postcards the following postcard. And yes, mile 0 is there!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hua Hui and Gambling Games in Brunei

[Note: Brunei Times published my article on gambling in Brunei last Sunday.]


In the 1950s, Bruneians woke up to a new game of chance. This new game was different. It required a certain amount of skill and knowledge. It also appealed to the Malay sense of puzzle solving – solving a ‘teka-teki’ or word puzzle. But it was still a gambling game and it went by the name of ‘Hua Hui’.

Not many young Bruneians remember the name but those who grew up around the capital city of then Brunei Town would remember it very well. ‘Hua Hui’ was an easy game. For each draw which lasted around a week or more, a short word puzzle (known as the Ar-Chai) would be announced. The puzzle would read something like ‘… this (animal) goes out at night, and can be seen in the morning…’ A punter would have to place a bet in one of the 36 animals given and if he chose correctly he could win as much as thirty times what he had put up.

People were attracted to Hua Hui. Somehow the thinking was, this was not pure gambling. You have to think about it and therefore if you have to think about it, this game required skills and not chance alone to determine whether or not you would win it. Punters would agonise over the answer. Some would go in search of a seer who would burn papers and the remaining charred paper would be studied. What shape does it have? Does it resemble one of the 36 animals?

Those who dreamed about animals were in demand. Many punters would come and visit or ask. Dreamers have been known to sell their dreams to the highest bidders.

After the time is up, the animal would be revealed and everybody who put up the right bid would be in search of their runners to get the winnings.

‘Hua Hui’ was particularly popular in Brunei in the 1950s and 1960s. Even during ‘festive seasons’ or ‘Hari Besar’ as the Bruneians used to call them such as His Majesty’s Brithday Celebrations, ‘Hua Hui’ would make an appearance. The 36 animals would be displayed on a banner and by the end of the day, the right answer would be unfurled. Throughout the day, punters would continue to put up their bets on which animals would be right, thinking that they have solved the puzzle.

However, ‘Hua Hui’ was less a game of skill and more a game of chance. There are 36 choices and the maximum winnings are only a multiple of 30. Even if one was to put a $1 on all 36 choices, one would only get back maximum $30. At the same time, the ‘Ar-Chai’ or the puzzle is so vague that the description can match more than 1 animal and sometimes match many animals. It is highly possible that the organizers would choose the ‘right’ answer based on the winnings that they have to pay out.

However in those more ‘liberal’ days, games of chances abound. Today these games are illegal and if found guilty can be prosecuted under the ‘Common Gaming Houses Act’ (Chapter 28 of the Brunei Laws), and many punters have been known to be prosecuted.

One such game was the ‘katam-katam’ or crabs. Katam-katam is still known to be played today hidden from public eyes. But in the earlier days, one can play ‘katam-katam’ even in the open. Especially on the festive days, one can play ‘katam-katam’ under a tree. The dealer would come and approach punters to join him and a crowd will watch.

‘Katam-katam’ board game is so easy to play and does not require expensive hardware to enjoy it. You just need a plain square table to put it on. On the board there would be 6 pictures of a red fish, a red chicken, a green prawn, a green crab, a big jar that look like the pumpkin and a moon represented by the round chinese coin look-alike. Next are of course the dices. You need three dices. If the three dies thrown during the game showed a certain configuration, it can indicate a special winning.

However just like any other game of chances, this game is no longer allowed in the open and if discovered, would lead to very heavy fines and imprisonment.

Other games of chances abound in Brunei during those days. This included the dart throwing competition. Punters would put up their bets on the appropriate numbers hoping that the dart would land on that number. Then the dealer would throw a dart at a revolving board and if he hits a number then the punter who bet on that number would get a prize.

Another similar game is the throwing a small hoop around a can which holds or place on top of it, prizes such as a watch etc. Even though there is a certain amount of dexterity skills required to throw the hoop accurately, the stall owners normally would try to make sure that getting the hoops in not an easy task.

Another variation would be to throw balls at cans and if all the cans fall down, one would get a prize. In many cases, the cans have been weighed down by sand stuffed into them. They don’t topple over easily.

Even during weddings in Brunei during those days, card games were very popular. Many a wedding guest have been known to come out of a wedding cleaned out of his hard earned cash by other punters. The popular ones are the Pakau or better known as the Black Jack and Bandar or the three card game.

