Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Helping the daif

I was in Temburong yesterday. My minister was away and I was his representative together with two ministers and a deputy minister visiting two houses which the PWD has repaired. Currently we are undertaking repairs to houses belonging to the daif or the really poor throughout the country. The repairs are undertaken by PWD and paid for by the Islamic Religious Council.

The really dilapidated houses are usually torn down and we will build new ones for them. We are currently undertaking the building of about 60+ houses throughout Brunei Darussalam. But those that can be repaired are repaired like these two which we visited in Temburong. We also visited several other houses owned by the daif identified by the District Office whether these can be repaired as well.

This project started a few months ago and time passes because all the applications needed to be assessed. The houses were visited individually to verify that they meet the criteria. Interestingly enough there is no formal committee for this project, just 4 ministers coordinating their efforts - the Minister of Energy at the PMO who is the defacto coordinating minister, the Minister of Religious Affairs as the Chairman of the Islamic Religious Council, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports as the Minister who looks after welfare and the Minister of Development as the Minister responsible for the construction and repair works. The PMO PS and me co-chairs the implementation committee.

The repaired houses yesterday was part of a few houses throughout Brunei which was repaired by PWD and funded through the Religious Council as assistance to the very poor. The houses were identified by various people such as through the Ketua Kampongs and the owners' own appeals. These ones in Temburong belong to a widow and to an orphans' family. The orphans house was very sad. The house was quite dilapidated. Three siblings stayed there, their mother passed away the year before and the father passed away several years ago. The eldest of the three is unemployed and the other two have just finished school but with no paper qualification. Their house was repaired and most importantly the District Office is trying to get the eldest a job as a labourer in the District Office. The widow's case is not as bad as hers was only the kitchen and a toilet to be repaired.

My minister wanted the repair work to be done before Hari Raya so we were all scrambling trying to get the repairs done before then. We failed on only one count, a house in Kampong Ayer whose stilts have tilted and may collapse. Contractors estimated the work can be done but at a cost of more than $100,000. Rather than repair, we have shifted his case to building or buying another house in Kampong Ayer.

After the fasting month, we will embark on building new houses for the very poor. So if you do know of any very poor people living in dilapidated housing condition and unable to build a new house or improve the ones they are staying in, ask them to write through their Ketua Kampongs to the Religious Council or to the Community Development Department. Remember, the criteria is DAIF or very poor. The decision to provide assistance will be through assessment by a working group which will visit the houses.

Also importantly, repairing or building a new house is only part of the solution. Most of the times, the occupants are unemployed and very unlikely to obtain gainful employment. At the moment, most of them receive assistance from the government or from the Religious Council or from Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. It becomes a vicious circle. These people and their descendants are unable to move out of the poverty trap. But if there are companies out there who are willing to provide jobs, that will be a more effective way for these people to upgrade themselves. Even providing free tuitions to the children would help a lot. For the youths, the government and the Religious Council is already providing job training programs at the Pusat Bimbingan Belia in Tanah Jambu. Any additional assistance is certainly most welcome.

It is our duty after all to help the daif especially in this holy month of Ramadan.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hari Raya in Brunei (past and present)

[Note: I wrote the following piece about Hari Raya present and past, in yesterday's Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times (28th September 2008)].

On Tuesday night, everyone in Brunei would be glued to the radio and television waiting for the announcement whether Hari Raya will be the next day or to continue fasting. This has been the practice in Brunei for as long as it has its own radio service and surveyors to look out for the new hilal or new moon.

Up to the 1960s, there were small groups who would not be following the rest of the country. They followed the decisions of the neighbouring countries arguing that we are on the same island, obviously not realising the different interpretations of determining the sighting of the hilal. But nowadays, everyone eagerly awaits the results of the sighting.

Eid ul-Fitr had its beginning when in 624 CE, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) with his companions and relatives celebrated Eid ul-Fitr for the first time ever after winning the Battle of Badr. This battle was the first large battle between the Muslims in Medina and the Quraish in Makkah and the victory was considered as decisive. Ever since then Eid ul-Fitr has been celebrated throughout the world.

In Brunei, over the last week or so or what is known as ‘malam-malam lekor’ many would already be lighting up their kerosene lights lighting up the lawns. Nowadays, everyone switched on their decoration lights but in those days, kerosene lights would be used. Though these old lights retained their popularity with a number still being sold and used.

Bruneians would start the day by performing the Eid ul-Fitr prayers in mosques. When the SOAS Mosque was not yet completed, prayers were held in the open field with His Majesty Sultan Omar Ali himself praying with the public.

When the mosque was completed in 1958, it attracted many Bruneians. Up to the 1970s, the mosque would be filled to overflowing and many would be praying in the concourse outside and even some would spill over to the pavements and streets outside.
After the prayers, there will be visits to departed loved ones. Though there is no change in the visits to the cemetery and the reading of the yassins and tahlils, there is a change in the scented air asah-asahan poured on the gravestone and the grave of the loved ones.

In the past, one would have to prepare it and bring the water to the graveyard. Nowadays, the water is purchased already made at the tables outside the cemeteries. In the past too, not many people know how to read the yassin or lead the tahlil. Imams are often asked to lead the recitations.

Brunei Malay males would be wearing 'baju cara Melayu'. In the past, the colours tended to be white or simpler colours and with a simple skirt-like adornment called the 'sinjang' or samping. The ‘cara Melayu’ would be baggy and there was a preference for the 'baju' or the shirt to be worn on top of the 'sinjang'. Nowadays, most would wear the sinjang outside and would tuck the shirt in.

The ‘sinjang’ too has become elaborate with some wearing the Brunei 'jong sarat' or hand woven sinjang with gold threads. Even those who cannot afford the 'jong sarat' would be using commercially available woven sinjang. ‘Songkoks’ or head covering would be worn. Tilted to one side was the fashion in the older days but straight is today's fashion.

For a time, the Brunei cara Melayu would have a small handkerchief like piece of cloth. Now, ‘cara Melayu’ has changed to the more simpler ones with just buttons or ‘studs’.

Whereas for the ladies, the kebaya was worn much more than today's baju kurung. Not many realised that the kebaya originated from the Arabic region with the word ‘keba’ or ‘kaba’ meaning clothing'. It is more than 400 years old. Nowadays, the kebaya is hardly worn and it is the baju kurung which is used widely.

Hari Raya is a joyous occasion and is celebrated by everyone. Houses are open to anyone who comes to visit the family. Though nowadays only children go to houses whose owners they do not know. But today their objectives tended to be collecting money given out.

In the past, it was not just children but adults too who go out visiting and dropping by to any houses in the kampong that they want to visit. Of course, in those days, there were hardly any strangers. Families do not own cars and cannot travel very far. Visits are confined to houses around the area. Those with members of their families living elsewhere or working elsewhere would not be able to visit them. Hari Raya was indeed a sad time for some people as their loved ones were not around.

In the 1950s, children visit houses and collect sweets. The number collected indicated how many houses they visited. Hardly anyone gave money in those days. By the 1960s, those who are better off started giving small change. A child would get up to 50 cents from the wealthier families. It was the 1970s when green packets containing dollar notes was adopted from the red packets that Chinese hand out during their New Year celebrations.

At the houses too, today’s many multicoloured cakes being served are the norm but in the past, the food served would be much simpler. Local food such as dried agar-agar, kueh Mumbai, kueh sapit, kueh bahulu was the norm. Instead of soft drinks, black coffee with sugar will be served.

Soft drinks would come in the 1960s with two major suppliers, one in Bandar called the Chop Seng Guan and another in Kilanas. Another famous drink was the Snowman from Labuan. These came in small bottles with the Chop Seng Guan selling theirs in a 72 bottle casing.

What every house would have is the ‘kek kepala meja’. These are cakes with very thick icing with decoration adorning it. These are not eaten but remained as the major decoration on the table throughout the festivities period. It is said that if a visiting young man was interested in one of the ladies of the house, he would indicate it by cutting this cake.

Another interesting practice is covering the food on the table. Four bottles would be placed on the table forming a square and a piece of linen would be placed on top of the bottles to cover the food on the table.

For the children too, today’s widely commercially available ‘bedil’ or fireworks are a far cry from the handmade bamboo cannons built by the children of the old days. These cannons would make really loud sounds and children would ‘shoot’ them competing against another from nearby villages.

