Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Historic Role of the Bandar Seri Begawan Wharf

I was reading the letters in Borneo Bulletin about the defence of the Customs Building being listed as a historical building. The building is fairly new (1950s) but then most buildings in Brunei were built in the 1950s. Most of the earlier ones were obliterated by the Allied Forces when trying to capture the town from the Japanese. I wrote about the Bandar Seri Begawan wharf in Brunei Times more than one and half year ago so I thought I will bring up that article:-


There are two important reasons for the rise of Brunei in the past. One is its location along the northern coast of Borneo which exposed us to the monsoon winds blowing across the South China Sea.

Traders from China sailed towards the Malay Archipelago during the northeast monsoon (November to April), and returned to China during the southwest monsoon (May to October). These monsoon seasons determined the traders’ sailing patterns.

Brunei became a meeting place for international traders to exchange spices, silk, textiles, and other items. Thus Brunei’s capital at Brunei Bay became a major center that attracted Muslim traders, Chinese merchants, and even Portuguese trade.

Francisco de Sande, the Commander of the Spanish Fleet in the Castillean War of 1578 wrote that Brunei “… is an important port of call due to its location in the middle of the sailing route between Malacca and the islands of Maluku and Manila. It has a good port for trading ships sailing to Malacca, Petani, Siam and other countries ...”

The second reason is the riverine location of Brunei in the Brunei Bay. In Brunei, rivers formed the major means of transportation from the coastal areas to the inland forests. Brunei developed into a trading center due to its interaction with visiting foreign traders as well as with people from the interior. By serving as the key center for the exchange of foreign goods and local products from the inland forest, Brunei Town grew in size and importance. Two Portuguese traders, Vasco Lourenco in 1526 and Concalo Periera in 1530 described Brunei as having “… many rich traders who engaged in trading to many places …”

Ships plying trade to Brunei through the Brunei River in the 15th and 16th century have to go through a fortification at Kota Batu before being allowed into Brunei. The ships then dropped anchor at the Kampong Ayer area and small boats will be coming to the ships to take down whatever goods they are selling as well as take in goods being sold by the local Bruneians.

Some places in Kampong Ayer are historically believed to be where the ships used to be. Kampong Lorong Sikuna was one. It was said that Sikuna comes from the English word Schooner - British ships which used to berth around that area.

Ships that ply trade to Brunei also have to pay a duty to the Brunei Ruler. Those early forms of duties were more regulated when the British Resident introduced modern government machineries beginning 1906.

This first Customs Office was opened at Kampong Pekan Lama (Old Town Village) which used to be called Kampong Bakut China (Chinese Sandbank Village). This is where the commercial area used to be - built on a sandbank in the middle of the Kampong Ayer. It was known as Bakut China as many Chinese traders lived and run shops there.

By the turn of the 20th century, there was still no wharf. Early photographs showed ships dropping anchor at the Kampong Ayer area and that where the wharf is currently located was used as a gathering place for padians and pengalus. It was also known as Labuhan Kapal (Ships’ Berth/Port) even though there was no actual wharf there.

Aerial photographs taken during the World War II showed that the wharf was already in place. It must have been built around 1920s or 1930s. It was about 200 feet long and joined to the mainland by three gangways. In 1953, that 200 feet was extended to 400 feet and by 1968, that gap between the wharf and the mainland was paved over making the wharf area bigger.

The Customs House itself was completed in the late 1950s in the colonial flat roof style and boxy form of Rafflesia style popular in Southeast Asia then. It was a concrete building with Victorian style iron windows replacing temporary buildings on the site.

It was constructed at about the same time as the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque by the same contractor Sino-Malayan Engineer. In 1958, the whole area was fenced, turning it into a secured area. The wharf became known as the Royal Customs and Excise Wharf (Dermaga Kastam dan Eksais Diraja).

The agents and the names of their ships that ply through Brunei River were as familiar to the residents of Kampong Ayer as the names of Airlines that fly through Brunei International Airport today. In the 1950s, a few companies were household names such as Messrs Harrissons and Crosfield who are agents for Straits Steamship Company, Lam Hing Nong, Borneo Company and Brunei Lighterage Limited, an associate of Malayan Stevedoring and Transportation Limited.

These companies handled ships such as Perak, Lipis, Ubi, Merudu, Rajah Brooke, M.V. Maimunah, Jerantut, Perlis, Jitra, Timberli, Subok, Bubut and Anggang among others. Whenever the ships arrived, it would be a colourful festival, Bruneian traders in small boats would mill around the ships bringing their own wares to sell to the sailors. For other Bruneians, this too would also be an occasion for them to buy those wares too. During busy periods when a number of ships came, each had to wait in turn for it to berth thus turning the Brunei River into a busy international port.

However the shallowness of the Brunei River was a concern to many as ships become bigger and heavier. As early as the 1840s, in his book, ‘Life in the Forests of the Far East’ published in 1861, Sir Spenser St. John wrote “… no ship of any size can enter the river, as eight feet at low water, and fourteen at high, is what the bar affords, which is also rendered more difficult by a long artificial dam of stones thrown across the stream in former times to prevent the approach of hostile squadrons … it is one of the worst rivers for commercial purposes in Borneo …”. Though much improved by the 1950s, the shallowness of the river remained a major obstacle to big ships.