This practice of having card games during weddings surprisingly is not country wide. This mostly occurred in the Brunei-Muara District. Guests from the other districts have been known to be wide eyed when they saw the card games played at weddings.

Though it is very surprising how gaming catch on very quickly in those days. It must have started at school. In school tuck shops, there was always a small board where on the box would be placed small pieces of paper. A pupil would pay 5 cents to get at one of those pieces of paper.

If open, the pieces of paper would show various prizes or no prizes at all. One would be happy to win a 50 cent coin which is not a bad investment for 5 cents. In those days too, a pupil would carry at most 5 or 10 cent coins. This would be tied to the end of a handkerchief so that the small coin will not be lost.

Another game sold by school tuck shop owners is one where a student would dream of winning. The shop will sell small cigarette size boxes, if shaken, feels as if there is a coin in it. The boxes normally contain small plastic toys such as tops and probably one or two would actually contain the coins.

Gambling whether small or big continues to be haram. Gambling is considered a crime in Islam, and any financial gain obtained from it is haram and cannot be used. This is especially so in terms of purchasing food or drinks for one’s family. Items that are purchased using haram money or gains are also considered haram, and those who consume it will be punished. This was highlighted during a Friday sermon sometime last year.

Fortunately for us in Brunei, the Hua Hui and the other variations are no longer with us. Most of us have realized that these games are haram and for us, these games remain a curiosity of our history.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Brunei National Accounts 2007

I received this from my colleague at PMO yesterday. This is the latest publication from the Economic Planning and Development Department (EPDD as my minister likes to call them) or Jabatan Perancangan dan Perkembangan Ekonomi (JPKE which shortform is usually used).

What's important about the national accounts? The national accounts give a variety of indicators about the health of our economy. The most important indicator is that it gives the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of Brunei. So for 2007, the GDP for Brunei is $18,512.3 million or $18.5 billion. Last year it was $18.2 billion and in 2005 it was $15.9 billion. In terms of GDP per capita, it was $47,467 but because the economy grew much less than population growth, that was lower compared to $47,587 for 2006.

For the last five years though, Brunei has had inconsistent growth rates. For 2003 it was 2.9%, 2004: 0.5%, 2005: 0.4%, 2006: 4.4% and 2007: 0.6%.

Despite the oil prices, the growth for the oil and gas sector has been more negative 2003: 4.5%, 2004: -1.0%, 2005: -2.6%, 2006: 4.3% and 2007: -6.9% whereras the non oil and gas sector has always been positive 2003: 0.9%, 2004: 2.5%, 2005: 4.1%, 2006: 4.5% and 2007: a massive 9.5%. There are many interesting reasons but I won't go through them here.

Even though there are many statistics and publications that you can get from JPKE's website this particular book is either not yet available or available only in hard copy. But whatever it is contact JPKE if you need a copy.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The 'spare' seat


I was visiting one of the government's housing projects at Meragang. Meragang is a new resettlement housing for those who do not know what it is at Meragang. But more importantly it is also one which is located in Muara and along the highway.

When I was being briefed by the consultants, I saw this toilet seat. Well, it was in the room and I guess one can always used it as a spare seat! Not on that day though. There were enough seats to go round and nobody needed that 'spare seat'.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Not in my backyard


I thought I will spend a bit of time on the rubbish dump problem that everyone is talking about nowadays. Sungai Akar Dump is interesting - not rubbish dump interesting but it makes a classic administrative failure case study.

The history of rubbish dumps in Brunei has always been where the municipal waste goes to. Once Brunei starts urbanising, that is when rubbish starts being created. Most of us who lived in the non city centre in the earlier days learnt how to deal with our rubbish earlier on which is mostly burning them. But in the municipal area, there are trucks and rubbish collectors who do the rubbish throwing for the residents. In the very early days, rubbish was dumped at Pusar Ulak being the first rubbish dump in Brunei. As Bandar grows bigger and encroached to Pusar Ulak, it was Batu 2 at Jalan Tutong where the second rubbish dump was created.