But despite the differences between the past and today, Hari Raya Aifil Fitri remained for Muslims to spend the day thanking the Al-Mighty for all the blessings that we have received. It is a time to reflect on one’s victory having gone through an entire month of fasting but it is also a time for reconciliations, to ask for forgiveness, to enhance the relationship ties with one’s families and friends as well as to give and to share.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pray for the kind souls

One couple came to see me yesterday. I can normally guess what they wanted immediately. People who come to see me usually have problems with housing or land or will be taken to court for violating development rules or ocassionally about non payment of government contracts. I was wrong, this couple did not have problem with those four, at least not directly.

Apparently the husband is the guarantor for his wife's elder brother's house at one of the national housing scheme. He has been sent a letter by the Housing Department that his salary will be deducted to pay for the house they have been guaranteeing. The owner of the house has not paid for his house since 1999. He has been staying there for the last 9 years without worrying about how he is going to pay for it. His attitude, according to his sister, is that nobody is going to evict him. (Non payment is a big issue. There are about 1,600+ houses in the national housing scheme which have payment issues.)

The sister has been trying to cajole the brother to start paying but apparently to no avail. She also asked the brother's children (he has 6 children, 4 of whom are already working) to take over the father's loans. But so far none of them are willing to take over the father's loans despite their higher earnings. She has even brought the transfer forms and whatever it is necessary. All it requires is that the children sign the form and bring it back to the housing department.

Short of punching or kicking the brother into his senses, this couple had done almost anything within their power to get the brother to start paying. This couple is not exactly a high salary couple either. The husband earns some $1,500 and the wife another $900. They have 5 children, all still schooling. When I checked their own housing application, they should be entitled to their own house within the next few months and their expenditures will no doubt increase with their own housing loan very soon. The wife told me that the brother's family could afford to pay the $200 a month. They have already changed cars, their mobile phones and have all the latest gadgets in the house. It was just the brother's family priority which is skewered.

This couple wanted to withdraw being guarantors immediately and have nothing more to do with the brother. I checked with the DPS who used to hold the housing portfolio for a few years. According to him, there have been issues with guarantors and told me a few stories. There was one couple who had to pay on behalf of a defaulter and later the husband died. So the widow continued paying for the defaulter scraficing her small pay while attempting to bring up her children. She skimped and couldn't afford to pay for her children's tuition. Her patience snapped when she found out that the defaulter had even taken an overseas holiday. Another story was of a guarantor who stood by his brother who was a contractor and helped to pay for his house when his business suffered. But when businesses recovered, the brother did not want to go back paying for his own house and just smiled whenever the guarantor brought up the subject.

During this holy month of Ramadhan, I am not going to rant or talk bad about these people who are clearly making a mockery of the system. All I will say is that I pray sincerely that the saintly souls who have been paying for them get the rewards they justly deserved and vice versa. All I wanted to point out is that there are clearly people, our own people, who have been given all the privileges that this country had offered, are clearly willing to let their own relatives suffer on their behalf. I hope you readers out there do not do what these people have done. Nuff said.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Origin of Hari Raya

On Tuesday night, I will be up Bukit Shahbandar with the Survey and Religious Officials looking out for the new moon. According to the Survey Department's calculations, the difference between sunset and moonset is about 1 hour plus and the moon will be around double digit degrees above the horizon when the sun sets. Barring heavy clouds and bad weather, I have been told insya'Allah Wednesday will be our first day raya. But we can never take things for granted. Today's question - do you know when was the first Hari Raya Aidil Fitri celebrations?

In 624 CE, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) with his companions and relatives celebrated Eid ul-Fitr for the first time ever after winning the Battle of Badr. The Battle of Badr was a key battle in the early days of Islam and marked a turning point in the Muslims' struggle against the Quraish in Makkah. This battle was the first large battle between the Muslims in Medina and the Quraish in Makkah and the victory was considered as decisive. This victory meant that a new power had arisen in Arabia and with that more and more Arabs began to convert to Islam and from this, led to the expansion of Islam throughout the world. Ever since then Eid ul-Fitr has been celebrated throughout the world.

Friday, September 26, 2008

50th Anniversary SOAS Mosque

50 years ago to the day, His Highness Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien officially opened Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. During that official opening on Friday, 13th Rabiulawal 1378 Hijra, the 26th September 1958, many visitors came including the Sultans of Pahang and Selangor, the Acting Sultan of Johor, the Prime Minister of the Federated States of Malaya, the British High Commissioner and also representatives from Singapore and the Saudi Arabian Governments. More than 5,000 people turned up for the occasion.

Today we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of SOAS Mosque. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah is expected to pray at the mosque for Friday prayer. Please come.

There are many things about the mosque we do not know. Did you know the marble for the mosque came from Carrara? The floor and the walls of the prayer hall are laid with marble imported especially from Carrara, a city in Tuscany, Italy and famous for its white or blue gray marble. Carrara marble has been used since Ancient Roman time. Some of the major Roman architectures such as the Pantheon were made from its marble. Michelangelo’s David was also carved from the same marble as well as the Marble Arch in London.

In the lagoon, lay a stone barge, a replica of a 16th Century Sultan Bolkiah’s ‘mahligai’ used to stage Al-Quran reading competitions. It was built to commemorate the new millennium of the Muslim Calendar Year of 1400 and cost $¼ million. This was completed in 1967.

Today 50 years ago, the Brunei postal authorities issued special stamps. Today there will be special stamps both 50 cents stamps and $50 dollar stamps. These stamps will be a worth a lot some day. I will see you today at the Post Office and at the Mosque.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Memories of Brunei Hostel in Singapore

On 30th March 1976, a group of ten twelve year old boys went on an almost empty RBA flight to Singapore. There were 13 passengers on board the brand new RBA Boeing 737, 10 boys and 3 fire services personnel. The fire services personnel were on route to be attached to the fire services in Singapore. While the 10 boys were continuing a government scholarship program that had started in the 1950s. One of the 10 boys was yours truly.

The month before we were all called to the old Education Department Building (behind the Secretariat Building, now demolished) from various schools throughout the country. At that time, Science School was still in the planning stage. We were supposedly the best 10 boys who passed the PCE (Primary Certificate of Education) that is excluding all the girls and the non-Bruneians. This was part of the government's efforts to provide better education, a policy that was laid down in the early 1950s. 'A' Level students went to UK until the late 1970s when PTE (today's Maktab Duli) was formed whereas us, pre 'O' level students went to Singapore also until the Science School was established.

[Illustration - photo during a Hari Raya celebration if I am not mistaken around 1977 or 1978. Mr. BR is in third row second from left].

It was a different era unlike today. Going abroad was a scary experience. Living in a hostel. Home sickness and tears can only be shed in the privacy of night. Our allowance was $30 a month then. Remember too there was no mobile phone. Telephone calls were costly. Any communication would have to be by letters. Thankfully a few months before that RBA started its operation. Otherwise we would have to rely on foreign airlines. When we arrived in Singapore, we were taken to Tanglin Hill which is off Tanglin Road and a few bus stops away from Orchard Road. The hostel I remember had no name but over time AKBS (Asrama Kerajaan Brunei di Singapura) became its name. But that hostel was not the first, it was probably the third hostel that Brunei Government had used for sending students to Singapore since 1950.

Many students went to Singapore from 1950 to 1982. In those 30 odd years, many senior officials formerly studied in Singapore. Ministers and even in the ranks of today's PSs, we have our alumni at PMO, MOF, MFA, MRA, MIPR and MOD. Were we different? In some sense, yes. We went to Singapore during its formative years. We went to government schools and obviously we studied what Singaporeans studied and went through what the Singaporeans went through. I have trudged along many streets in Singapore selling flags collecting donations for charities. I have painted old homes. Some of the Brunei students were so good that sometimes whole school teams were made up of Bruneians. One was at Teluk Kurau Secondary when the goalkeeper was the only non-Bruneian. MIPR PS was so good at soccer that he was chosen to represent Singapore boys. He played for the Brunei national team for a while. (On that note, another PS have also played in the national football team - guess who?]

Anyway, memories.... Those memories are now captured in a book written by another alumni, Dr Muhammad Hadi, the deputy director at the history centre. The book full of the history of the AKBS (or rather various AKBSs), the Brunei students who studied there and what happened to those places. The book cost $50 and will probably be bought by all the ex-students. If your parents or elderly ones were formerly students in Singapore, the book would come as a a very timely Hari Raya present for them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sabah, Brunei's Former Northern Territory

[Note: My article below was published in Brunei Times under the Golden Legacy column last Sunday, 21st September 2008.]

Not much in known historically about our neighbouring state, Sabah. Not much is also known how its name was derived. Some say Sabah obtained its name from Pisang Saba, the banana tree that grew predominantly along Borneo’s coastal areas. Some suggested that Sabah was derived from the Malay word sabak which is the place for or act of boiling to extract palm sugar. In Brunei Malay, saba means upstream (like Kampong Saba). Sabah is located to the northwest, or upstream of Brunei. Sabah has been a part of Brunei since the 15th century.

In the mid 19th century, Sarawak was being governed by the Brookes. Brunei’s remaining province of Sabah was to remain untouched but not for long. By the years of 1865 and 1878, no less than three groups from three different countries attempted to control the northern part of Brunei’s remaining territory.

The very first group was from United States of America. Brunei’s relationship with the Americans started much earlier. An American warship, the USS Constitution arrived in Brunei in 1845, seeking a commercial treaty and exclusive rights to the coal deposits in Brunei. However at the time, Brunei was still seeking British protection and was unwilling to seek American support.

But after the British naval attacks in 1846 and the loss of Labuan, Brunei decided that it needed to seek other powers to counter the British. In 1850, Brunei agreed to sign a US-Brunei Treaty of Friendship and Commerce when Joseph Balestier, an American proposed the treaty. He became the first American Consul-General in Brunei. However despite the treaty no American commercial activity took place until 1864.

In 1864, CL Moses was appointed as the American Consul General in Brunei Darussalam. He signed another treaty with Sultan Abdul Momin and obtained territories from Sulaman River to Paitan River. This area consisted of twenty one districts. The lease was to last for a period of ten years, which consisted almost the entire North Borneo. He paid $4,500 annually.

Moses also paid an additional $4,000 annually and managed to lease additional areas from Pengiran Temenggong Pengiran Anak Hashim. The districts included those from Paitan to Kimanas including two islands, the Balabak Island and the Pahlawan Island.

Moses promised that he would bring economic benefits as well as help recover debts by China Steamship and Labuan Company which were then leasing coal mines in Muara. The Sultan even provided Moses with a Consulate Building. However Moses failed to deliver on his promises. He became unpopular with the Sultan and frictions between the two developed. In the end Moses set fire to the Consulate and blamed the Sultan to get compensation. But a US Government inquiry cleared the Sultan and Moses soon lost his job.

Soon after that Moses left for Hong Kong where he met WJ Torrey. Torrey was an American businessman. Both Moses and Torrey set up a new company called the American Trading Company.

Torrey went to Brunei to renegotiate with the Sultan. He was appointed as the Supreme Ruler and Governor of Sabah with the title of Raja of Ambong and Marudu. However in developing Kimanis, Torrey lost a great deal of his money. He could not pay the Sultan the amount agreed for the lease. With Moses transferring his rights to Torrey, it enabled Torrey to sell all the rights to Baron von Overbeck.

Baron von Overbeck was in fact the American Consul General in Hong Kong. He bought the concession rights in Sabah from Torrey. Later Baron von Overbeck together with Alfred Dent of Hong Kong formed a partnership and formed the Dent Company.

[Illustration - Copy of Treaty between Sultan of Brunei and Baron von Overbeck appointing Baron von Overbeck as Maharaja of Sabah and Raja of Gaya and Sandakan signed by Sultan Abdul Momin]

In 1877, Baron von Overbeck visited Brunei to negotiate a new lease with Sultan Abdul Momin. The latter agreed and a treaty was signed that same year. Sultan Abdul Momin appointed Baron von Overbeck as the Maharaja of Sabah and Raja of Gaya and Sandakan and in return, the Baron shall pay $12,000 per year and additional $3,000 to the Temenggong.

[Illustration - Copy of another Treaty between Sultan of Sulu and Baron von Overbeck appointing Baron von Overbeck as Raja of Sandakan and Dato Bendahara. If you are astute because of this treaty you can see why Sabah is sometimes claimed by you know who.]

To be on the safe side, since Sabah was also claimed by the Sultan of Sulu, Baron Overbeck negotiated a treaty with the Sultan of Sulu. He signed an agreement with the Sultan of Sulu and agreed to pay him $5,000 annually. The Sultan appointed him as Dato Bendahara and Raja of Sandakan in 1878.

Baron von Overbeck however faced financial problem. He could not get any support from the Austrian Government. So he decided to sell his share to Alfred Dent. In 1881 Alfred Dent later managed to get a Royal charter to set up another company called the British North Borneo Company in London. William Hood Treacher was appointed the first Governor of North Borneo.

The British North Borneo Company gradually established its rule over the territories it had leases. They even bought over other territorial rights which were not included in the original lease from other Brunei Pengirans and nobles.

At the same time, in awarding the Royal Charter, the British government assumed a form of sovereignty over the state especially its foreign relations. Because of this, the other western powers in the area immediately took renewed interest in Borneo and Malaya. However the Spanish agreed to British control over northern Borneo because the British accepted Spanish control over the Sulu Archipelago. The Germans also accepted British control over Sabah because the British agreed to accept German control over New Guinea.

It was the Dutch that tried to claim some land near Sandakan in 1879 but the British North Borneo Company objected to it. To solve the problems, both the Dutch and the British agreed to divide Borneo into a British area in the north and a Dutch area in the south.

With Rajah Brooke in Sarawak pursuing its expansionist policy, the British could not have two separate policies of restraining one while allowing the other. These two were allowed to begin a ‘contest’ to gain more and more of Brunei’s remaining territories. Sarawak managed to get Baram and later Trusan and Limbang while Sabah managed to get Padas.

In 1888, North Borneo similarly to Brunei became a British protectorate. The Company's rule in North Borneo had the greatest impact on the development of the region. A system of indirect rule was established in the administration of North Borneo. The British North Borneo Company effectively ruled up to 1942, after more than 60 years in Sabah, when the Second World War erupted.

Japanese forces occupied Sabah until she was liberated by the Allied Forces in 1945. After the Second World War, North Borneo was administered by the British Military Administration until civil government was restored on July 15, 1946. In 1946, Sabah was placed under the British Crown as the Company could not afford to rebuild Sabah, after the devastation of the War. The destruction of the capital Sandakan by allied bombing was so complete that Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) was chosen as the alternative post-war capital and it has remained since then.

Sabah joined Malaysia in 1963 when Malaysia was formally established, on 16 September 1963 and North Borneo's name was changed to Sabah. Preceding this, North Borneo obtained self-government from the British on 31 August 1963. Sabah entered a new era when she became part of Malaysia.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Brunei's American Hill

Note: I am recycling a blog entry about Bukit Merikan which I wrote about two years ago. It was based on a story I heard from a minister who has since then became my minister. I remembered this entry because over the last few weeks I have been brushing up my history because of the three articles I have been writing for BT about Sarawak, Labuan and Sabah.]

I didn't realise just how close our relationship to the Americans were. By the 1860s we had a diplomatic relationship with the USA. In fact in 1865, the United States Consul to Brunei, Claude Lee Moses obtained a 10-year lease for the territory of North Borneo from Brunei in exchange of a yearly tribute of $9,500. He later sold all his rights to a Hong Kong based US trader Joseph W. Torrey. Torrey with some associates formed the American Trading Company of Borneo and establised a planting and trading settlement on the mouth of the Kimanis river.

Torrey was granted the title of Rajah of Ambong and Marudu and Supreme Ruler of the whole of North Borneo. The colonization attempt failed however and Torrey and others soon left. By the end of 1866 the settlement was completely abandoned before more attempts to renew the cessation in the later part of the 19th century.

Anyway, when the Americans were in Brunei, they stayed at a place near the Sungai Kebun area and that area is now known as Kampung Bukit Merikan. Get it? American in the local parlance became Merikan. That's the origin of the name for Kampung Bukit Merikan. Some elderly Bruneians used to call American as Merikans. A story told by an elderly friend when he was younger was a time when he wanted to purchase a pen and his father said 'jangantah bali pen pilot, ani buatan jepun, bali shafer, atu merikan..' loosely translated as 'don't buy the Pilot pen, that's Japanese made, buy the Scheaffer, that's American..'

A commentator to my earlier blog on the origins of the name has already noted that round the Lumapas area is a whole collection of village names which are fairly unusual such as Kampung Tarap Bau (presumably the smell of the Tarap fruits), Kampung Buang Tengkorok (tengkorok means skull and buang means to throw, presumably someone dumped some skulls there), Kampung Sungai Asam (sour river), Kampung Sengkirap, Kampung Buang Sakar, Kampung Pengkalan Batang and Kampung Lupak Luas. If you are expecting I am going to talk about the origins of those kampung names, you have to wait. I haven't gotten my sources on those names yet.