But even Batu 2 gets encroached by the enlarging Brunei Town, the third dump site was near where the City Hall is at the moment at Kumbang Pasang. Even that was found unsuitable before rubbish was dumped at Jalan Menteri Besar, next to where Ministry of Health is. Yup, that huge forest next to MOH was a former rubbish dump site. The forest has been thinned up now and there is a park built by the Environment Department on it. For a time before government agencies started to be built in the area, Jalan Menteri Besar was for a time known as Jalan Sampah. By the early 80s, that started to be too full and search went on for the fifth dump site.

And that's when Sungai Akar started. Sungai Akar was supposed to have closed down by the end of the 1990s and something to replace it. Sungai Akar was essentially a municipal dump site but by then, rubbish collectors sensing a business opportunity offered their services not just to rubbish inside the municipal area but also to the growing number of households outside it. More and more rubbish was collected and more and more are dumped into Sungai Akar. Everyone expects BSB Municipal Department to find a solution. But it is not their fault too. Bandar Seri Begawan Municipal Department does not have the ability and by 2004, the newly created Environment, Parks and Recreation Department under the Ministry of Development was asked to take over.

It was only then studies are conducted and by this year under the new five year Development Plan, was the money available to do something about Sungai Akar. Finding a new dump site is not easy - it suffers from the NIMBY effect. Not in my backyard. Alternatives - incinerators etc. But ashes from incinerators need to be kept properly too and not to mention the gases it produces. There are other bio alternatives too. These also suffered from NIMBY effects and other side effects too. What is also important is to get everyone to save and to push the idea of recycling and reusing so that there will be less sampah by every citizen of this country.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Japanese Occupation of Brunei

[Note: I wrote the following article for my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times, 25th June 2008 edition.]

Details of the Japanese occupation of Brunei in the 1940s are neither easily available nor easy to find. This article tries to sketch that short history.

During the Second World War, 10,000 Japanese troops arrived at Kuala Belait. It was on 16th December 1941. Within six days, they managed to occupy the entire country. Despite the Agreement between the British and Brunei, the British did not defend Brunei at all. All they left was a tiny detachment of a Punjab Regiment in Kuching, Sarawak to protect the three territories of British Borneo.

Ironically even though there was no plan to defend the country, there was a contingency plan to deny the Seria oilfields to the Japanese. For that the British did use that tiny detachment of the Punjab Regiment in order to supervise the so called oil denial measures.

These measures included the filling in of all the oil wells with concrete and these were done in September 1941. All the remaining equipment and installations were also destroyed. These were done soon after the attacks on Kota Bahru in Peninsular Malaya and also on the Americans' Pearl Harbour.

According to AVM Horton in his paper entitled ‘The British Residency in Brunei 1906 to 1959’ published in 1984 by the Centre for South East Asia Studies, Hull University, the Japanese concluded an agreement with Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin regarding the administration of Brunei. Inche Ibrahim (later Pehin Datu Perdana Menteri Dato Laila Utama Awang Haji Ibrahim) who was the Secretary to the British Resident before the war, was also appointed as the Chief Administrative Officer or State Secretary acting under a Japanese Governor.

Unknown to the Japanese, Pehin Ibrahim managed to protect a number of important state documents including documents related to land titles. In his book entitled ‘Brunei Days’, TS Monks who was one of the first post-war administrators, described how Pehin Ibrahim managed to hide the important documents as well as convinced the Japanese of the need to have records of the past.

During its administration, the Japense reorganized Brunei’s administration. Brunei became one of five Japanese Prefectures in the former British Borneo or Kalimantan Utara. The Brunei Prefecture included Baram, Labuan, Lawas and Limbang which were all former Brunei territories. This was the only time during modern times that all these territories were recombined to form one Brunei.

His Majesty Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin retained his throne during the War and was bestowed with a pension and Japanese honours. However he had very little to do with the Japanese during the occupation and he together with the royal family left Brunei to stay at a temporary palace at Tantuya in Limbang towards the end of the Second World War.

Most of the Malay government officers stayed put at their posts. According to a Colonial Office paper, they retained their salaries under the Japanese government. They together with Pehin Ibrahim tried to provide as best an effective government machinery as they could.

The Japanese kept control of the coastal areas and riverine settlements. Occasionally soldiers of the 37th Army do send infrequent patrols inland but they made no real attempt to try to bring the interior part under the Japanese.