Another commentator talked about Kampung Masjid Lama which he presumes to be the site of an old mosque. He was right but he didn't know how old the mosque was. The kampung was named after an old mosque built by an Imam Haji Yaakub in 1920 on his own land. He was from Kelantan and married locally. The original name of the kampung was obviously not Masjid Lama as that could only have been named once the mosque was no longer used. The original settlers came from Kampung Tanjung Pelompong and a numberof them actually worked for the Brooketon Colliery which I blogged earlier. The Kampung has virtually vanished now to make way for the port and other infrastructure projects in that area.

Another name with 'lama' or 'old' in the name is Kampung Pekan Lama in the Kampung Ayer which I already alluded to on my blog on Kampung Ayer. Kampung Pekan Lama is built on a sandbank on the Brunei river. In the older days, it used to be the central market for the Kampung Ayer people and businesses used to be conducted in the area. It became a small business centre or a small town and in Brunei language, pekan means town. So, the name of the village remained as Kampung Pekan Lama (old town) even when the market and the businesses are no longer conducted in that village. And before it became Kampung Pekan Lama, it was known as Kampung Bakut China. Bakut meaning sandbank and China refers to the Chinese businessmen who used to predominate the businesses in that area. There is a nice article about the village on bruhost.com. More blogs on Brunei names in the future.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Historic Padang Besar in Bandar

[Note: I wrote this article about Brunei's Padang Besar or nowadays known as Taman Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien for Brunei Times edition 22nd June 2008. Many events used to be held at the Padang including His Majesty playing football there.]

Not that many nations’ capital cities have a field in the middle of them. Tourists often wonder why Brunei’s capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan has a nice big field situated in the middle of it. Not many realized the historic role of that field. If that field could talk, the stories it could tell would astound many.

The Padang Besar as it used to be known or simply translated as the ‘Big Field’ is now officially known as Taman Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien named after His Majesty’s late father who was the 28th Sultan of Brunei Darussalam.

The Padang has been in existence for at least a hundred years. In his book, ‘The City of Many Waters’ published in 1922 but talking about Brunei at the end of the 19th century, Peter Blundell described the following ‘.. at the back of the town behind the Sultan’s palace was a large plain known locally as the Padang, an ideal site for a big Malay town .. and that the town of Brunei be gradually moved to the Padang ..”

The first British Resident, McArthur noted in his report that he wanted a clean, dry village with suburbs of kampong houses and he wanted to discourage building on the river. With those policies, development on dry land abound. Surprisingly the Padang kept its place as the big field as development grew around it.

The government persuaded a group of Pengirans to move out to dry land and to build their houses in the Tumasek area. His Majesty Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam built the first Istana on dry land in 1909. This was followed by some of the populace who started to build their houses in the Kianggeh and Sumbiling areas, all surrounding the Padang.

A group of Chinese businessmen moved out from Kampung Pekan Lama (then known as Kampung Bakut China) which served as the business area in Kampong Ayer, and started to build their shops on dry land. In 1910, there were six shops, the year after, in 1911, there were 26 shops and just before the Second World War in 1941, that number has increased to more than 80 shops.

[The Padang in the early stages of Bandar's development.]

Up to the 1980s, many water villages retained their positions surrounding the Padang. Technically they were on dry land but during high tides, the houses would be on water. However these houses were demolished, firstly during the construction of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and secondly during the construction of the current buildings belonging to Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. Village names that used to be there that are now slowly becoming memories include Sultan Lama, Bendahara Lama, Pemancha Lama, Sungai Kedayan, Pemukat and Sumbiling Lama.

The Palace of Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam was in Kampung Sultan Lama. It was known as Istana Kampung Air. His Majesty Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien was born there on 23rd September 1914.

The Padang itself was the sentinel for the development around it. It itself was not always a field. In its early days, it was used for grazing cows and cattles. It was a muddy plain field and many cows were kept there. Even in the latter days, when it was no longer used by cows, cows were still kept there prior to them being transported to the ‘pound’ to be slaughtered in Kianggeh.

It was only after the Second World War that the Padang transformed itself. Along with the many development surrounding the Padang that occurred after the end of the Second World War and coinciding with Brunei’s first 5 year national development plan, the Padang changed its role.

Bruneians living around it slowly transformed it into a proper field that can be used for many events. Football was one of them. A number of Brunei’s historic victories were played there including when Brunei won the Borneo Cup. Another historic game included the defeat of Singapore then at the top of the Malaysian Cup league. Football games stopped when the National Stadium was completed thus taking away Brunei’s main advantage – playing on a muddy field.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Padang was especially utilized for ‘Hari Besar’ or ‘Big Day’. Everything would be held at the Padang. The big procession for His Majesty’s birthdays, the firework displays, the performances, the fun fairs and the nightly stalls.

The stage shows and performances then were almost unlimitless. There were singing, dancing, drama, cultural events, magic tricks and ronggeng. The fun fairs and stalls would have many types of games that would require participants to throw, to shoot, to fish and to do pretty much anything to win. There were many varieties of food and drinks as well. One would just need money.

Before the completion of the SOAS Mosque, Eid prayers would be held at the Padang with His Majesty Sultan Omar Ali himself as one of the many devout Muslims praying there.

Developments surrounding the Padang include the Secretariat Building on its east wing and the Jardine Wharf building on its west wing. The Padang also saw the first cinema, first described located on its west wing before moving to the site of the current Dar Takaful Building. The first cinema was interesting that many of its patrons would ‘book’ seats by tying handkerchiefs to the seats. Many others would huddle around the building including making their own peepholes watching the movies through the peepholes.

The latter cinema called the Boon Pang Baru was even used as the detention centre for the 1962 rebels. The rebels were first held in the tennis court which was located at the north wing of the Padang. The tennis court was part of the police compound complex with the police station located in the centre of the north wing. That police station together with all the police barracks and facilities were demolished when the Padang was enlarged in preparation for Brunei’s Independence held on the eve of 1st January 1984.

[This old police station was sited right in front of the SOAS Mosque. It was demolished around early 1980s and the new police station was rebuilt a few hundred metres away in front of RTB building now.]

The Brunei’s Independence Declaration was read at the Padang and many Bruneians were there during that historic occasion. Brunei’s National Day celebrations continued to be held at the Padang until today.

On the Padang’s South Wing was the Civic Centre building which also housed many government departments before being acquired by TAIB to be its headquarters today.

In October 1970, Brunei’s capital of Brunei Town was renamed Bandar Seri Begawan. The ceremony was held at the Padang. Today at the south wing of the Padang is a small park built in memory of that occasion.

Many events had been held at the Padang over the years. But as time passed by, now only the more important events are held at the Padang. Gone are the fun fairs, the school kids performing gymnastics, the Brunei schools’ sports days, the odd football games and even the stage performances. Nowadays only big and important royal and religious events are held there.

The Padang Besar now renamed as Taman Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien has seen many things and will continue to see many things in the future, fitting with its position as the Padang Besar or the Big Field. Its iconic position and its importance in Brunei’s history will remain for a long time.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wet Market at the Pier

This is not a particularly old postcard. A Bandar scene from the 1990s which has now disappeared completely. I found it at Hua Ho Sengkurong. I guess not many people buy postcards in Sengkurong. This one is showing the pier that used to extend out at Kampong Sultan Lama. This pier was quite popular even when the wet market was in Bandar. People at Kampong Ayer found it much easier to buy wet market products at this pier and then go back home.

This pier became extra popular when the wet market moved to Gadong. People living in the Kampong Ayer and the Bandar area found this wet market to be very useful. You can buy practically anything here, fish, prawns, crabs and vegetables. And then along the pier you get vendors selling dried food items as well as fruits. Though when you think about it, it is quite dangerous as the water is underneath you and you and many hundreds are only standing on planks.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Menunggu di kerita

Someone mentioned about 'waiting' or being asked to wait in the car or 'menunggu' while one's elders went out and shopping. Parking in Bandar Seri Begawan in the 1980s was chronic. Definitely there was not enough parking. And everything was in Bandar. Even though Gadong was already up and running, there was not much else in terms of shopping unlike today's multi malls and department stores. So for most shopping, one goes to Bandar.

The worst is going to the wet market. The wet market was in Bandar. For those who do not know where it is, the wet market is sited at today's commercial centre opposite the bus station. Practically the whole of Brunei goes there for their food supply and in most days, you find that many cars are just left at the roadside. One of the favourite way was to open the engine hood and pretend your car is rosak while you go out shopping. This was in the hope that the policeman will not 'saman' you. Another was to get someone to sit in the driver's seat, no matter how old he is. As long as there is someone sitting there, then technically the car was only 'waiting'. I remembered my uncle used to take me to go out there and 'menunggu di kerita'. I was about 8 or 9 then.

Compared to today, it was a lot more fun and in some ways more hectic compared to today's lifestyle.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bandar Seri Begawan Late 1980s

It does not take very long for a scene to be historic. This photograph I would consider as modern Bandar Seri Begawan but you cannot get this anymore. This was before the Yayasan Building was built.

In those days, the Kampong Ayer houses were built right up to the roadside and many of these served as shops, I think all of them were shops along this road. I cannot quite remember what happened. I think there was a big fire and most of these houses were burnt down and the rest were removed when Yayasan Building started.

The foundation for Yayasan Building I remembered was part of the 25th Silver Jubilee of His Majesty's Ascension to the Throne and that was in October 1992. So these houses survived until the very late 1980s and up to the first or second year of 1990s. I remembered the roads around these areas were always congested.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tukang Ripee Kasut & Tukang Penda

Sometime in 2006, I wrote about this which is again recycled from another blog which I wrote in 2005 in my first blogging life at spaces.msn.com. This focused on how bad spelling are coming into our advert spaces. I am not a crusader against bad language but I am still influenced by one professor who said that in the past sapu tangan was known as sapu hidong because that's what it is used for. But when the English came, they translated and used their English version 'handkerchief' which uses 'hand' and eventually our sapu hidong became sapu tangan. So if we don't correct something, use it long enough and it becomes a new word.

Yesterday I came across another howler from Ranz at ranoadidas.com. I have not seen this one personally but this one if true is either taking the mickey out of the Malay/Indian who wrote it or someone out there really needs a lesson in how to spell.

Just in case you have trouble reading, it should read: Untuk Sewa Kereta (Untuk Sewa Pick Up Cheap & Best), Boleh Runding, Your Materials Safely and Faster than Other Transport for Brunei People, Pindah Rumah & Office (House Shifting & Office), Pindah Ice Box & Furnitures (Moving Ice Box & Furniture), New Arrival, 24 Jam Service (24 Hrs Service). Even the address was wrong.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sungai Kianggeh 1960s

I thought I will take a break from talking about Pehinships today and go to my other hobby of being a deltiologist or postcards collector. Not many people know the word exist.

This is a postcard showing Sungai Kianggeh in the late 1960s. The postcard itself is postmarked 1968. Sungai Kianggeh has not yet transformed itself into today's huge drain. It was still a proper river. No tamu is built here yet. The tamu in the 1960s and 1970s was at the triangular shaped area near to today's Yayasan Building. There is no Chinese Temple either. The Chinese Temple was still at the Wharf area near the former Customs' House.

A couple of building take our attention. One is the building above the water. I have been told that this building used to be the abbatoir for pigs. Someone correct me. But I am definitely sure that this is the building and that is what it is used to be used for. The other building is the one opposite the road from it. That I remembered by the 1970s was the extension to the Immigration Department and I remembered getting my IC there.

Maybe someone out there can tell us the rest of the buildings in the postcard.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Pehin in Brunei (Part II)

Yesterday's post on the duties of Pehinships elicited a few responses from my friends and colleagues especially on the 'midwife' duties. Some told me the Malay reads Pengawal Keselamatan Badan which roughly translates to Security Officer for Agencies. I argued that the jawi was ba, dal, alif, nun and if that is to spell badan, the jawi should be ba, alif, dal, nun. With ba, dal, alif, nun it reads bedan or something close to bidan. But then I am not entirely correct. Bidan should spell ba, ya, dal, nun. But I did say, it was at 4.30 in the morning when I wrote that.

Today is again 4.35 in the morning. So again, I am not vouching for the accuracy this morning. I am looking at the higher 16 Pehins:

Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wangsa - Overseeing Trade Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Indera Wangsa - Overseeing Foreign Owned Territories Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Indera Dewa - Overseeing Investigation Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Udana Indera - Overseeing Investigation Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Udana Sura - Overseeing Volunteer Army Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Nara Indera - Oversseing Tax Collection Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Sudana Indera - Overseeing Public Peace Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Indera Lela - Overseeing Public Peace in Foreign Owned Territorites
Pehin Orang Kaya Udana Setia - Overseeing Prisoners of War Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Lela - Overseeing Affairs of Armory and Weapons of War
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna - Overseeing Public Complaints Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Dewa - Overseeing Warriors (or Fighting Skills) Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Ratna Dewa - Overseeing General Education Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Indera Sugara - Overseeing Ports Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Ratna Setia - Overseeing Royal Transport Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Kesuma - Overseeing Public Welfare Affairs

This higher group if you notice is the equivalent of the modern cabinet. The emphasis on War or Fighting is there but no less important are again public welfare. 500 years ago, our government was already designed along the lines of today's modern government even with the emphasis on public welfare, education and trade.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Pehin in Brunei

Someone from the diplomatic circle came to see me asking about Brunei honours system. Apparently he read an article in BT when I wrote about the Order and Decorations one can get. But this is mostly the Datukships etc. He was more interested in the cheteria and pehn manteri.

Explaining is not an issue. What was difficult was that I cannot remember what each of those Pengiran Cheteria and Pehin Manteri's jobs that goes with the title is something beyond my camera. Just in case you don't know it too, in the old days when there were no cabinet ministers, those who are appointed as Pehins are actually appointments to being ministers, commanders or senior officials responsible for something. So being Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Pahlawan means that you are the officer in command of Brunei's 1st Army.

I found a very old book (written in jawi) entitled the Adat Istiadat Diraja Brunei (Darussalam). The Darussalam was in parenthesis or in brackets, I don't know why. Anyway, the book contained pretty much anything you ever wanted to know about the way the adat istiadat works in Brunei as well as the descriptions of the various pehinships.

Here is my attempt to describe the last 32 of all the Pehinships. Remember, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the translations and my jawi, admittedly is very slow and besides this is written at 4.30 in the morning. If you can compare the current holder and their title and what they are supposed to be doing when they hold that title.

Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Pahlawan - Commander of 1st Army
Pehin Orang Kaya Amar Pahlawan - Commander of 2nd Army
Pehin Orang Kaya Johan Pahlawan - Commander of 3rd Army
Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Pahlawan - Commander of 4th Army
Pehin Orang Kaya Indera Pahlawan - Commander of 5th Army
Pehin Orang Kaya Dewa Pahlawan - Commander of 6th Army
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Pahlawan - Commander of 7th Army
Pehin Orang Kaya Lela Pahlawan - Commander of 8th Army
Pehin Orang Maharaja Seri Rama - Security Officer of the Royal Midwife
Pehin Orang Kaya Maharaja Kerna - Head of Public Complaints
Pehin Orang Kaya Maharaja Salia - Security Officer of the Royal Midwife
Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok - Security Officer of the Royal Midwife
Pehin Orang Kaya Pendikar Alam - Security Officer of the Royal Midwife
Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Raja - Commander of Ports Security
Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Wangsa - Overseeing City Security
Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia - Overseeing Commerce Affairs
Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Jaya - Head of Revenue Collections
Pehin Orang Kaya Lela Raja - Commander of the 1st Volunteer Forces
Pehin Orang Kaya Lela Sura - Commander of the 2nd Volunteer Forces
Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Perkasa - Commander of the 3rd Volunteer Forces
Pehin Orang Kaya Lela Utama - Head of Tax Collections
Pehin Orang Kaya Putera Maharaja - 1st Head of Internal Affairs Investigation
Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Dewa - 2nd Head of Internal Affairs Investigation
Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Indera - 1st Head of Enemy Affairs Investigation (Intelligence)
Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Jaya - 2nd Head of Enemy Affairs Investigation (Intelligence)
Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Lela - 1st Head of Public Peace (Police)
Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Laila Diraja - 2nd Head of Public Peace (Police)
Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Setia - 1st Head of Prisons
Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Sura - 2nd Head of Prisons
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama - Head of Tax Collections
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Sura Pahlawan - Commander of Enemy Prisoners of War
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Setia - Head of Foreigners Affairs

You notice that some of the jobs are pretty much advanced for instance Public Complaints. Some I am not sure why it is important such as the need to protect the Royal Midwife. But overall it is an interesting insight into the Brunei culture.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

If something sounds too good...