The Japanese tried to bring back into operation both the Seria and Miri Oilfields. Eventually they did manage to bring 16 wells in these two areas and by the time of the surrender, they had brought output back to half pre-War productions. In Muara, the Japanese also tried to bring back coal productions but these were fairly unsuccessful.

Dr Reece in his book ‘The Name of Brooke: The End of the White Rajah Rule in Sarawak’ published in 1982 described the efforts done by the Japanese. These included creating community councils and women’s organization (Kaum Ibu). A number of Bruneians were trained in Japan including Pengiran Yusuf (later YAM Pengiran Setia Negara Pengiran Haji Mohd Yusuf). Pengiran Yusuf was in Hiroshima when the Americans obliterated the city with an atomic bomb. He survived the bombing and in his latter career became the State Secretary and Chief Minister of Brunei.

The Japanese tried to stir up anti-European sentiments among the students in Brunei as well as among the adults. In schools, Japanese was taught to students. Government officers were required to learn Japanese in night classes.

There was not much infrastructure development in Brunei during the War except for the first airport runaway in Brunei. This was built during the Japanese occupation at the current Old Airport Government Buildings Complex. 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 built.

Horton described that the Japanese despite being occupiers were not ‘too much hated’ by the people though it was ‘very dangerous if one did not toe their line.’ The Japanese were seen as ‘harsh’ and ‘drove the workers hard’ but were ‘well-disciplined and ‘did not molest the local women’. During the early stages of the occupation, the Kempetai (Japanese Military Police) did not execute anyone but they were greatly feared.

In general, the Japanese left the public largely alone. A British Military Administration (BMA), the new body taking over after the war, described that ‘after the invasion, the Japanese attempted to carry on the former machinery of government, but there was soon a complete breakdown in the methods of administration’. The report also described that no attempt was made by Japanese to carry out or maintain public works. They relied on such revenues as they could by granting gambling licenses and monopolies of trade.

The Japanese brought in a new currency popularly known by the locals as ‘duit pisang’ (banana money) even though only the $10 note depicted a banana tree. The paper notes ranged from one cent to $1,000. By 1943, when the tide of the war turned against the Japanese, these notes became almost worthless.

Towards the end of the war, the former benevolent Japanese Governor was replaced. The Japanese became increasingly paranoid and life for many Bruneians became harder and many chose to flee into the jungle. Stocks of everything from food to medicine ran out. All the Bruneians had to make do and some were even seen wearing barks from trees as their clothes. They suffered from malnutrition and endemic diseases.

From 1943, the Allied Forces attacked many ships and trade was at a standstill. As the Allied advanced, the Japanese turned Brunei Bay and Labuan as a naval base. But allied bombing rendered the base useless.

On 10th June 1945, the Australians landed at Muara under ‘Operation Oboe’ to recapture Brunei. They were supported by American air and naval units. Brunei Town was captured in three days after a heavy bombing campaign by the Allied Forces which virtually destroyed and flattened the city including the Mosque. The only thing left standing was a Chinese Temple, then located at the river front wharf.

The British Military Administration took over from the Japanese and stayed on until July 1946. It was not until September 1946 that the British Resident returned back to Brunei.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Brunei Public Finance 2007

The Economic Planning and Development Department or better known as JPKE (Jabatan Perancangan dan Kemajuan Ekonomi) published the latest Brunei Economic Bulletin. For those who don't know this, this is THE government publication if you want to know about our country's economic review, outlook and recent economic developments. This issue covers all of 2007. You can go to JPKE website and download it or you can go to my main website to download the full pdf version of the bulletin.

In the report it is highlighted that our economic growth rate for 2007 is 0.6% which has slowed down significantly compared to 2006 when it was 4.4%. Our GDP was $18.5 billion last year. We have a trade surplus of $8.4 billion with oil and gas making up 96.2% of our total exports and 60% of these going to Japan and Indonesia. Last year the inflation rate was a very low 0.3%. Economic outlook for 2008 looks to be good given the progress of RKN projects and SPARK (Sungai Liang Industiral Park) and the economy is expected to grow at around 1%. But there will be an upward pressure on prices due to global inflation.