I found this book at Wordzone. It is a simple book and only cost $5. But this book tells you almost everything you needed to know about how to stop from being duped out of your hard-earned money. The only thing this book does not tell you is when you retire from the government and armed with your newly released gratuity - you get duped by a sweet talking lady who very quickly wanted to get married to you in her home country.

Just like what the book says. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Everyone dreams of easy money or getting rich the quick and easy way. So how do you protect yourself? Through this book, you will learn the secrets of confidence tricksters from almost everywhere in the world. The book is essentially a reference book on the dark and dastardly gamres men and women around the world to convince you to part with your hard earned money.

I only know of a few before I read this book. But now I know everything there is to know about advance fee sweepstakes fund; affinity fraud investigation scam; bank examiner scam; bogus franchise opportunities; chain letters; commercial real estate scams - front loadaing end; commodities/futures/options investment frauds; credit card scams; deceptive time share; door to door scams; dot com scams; foreign lottery ticket sale scams; fraudulent advance fee loan brokers; fraudulent magazine subscription sales; fraudulent puzzles for prizes sweepstakes scam; fraudulent telefunding for charitable donations; gemstones fraudulent investment schemes; home improvement scams; home renovation fund; Nigerian scam; pigeon drop scam; ponzi drop; pyramid scheme; recovery operations fund; residential scams; sweepstakes fraud; thsi deal won't fly; travel scams and finally work-at-home scams.

Get the book. It's worth more than the $5 you paid for the book.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I don't know about you. But I think there is something wrong with the recording of the badok that is being played on the radio for our sungkai everyday. It sounded as something 'pacah' as someone described it. It could be the recording. The best sounding badok belongs to a song. Luckily RTB does not play that song nearer sungkai time, otherwise many Bruneians would be confused.

I was doing some readings about the history of mosques in Brunei and I came across a couple of descriptions about drums and tambour which could be related to the badok. So just how old is our badok and how long has it been used to indicate masuk waktu?

In 1578, a Spanish traveler, Alonso Beltran described the main mosque as one made of “… wood, of five storeys, the roof of straw and the highest posts of a black wood … has large quantities of tambours for their activities …”

Frank Marryatt in his book ‘Borneo and the Indian Archipelago’ described Brunei’s mosque in 1846 “… the Mohamedan mosque, was built of brick and of tolerable dimensions. The interior of the mosque had no other furniture in it except a sort of pulpit painted, which stood in the centre. Outside on a raised platform was a very large tom-tom or drum, upon which a native played from morning to night …”

The tambours and tom-tom known as ‘badok’ in the 16th and 19th century descriptions were used to call Bruneians to prayers. If the badok was already in used in the 16th century, the badok must have been used way before that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

How Labuan was lost

[Note: I wrote this article for last Sunday's Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times. It is a set of two articles about our former northern territories.]

The history of Brunei’s nearest island, Labuan, just off Brunei Bay had its start in the early days of the Brooke interference in Brunei’s affairs. Labuan, until its forcible take over by the British in 1846 had been under the rule of the Sultan of Brunei ever since the Brunei Sultanate began.

Similarly, from the 14th century, the territory around Sarawak River (today’s Kuching) was a province of Brunei. Its administration was headed by Datu Pattingi Sarawak who reported to a Cheteria, both appointed by the Sultan of Brunei. In 1824, the Cheteria was Pengiran Indera Mahkota Pengiran Mohamed Salleh.

Pengiran Indera Mahkota was educated in Batavia (Jakarta) and furthered his studies in Netherlands. In 1827, he was appointed as Governor of Sarawak. Sarawak flourished under him. He also developed its trade and increased its revenue by exporting antimony. Antimony was used in the making of alloys. To get the antimony, local residents were forced to work in his mines.

In 1839, the residents there rebelled against him because of his oppressive rule. Brunei sent Pengiran Muda Hashim, the son of Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam to deal with the rebellion. James Brooke attracted by the richness of the area also came there. Pengiran Muda Hashim asked for Brooke’s assistance because Pengiran Muda Hashim had a long standing resentment against Pengiran Indera Mahkota. Five years earlier, Pengiran Muda Hashim visited Kuching but when he arrived, he was not personally welcomed by Pengiran Indera Mahkota. Pengiran Indera Mahkota as the Governor of Sarawak opted to wait at the Hall of Audience instead.

At first James Brooke refused to help Pengiran Muda Hashim, but Brooke came back the next year and helped Pengiran Muda Hashim because he was offered the Governorship of Sarawak in replacement of Pengiran Indera Mahkota if he could end the rebellion. Brooke managed to end the rebellion but he was not offered the Governorship until he forced the issue in 1841. In 1842, Brooke sailed to Brunei to be confirmed Governor in exchange for paying an annual tribute.

In 1845 Pengiran Muda Hashim returned from Sarawak to Brunei, accompanied by a British naval captain, Sir Edward Blecher. While in Sarawak, Pengiran Muda Hashim had lost his high status at home due to a palace coup in Brunei. His opponent Pengiran Usop has become Bendahara in his absence. Brooke and the British Naval Forces forcibly re-installed Pengiran Muda Hashim as the Bendahara. Pengiran Muda Hashim also secured official recognition to become the next Sultan of Brunei. This upset the chances of Pengiran Temenggong Pengiran Anak Hashim, the son of Sultan Omar Ali Saifudin II, who plotted to kill Pengiran Muda Hashim.

As might be expected, the foreign intervention in Brunei caused a great deal of unhappiness in the Brunei Court, Pengiran Muda Hashim was hated as he was regarded to be Brooke’s protégé and his family’s arrogant manner alienated the other Brunei nobles. In 1846, Pengiran Muda Hashim was murdered. Ranjit Singh in his book, ‘Brunei 1839-1983’ argued that the murder was not necessarily because it was an anti British movement. Another view was that this was the culmination of a long drawn out feud between two branches of the royal family.

However Brooke considered the murder to be an insult to Britain. He asked Rear Admiral Thomas Cochrane that Brunei be punished.

The British hearing of these events, and pressured by British commercial interests, decided that this is a good opportunity for them to occupy Labuan. The other western powers had expanded in the region that Britain too realized the need to have a permanent harbour in northwestern Borneo. Labuan was considered as a safe shelter and strategically sited to protect British interest in the region especially the China trade route. With the assistance of Brooke, Britain now sought to take over Labuan.

The Rear Admiral sent British Warships from Singapore. In Brunei, there were minor exchanges of fire but the British Gunships were able to destroy much of Brunei’s defences.

The Sultan had to flee to Damuan. But Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II was eventually persuaded to return to accept the terms imposed by Brooke. The Sultan was also forced to sign a treaty on 2nd August 1846 allowing Brooke to become Sarawak’s independent ruler and given territories from Tanjung Datu to Samarahan River. James Brooke now became the Rajah of Sarawak.

In a book written by Frank Maryatt, ‘Borneo and the Indian Archipelago’ published in 1848, the description of the pressure that faced the Sultan was very intense. He, a midshipman with HMS Samarang was part of the party that came to seek an audience with the Sultan.

He was “… ordered to lie on her oars abreast of the audience chamber, and to keep her 6-pounder, in where there was a fearful dose of grape and canister, pointed at the Sultan himself during the whole of the interview …”

At the same time, in the main street (of the river), “… lay the steamer, with a spring on her cable, her half ports up, and guns loaded to the muzzle, awaiting, as by instruction, for the discharge of the gun from the barge, to follow up the work of death. The platform admitted one of the steamer’s guns to look into the audience chamber, the muzzle was pointed direct at the sultan, a man held the lighted tow in his hand. Every European on board had his musket ready loaded …”

The British was surprised that despite such intense pressure, the Bruneians did not show any sign of fear. Frank Maryatt described the atmosphere ‘… considering the natives were well aware that our guns were directed against them, the self-possession and coolness shared by every one of them were worthy of admiration. They never showed the slightest emotion, their speeches were free from gesticulation, and even their threats were conveyed in a quiet subdued tone; and every thing was carried on with all the calmness and deliberations that might be expected at a cabinet council at St. James …”

Soon after the signing of the 1846 treaty, the British put pressure on Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II to cede Labuan to the British. The Sultan refused and employed delaying tactics. However the British navy lined up British warships near the Sultan’s palace with cannons ready to fire if the Sultan refused to sign the treaty. The Sultan had no choice.