What interested me more in the report is the public finance or the money side of it. I published the data from treasury which I took from the report up there. For 2007, the government earned $8.8 billion and spent $5.8 billion compared to 2006 of earning $9.6 billion and spending only $5.2 billion. So 2007's surplus was only around $3 billion as compared to about $3.7 billion in 2006. The figures show how much income we earned from oil and gas. For expenditure, government's wages still show the largest expenditure of around $1.8 billion. Development expenditure under RKN only around $0.6 billion even though more than a billion was allocated. The government has an undercapacity to spend all its RKN allocation. Anyway, do read the whole report so that we all can talk the same language.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Reminiscing TAP

TAP recently celebrated its 15th Anniversary. I attended it as a former Managing Director but I was also one of its founders more than 15 years ago. I guess not many remember that now. In April 1992, Dato Metassan from the Prime Minister's Office, then plain Haji Metassan and I (I was then working in Telecoms as the Corporate Planning Manager - planning the corporatisation of Telecoms) were pulled out of our comfortable offices and placed in a tiny office at the Secretariat Building, given files from a working committee that had been in place for the previous two years and was instructed to set up TAP's operation. I think at that time both of us were a little 'bengang' if one may use the word and really had no idea what it is that we need to do.

Anyway, we set out doing what needs to be done which included spending sometime observing the CPF in Singapore and EPF in Malaysia. By November, we were already briefing changes to payroll systems and by January 1993, it was launched. We had a grand total of 7 staff including us - 4 officers and 3 support staff. There were about 16,000+ employees in our system by that January and that number climbed rapidly. By then we had started to grow too. We got the private sector employees into the TAP system in 1994. I think we were a little bit giddy of we had been able to achieve given the limited resources that we had then. We had no money in January 1993 but today's TAP have about $1.2 billion. We had 16,000 employees in January 1993 and today it is close to a 100,000.

My number one regret was and is the contribution rates. When Singapore and Malaysia launched their provident fund schemes in the 1950s, 5% + 5% was the introductory rate. It took Malaysia some 20+ years and Singapore about 10+ years before the rates was changed. We wanted the TAP introductory rate to be in place for at most 3 to 5 years before nudging it upwards. However when it was time to change it around 1997/1998, it was the financial and economic crisis that hit us and many employers were reluctant to pay a higher contribution rates and a number of employees were also made redundant. The Board had to shelve that idea and that basic introductory rates remained until today.

When I got back as the Acting MD in December 2004, I thought it was the right time to revisit the new rates. Little did I know, I wouldn't be spending much time in my new office. I was away in UBD for the compulsory Executive Management Program until May and by July I was moved again to MOF.

Anyway, the current TAP management is doing a lot of things. They got a great set of people. I love the imaginative financial planning theatre with the Seri Mulyani Sarjana School children. That was very impressive. Anyway, all the best to TAP's Management and hoped that they will be able to achieve a lot more for all the Brunei employees.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Awang Semaun

[Note: I wrote the following article for Brunei Times edition 25th May 2008. The accompanying photograph is definitely not that of Awang Semaun. This is an illustration of what Brunei warriors look like in the 18th century.]

If one was to mention the name Awang Semaun to any Bruneian, he or she would conjure up a description of a strong brave warrior who has contributed to the existence of Brunei.

According to legends, Awang Semaun is said to be the younger brother of Awang Alak Betatar (who eventually became the first Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Muhammad Shah). Awang Semaun was made a Damong by his brother and he also later became the Pengiran Temenggong (one of the 4 wazir or viziers) who assisted the Sultan in governing the country.

Who was Awang Semaun? According to Brunei legends and one of the most famous epic poems which bore his name, Syair Awang Semaun, he was one of 14 brothers which included Awang Alak Betatar, Pateh Berbai, Pateh Mambang, Pateh Tuba, Pateh Sangkuna, Pateh Manggurun, Pateh Malakai, Pateh Pahit, Damang Sari, Pateh Sindayong, Damang Lebar Daun, Hapu Awang and Pateh Laila Langgong. The brothers all lived in different places with Awang Semaun and his brother Damang Sari living in Garang, near Kuala Labu in Temburong.

It was said that the father fathered the 14 children in his journeys . His grandfather was known as Sang Aji Brunei. His name existed in another epic poem Syair Negara Kartagama written in 1365 where he was known as Sang Aji Baruwing (another version of Brunei’s name).

According to oral legends, despite being married for quite some time, he was childless. One day while walking outside his palace, he found a giant egg and brought it back to the palace. That night a young boy by the name of I-Pai Samaring was hatched. He later married the daughter of Sang Aji and gave birth to Alak Betatar.

While the princess was pregnant, she was craving for a tembadau (wild cow). I-Pai Samaring went hunting and managed to hit a tembadau with a spear but the tembadau got away. I-Pai Samaring followed the bloody trail of the tembadau which goes through several villages. At each of the village, he married the daughter of the chieftain as it was considered a great honour. He married 13 times before he eventually found the tembadau.

Each of those wives later gave birth to the brothers of Awang Alak Betatar. When Awang Alak Betatar grew up, he went in search of his brothers and brought them together. They later went in search of a new place to build a country and when they found the location at the present Kampong Ayer, their cries of ‘baru nah’ – now we found it – became the new country Brunei.

According to many local folklores and legends, Awang Semaun existed in a number of them. Whether he is the same Awang Semaun in all the other legends, one will never know.

According to the Iban folklores, Awang Semaun or Awang Sumaun in theirs, is the son of Derom anak Sabatin. Derom together with his father landed in Tanjong Batu (bordering Sarawak and Indonesia). Sumaun and his brother Serabungkok moved to Naga Rajang when they were grown up. Serabungkok married Lemina and gave birth to Dayang Ilam who later married Raja Semalanjat. The Ibans are said to be descendants of Serabungkok.

On the other hand, Semaun had a son name Tugau and the Melanaus are said to be the descendant of Tugau. According to the Iban legend, Sumaun went to Brunei in search of his fortune.

From the Muruts in Ulu Lawas, Semaun was said to be a seer and a very strong man. One rainy day when he was taking shelter under an overhang by a hill in Long Bawan, he stood up forgetting that he was under an overhang. An existing hole where he stood up complete with the shape of his ears is still visible up to now. In another place, his footprint can be seen when he jumped from one hill to another. It was said that he went away to Padian (Brunei) and was never heard of again.

However, the Brunei legends stated that Awang Semaun was the brother of Pateh Berbai and is of Brunei origin. According to a local folklore in Temburong, Awang Semaun left behind a giant vase used for keeping water. The local people said that the giant vase can sometimes appear and a number of locals have claimed to have seen that magic vase.

One local head village who worked in the area in the 1920s said that he saw the vase at least 10 times. He described the vase as having an opening of about 2 feet in diameter, its length up to 30 feet and with a broad middle of about 20 feet diameter. The vase will be found half submerged in the river. The British Resident who heard the stories tried to search for the vase in vain. The elderly folks said that a magic vase like that will not be found by those who went searching for it.

It was said that Awang Semaun converted to Islam in Johor. During the reign of Awang Alak Betatar, he instructed Awang Semaun to go to Johor in search of a Johor Princess who will become Awang Alak Betatar’s consort. The Johor Princess had a bird named pinggai (burong pinggai). When the Princess was taken to Brunei, the bird came to Brunei to search for her. The bird came together on a ship and the ship sank when it arrived in Brunei. The sailors were said to be assisted by the Kedayans who lived in Berakas. From the Kedayans, the sailors heard that the bird had flown to a place which eventually became Kampong Burong Pinggai.

From that village, the emissary from Johor discovered that the Princess had married the Brunei Sultan. However the Princess together with her searchers from Johor managed to persuade Awang Alak Betatar to return back to Johor for the Johor marriage ceremony there.

In Johor, Awang Alak Betatar converted to Islam and took the name Sultan Muhammad, Pateh Berbai became Pengiran Bendahara Seri Maharaja Permaisuara and Awang Semaun became Pengiran Temenggong. On their return back to Brunei, the Johor Princess’ followers stayed in Kampong Burong Pingai.

Some also said that the Johor Sultan ‘persuaded by her happiness and the fame and glory of Brunei’ as described by Saunders in his book, A History of Brunei, journeyed to Brunei and formally installed Alak Betatar as Sultan and his brothers, including Awang Semaun in the offices of state which became traditional to Brunei and presented the new Sultan with the royal regalia.

We only know Awang Semaun through legends. We do not even know of his descendants. We will never know the truth. But the name Awang Semaun lived on as one of Brunei’s great warriors.

Inspirational Quotes

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