He signed the Treaty of Labuan on 18th December 1846. Six days later, the British occupied the island. It was on 24 December 1846 when Captain Mundy, commanding H.M.S. Iris, took possession of Labuan, ‘in the Name of Her Majesty Victoria Queen of Great Britain and Ireland under the Direction of His Excellency Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane, C.B., Commander-in-Chief’.

The loss of Labuan was a big blog blow to Brunei. Labuan was considered as its only gateway in the sea to the outside worlds.

Subsequently Labuan became a Crown Colony in 1848 and part of North Borneo in 1890. It joined the Straits Settlements in 1906. During World War II, Labuan was occupied by the Japanese and renamed as Maida Island. Labuan joined British North Borneo in July 1946 and became part of Malaysia as the state of Sabah in 1963. In 1984 Labuan was ceded by Sabah to the federal government and made a federal territory.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Twelve Roofs Mansion

[Note: One SJ wants to know more about Bubungan Duabelas. I thought I will dig up this old article which I wrote for Brunei Times in August last year, slightly more than a year ago. This was published for the Sunday Edition, 5th August 2007. SJ, I hope you now know more about Bubungan Duabelas.]

THE Brunei postal authorities recently released a set of stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of "Bubungan Duabelas", the House of Twelve Roofs.

This wooden house, situated about a mile south of Bandar Seri Begawan just before the first bend of the Brunei River, is off Jalan Residency. The road is named after the house as that is what the house used to be called "The Residency" — home of the British Resident in Brunei Darussalam.

The house is older than the road and that it can claim to be the oldest building in Brunei Darussalam while the original road of Jalan Residency can claim to be the first proper road in Brunei.

Interestingly the new stamps of $1, $0.60 and $0.30 do not depict all the photographs of Bubungan Duabelas. The $1 stamp showed the photo of an older building built in 1890, now demolished, of a British Consul Agent's house.

That particular house was built on water over the Brunei River, at the foot of the hill where Bubungan Duabelas is currently located. In the leaflet enclosed in the First Day Cover envelope commemorating the issues of the stamps, there was no explanation with regard to this particular photograph in the $1 stamp. Those who do not know it would assume that that building was an older Bubungan Duabelas.

The site of Bubungan Duabelas goes all the way back to the mid 19th century and dates from the two treaties that Brunei and Great Britain signed in 1846 and 1847.

In 1855, Spenser St John (later to be knighted) was appointed Great Britain's Consul General in Brunei in replacement of Sir James Brooke. By November that year, he had decided to stay in Brunei and wanted to request a piece of land for the consulate from Sultan Abdul Momin. By 1856, he had managed to get that land and built a temporary "leaf house". In 1858 he replaced that house with a permanent building costing £1,800.

However, when Sir Spenser St John was transferred to Haiti, the house fell into disrepair. There was no replacement for him and the British covered Brunei via the Governor of Labuan until 1867 when the next Governor decided to repair the house for his stay whenever he visited Brunei.

By 1876, the house had fallen into disrepair again and by the time it was rediscovered in 1907, the house had become a jungle-eaten ruin.

In 1874, Inche Mohamed, a Malacca-born British citizen, was appointed as the Consul Agent. In 1883, the Sultan had awarded an additional smaller piece of land nearer the river where Inche Mohamed built an official residence. This is the house depicted in the newly issued $1 stamp.

This house became the new consulate. It was later used by McArthur when he became the British Resident in 1906 and used as a temporary office and a courthouse. The house survived until the late 1930s but was finally demolished around 1940.

McArthur first arrived in Brunei in 1904 and in the earlier days stayed at the house belonging to the Island Trading Syndicate which ran the cutch factory. During his stay, McArthur's report had a decisive effect on Great Britain's policy towards Brunei. He also commented on the land given to Sir Spenser St John on which, he said, the ruins of his house were still visible.

In December 1905, His Majesty Sultan Hashim and the British signed an addition to the 1888 agreement, called the 1906 agreement, which allowed for a British Resident to be placed in Brunei and said the Brunei Government also agreed that "His Highness would receive a British officer, to be styled Resident, and will provide a suitable Residence for him".

In 1906, McArthur, now appointed British Resident, decided to build a new consulate which was completed by July 1907. He reported that this new consulate was built on the exact same spot as the former Sir Spenser St John's house and it was most likely that the ruins of the old house were levelled and compacted into the foundation of the new house.

This house cost around £8,000.

According to photographic evidence, it seemed that the current "Bubungan Duabelas" has not changed very much since it was first built by McArthur. The outward similarity, however, concealed a number of internal renovations made by the various occupants throughout the years.

In 1922, during the first visit to Brunei by a member of the British Royal Family, the Prince of Wales, the great uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, stayed there.

This house always had the facilities of a modern house. By 1909, a water pipe was connected from Sungai Lampai. The telegraph was introduced in 1921. An electrical power generator was already in place by 1927. The first telephone line was installed from the Residency in 1909.

The path from the town to the Residency was made into the first road for wheeled vehicles in Brunei and was completed by 1925.

The first vehicle was imported into Brunei before that road was completed and by the end of 1924, there were 4 cars in Brunei.

On December 31, 1941, Lt General Kawanguchi of the Japanese Army invaded Brunei and used the "Residency" as his headquarters. Surprisingly, during the Allied Forces bombing of Brunei during the mid 1940s which included the destruction of the Brunei Town Mosque (Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal), the Residency was spared.

The Residency was repaired after the war and in 1959, the Duke of Edinburgh stayed there. In 1972, Queen Elizabeth II held an investiture there.

By 1971, the Residency was known as the High Commissioner's Residence and not as the "Residency". The British High Commissioners stayed there until 1984 when Brunei gained its full independence.

The building was handed over to the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports. It became "Bubungan Duabelas" and was used as a cultural centre.

In 1998, the Government signed a joint project agreement with UK to turn "Bubungan Duabelas" into a permanent and dynamic exhibition centre in commemoration of the relationship between Brunei and UK.

It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II when she was here in 1998. The exhibition covers the history of the building and its use over the years up to 1984. It also focused on the tremendous progress that Brunei has made in the economic and social fields since 1984, including its expanding and dynamic role in international and regional affairs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Brunei's $40 stamp

Last month, on the 1st of August was His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah's 40th Anniversary of His coronation. I wrote about the stamps that were issued specially to mark the occasion which you can read here.

Together with the set of four 40 cents stamps were two miniature sheets. One contained all the stamps and the other contained a very high valued stamp of $40. At the time of the stamps being issued, the lady at the philatelic unit informed me that the high value miniature sheets were being reprinted. There was a wrong colour or something like that. So I did not get mine until today. So here it is:

When I went to the counter last month, the lady said she would reserve me a number - the miniature sheet has a serial number. I just said 500 as the number that popped up in my head and I got that 000500. I should have asked for something like 888 or something more exotic.

This is not the first time Brunei postal authorities issued high valued miniature sheet. The previous one was to mark the occasion of His Majesty's 60th Birthday. The authorities issued a $60 miniature sheet and sold it for $235.

The previous one to that was when His Majesty celebrated his 50th birthday. The postal authorities issued a miniature sheet with five $50 stamp and the miniature sheet had a face value of $250. Then I was not an avid collector and $250 was a lot of money to pay for stamps. Nowadays I am willing to pay much more. Much to my regret that $250 miniature sheet I discovered was being sold at $600 at a philatelic store in Singapore in March. This one has a catalog value of M$2,000.00.

So the lesson would be - get your hands on this $40 miniature sheet. It would rise up in value in the future and this is a pretty good investment.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cinema Memories in Brunei Revisited

In February last year I wrote about cinemas in Brunei. Recently I was in KB and my uncle was pointing out to me where the projector house used to be in the padang in front of the mosque. A conversation with a number of other people meant that I have more information. So I thought I will bring back that old posting of mine and edit it to include all the new information.

In the 1960s and 1970s I remembered going to the padang in Muara watching movies being played there. There will be lots and lots of people there – all watching black and white movies. I don’t think the movies were in colour then. I remembered my dad used to own one of those home movie projectors and every time we stayed at my auntie’s place in Seria, he would play one of those silent movies and there would be lots of people watching it. It was unbelievable. Dad used to be one of the first to own a home movie equipment and we would get to see ourselves on screen after he has sent off the film for processing somewhere in the world. Today, in the days of 50 inch plasma television with multi media multi surround home movie equipment, those days were almost unthinkable. Though ironically, despite our new found wealth – we still buy $5 pirated DVD. But today’s topic is not about $5 pirated DVDs but rather on the growth of cinemas in Brunei.

For some reason, cinemas never found a strong foothold in Brunei. Before the first world war, there was one cinema but it was destroyed during the war. It was rebuilt as the Boon Pang and later on in Bandar, we had three - the Boon Pang, the Bolkiah and the Borneo, the latter two built in the 1950s. The Boon Pang is now gone replaced by the BIBD building. The Boon Pang had an interesting history. It was once used as a detention centre for a few months. After the 1962 rebellion, the army rounded up all the detainees and placed them in the open tennis court areas at the padang. The Police Station in front of the mosque was still there then. The detainees were eventually removed to the Boon Pang to keep them from being out in the open and while preparing the teacher training institute in Berakas as a detention centre for long term placements.

Other than the Boon Pang, the Borneo and Bolkiah are still there though I have never been inside either one. So I don’t know what the places look like. I don’t even know what movies are currently being shown there. The Bolkiah I have been told has been upgraded and one should go there at least to find out the better experience of watching a movie in a full size cinema unlike the miniscule ones in the Empire or the Mall. The Empire’s and the Mall’s multiplexes are today’s in-thing. We no longer have huge cinemas but small ones catering to smaller crowds. Though on a good day, these multiplexes would play the same movie spanning across three or four cinemas. Another cinema was the Seri at Batu Satu, Jalan Tutong. That did not survive for long. At first run by the owner but later on by the Chinese Chambers. It did not make much money and was razed down when the owners were thinking of building a hotel there.

I thought there was an old cinema in Tutong but I could not be sure where it was. My cousin's husband, a Tutongian said he used to go to the cinema. He said it did not have a name. I vaguely remembered it. It was somewhere opposite the Police Station, well not directly opposite sort of diagonally opposite.

I know in KB, there are at least 4 cinemas previously. The Roxana has been razed down. Roxana was said to be structurally unsound. It is now an empty lot. Another cinema in Kuala Belait was the Capital. This is I have been told somewhere near the SKBB Plaza or around that area. My uncle said it was nearer the Town Hall. So far I have not been able to get a photograph of that place. It would have been interesting to see a cinema smack in the middle of Kuala Belait. Roxana was a few miles away from KB and not a true KB cinema but more of a Seria cinema.

If I am not mistaken the Marina is still standing but whether it is still functioning that’s another matter. Maybe someone from Belait can elighten me. It used to be a grand building when Seria was completed in the 1950s. The OGDC is now being used as a cinema which is good as at least people from Belait has someplace to watch. Another one which people still remembered is the Puspa which was somewhere at the back of the Seria filling station.

Today we have the Empire, the Mall and the Q Lap Mall all providing multiplexes and the Borneo and Bolkiah still providing the old fashioned single screen type. I am not sure what format OGDC in Seria shows. Probably the single screen type.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Churchill Museum Revisited

When I wrote about yesterday's entry I mentioned a book which I bought recently. That has aroused some curiousity as to which book this is. This is the cover of that book. All I know is that this book was produced for Fitzpatrick's (the forerunner to today's Smart and Supasave) and sold there. I did not remember this book myself. But the censor board people at the Post Office remembered this book (I bought this book by post and had to pass it to the censor board for approval before taking the book out) said she remembered seeing this book being sold at the supermarket's shelves.

All I know is what's printed inside. This book was produced in 1984 capturing scenes of Brunei 24 years ago. Some of you may think that's old but to me, this was just like yesterday. Anyway, it had two photographs which I remembered very well.

The photographs are about Churchill Museum. This is what the front of the Museum looked like with Churchill's statute. But what I remembered best about this museum either than just to see memorabilia of Churchill but also to see the Aquarium next to it. This was then the only aquarium and you go in there in the dark just to see the many fishes there was in Brunei waters. Admittedly the museum was a far cry from the Aquaria in KL or the Underwater World in Singapore or even the London Aquarium. But at that time, it was the most enjoyable thing I have seen.

But the Churchill Museum holds exciting things. I like the best was the diaroma of model soldiers which Churchill played as a child. That was the most fun. This photo shows just one such example of Churchill playing with the toy soldiers. There were a few more models like this, I remember.

The most famous was a recreation of London being bombed during World War II. I remembered in the 1970s when the museum was first opened, there was a queue to the red button that played this bombing scene with all the sounds of the bombs dropping on London, sirens etc. It was fun.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Brunei's $5 Note 1995

I recently bought a book about Brunei published around the 1980s. Fitzpatrick or later renamed Smart used to sell it. Of course at that time, we did not want to buy it. But now the book has a value. The book was relatively modern but it does show a number of changes that Brunei has undergone over the last 20 odd years. But I was most surprised when I saw the photo above. It shows a Kampong Ayer on Pulau Pepatan. So it is strictly not Kampong Ayer proper. I remembered this scene very well as I know it appeared on one of Brunei's older currency notes. I also a philatelist on top of everything else, so it is one of the few things I know quite well.

And here it is. Part of the photograph forming the illustration of 1995 series of $5 notes. Most of this currency series took their illustrations from one of the postcards or more relatively known photographs. I have written about a few in the past.

For those still wondering which $5 note I am talking about, here it is.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Royal Crown

I was reading with interest interactions between someone called 'aku' and 'bruneiresourcefan' in the comment box with regard to the Royal Crown. This interaction came about after that article I wrote about Pulau Cermin and the Brunei Civil War. Sultan Abdul Mubin knowing that he is about to lose the war to Sultan Muhyyidin is said to fire all the Royal Regalias including the Brunei Crown into the Brunei Bay. This was to have taken place around the 17th century. Many people, it has been told, has been trying to find this crown and all the other paraphanelia. The Crown used by His Majesty is a newer crown made for the Coronation of His Majesty in August 1968.

'Aku' claimed that he has a photograph of the Crown which was supposedly to have been found from the Brunei Bay. I don't know about that but I do know that this 'original' crown story has been out for quite a while. I found the story on a publication by Brunei Museum called Berita Muzium Issue January-April 2006. This crown (photos above and below) was offered to Brunei in 2003.

The story was quite fantastic. The finders said that to get this crown to 'appear', some magic had to be done involving waters from the Pulau Cermin area. It took a while for the process to be completed in Indonesia. Anyway after it appeared, it had to be guarded as it can 'fly' away.

Anyway, the Museum Department investigated the crown. They found that the crown was a rough replica of the current Crown. It is crudely made out of red coloured metal and the metals were connected by soldering. The stones adorning the crown mimics today's crown. Scientific testing showed that the crown was painted gold. The metal turned white when rubbed.

The crown does not show signs that it has been fired out of a cannon or even spent time in any water let alone 300 years of being in the depth of Brunei Bay. The authorities has dismissed this as a fake. The most important telling point was that the crown used by His Majesty was created by His Majesty Sultan Omar Ali partly based on documents and sketches of the old crown but he has no model to base this on. The irony was that the fakers did not know that. They thought that by making the fake crown similar to the current one would make their fake one looked real.

This is what today's Crown look like for you to make the comparison. You can find this in the Royal Regalia Museum in Bandar if you want to see it closely.

According to an article in Brunei Times, the late Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Sir Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien is credited with literally bringing the crown back from the depths of the sea. The late Al-Marhum Sultan, based on old palace documents and sketches, drew the design of the mahkota himself and had it commissioned. With some alteration, the former crown was brought back to life in all its newfound glory. This supreme symbol of sovereignty of the Brunei Sultanate is made of gold and studded with precious jewels. The mahkota is unique in design with inclusions of elements such as the Alap (upturned diadem set in gold and precious stones), Tajuk Mahkota (six pieces of bunched ornaments in the shape of Payung Ubur-ubur (umbrella-like jellyfish tentacles, three on each side), Melur Turun (dangling jasmines), and Tara Mahkota (seven-pronged centrepiece topped with pearls and precious stones).

It does resemble the fake crown. But remember - the fake crown is modelled after this crown and not the other way around.

PS. Anyway, for something else genuine, a big box of lovely artistic decorated cupcakes! A big thanks to Hanna & Jasmine for the lovely cupcakes you gave me yesterday. I was quite surprised when my brother dropped off the box of cupcakes yesterday evening at our house. My eight year old son loved them so much. They really taste as nice as they look. You can read more about these cupcakes on the Heart of Jasmine blog here.

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