In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of bigger ships calling on Brunei had to drop anchor at Sapo Point which is off Pelumpong Spit at the Brunei Bay and have barges bringing in the goods from the ships.

In 1958, the government had two options – to develop a deep sea port at Muara or to dredge the Brunei River to allow bigger ships to come in.

By 1960s, the government had decided that a deep sea port should be developed at Muara and the bells started to ring for the end of the Brunei Wharf. In 1972, Muara Port was declared open officially by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during her official visit to Brunei bringing to a halt the usage of the wharf for goods importation.

However local goods especially from Temburong still go through the wharf as late as 1987. Ships from Labuan and Lawas also came in through the Immigration Checkpoint at the end of the wharf until January 1997 when the ferry terminal at the Marine Department opened.

Today the wharf is unused and is now a prime waterfront area. The Customs Building is a protected building under the Antiquities and Treasure Trove (Ancient Monuments and Historical Site) Order. What should be remembered about the wharf and the Customs building is not so much about its architecture but its historical role as the gateway to the lifeline of our country, Brunei Darussalam.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fiscal Monetary Review Q4 2007

The other day, I got a copy of the Fiscal Monetary Review, a publication done by the Ministry of Finance. When I was at MOF, I was part of the process and we have always tried to do it probably with a quarter or two quarter lag. At times we failed. I have not seen a copy since I left MOF in January and I was wondering what happen to it. Finally this one showed up.

Published in November 2008 for Quarter 4 2007 - four quarters out. Nevertheless it is here. The data is out of date now given that the oil prices have completely crashed. Q4 of 2007 was still showing positive results especially on the revenue side. If you can see the table above, you can see the surpluses piling up but I am sure with Q4 of 2008 and probably the entire 2009, those surpluses will be going back in to cover the shortages of revenues expected to cover expenses. Click on the photo above if want to read the data about expenses and revenues over the last 10 quarters.

I have scanned the entire 16 page document and I can email it to anyone who wants one. I will also try to upload it to my library at bruneiresources.com.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sultans of Brunei Series - Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II

ON THE 26 of April 1804, Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin abdicated from the throne to his second son, Pengiran Muda Tengah Muhammad Jamalul Alam who became the first Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam. His eldest son, Pengiran Muda Besar Saiful Rijal had passed away much earlier.

However Sultan Muhammd Jamalul Alam I died just seven months after he ascended the throne, on 10 November 1804. Pengiran Muda Omar Ali Saifuddin was the son of Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam I and Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Puteri Nur Alam. When his father died in 1804, he was still a minor when he became Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II.

Therefore his grandfather Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin ascended the throne for the second time. Due to his advanced age, Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin wanted his son Pengiran Anak Muhammad Yusof to be the Acting Sultan but his son refused stating that the throne was rightfully owned by Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II even though he was not yet coronated.

Sultan Muhammd Tajudin then offered it to his own younger brother, Pengiran Di-Gadong Ayah Pengiran Muda Tengah Muhammad Kanzul Alam ibnu Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin I who acted as regent. Meanwhile, Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Puteri Nur Alam and Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Awang Munap were appointed as Advisors to Sultan Omar Ali Saifudddin II.

Therefore his grandfather Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin ascended the throne for the second time. Due to his advanced age, Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin wanted his son Pengiran Anak Muhammad Yusof to be the Acting Sultan but his son refused stating that the throne was rightfully owned by Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II even though he was not yet coronated.

Sultan Muhammd Tajudin then offered it to his own younger brother, Pengiran Di-Gadong Ayah Pengiran Muda Tengah Muhammad Kanzul Alam ibnu Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin I who acted as regent. Meanwhile, Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Puteri Nur Alam and Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Awang Munap were appointed as Advisors to Sultan Omar Ali Saifudddin II.

When Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin died in 1807, the regent Pengiran Di-Gadong Ayah Pengiran Muda Tengah Muhammad Kanzul Alam appointed himself as the Sultan and became the twenty first Sultan of Brunei. He was known as Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam. During his reign, it was noted in the "Salsilah Raja-Raja Berunai" that no music (naubat) was heard. In 1826, Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam also appointed his own son, Pengiran Anak Muhammad Alam as heir to the throne of Brunei. However both the symbols of a Sultan, the Keris Si Naga and the Crown were still held by Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II.

Sultan Muhammad Alam I became Brunei's twenty second Sultan. During his reign, Brunei suffered very badly. Long periods of drought made food unavailable in Brunei. The country and the people suffered. His rule was so harsh that many citizens ran away following Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II to Pulau Keingaran. In 1828, Raja Isteri Nur Alam as the advisor to Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II sentenced the Sultan to death.

When Sultan Muhammad Alam heard that he had been sentenced to death by the Raja Isteri, he voluntarily put the rope around his neck as he was garrotted to death. He died in 1828. In the "Salsilah Raja-Raja Berunai", Sultan Muhammad Alam I was known by the title of Raja Api (King of Fire).

It was in 1828 that Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II returned from Pulau Keingaran to take over the throne from Sultan Muhammad Alam I. He was supported by most nobles as he was the rightful heir according to Brunei's royal traditions. The Kris Si Naga in the possession of his mother strengthened his claim. In 1828, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II finally became the twenty third Sultan of Brunei.

During the reign of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II, the British and the Dutch were very active in Southeast Asia. The two signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824 dividing their respective areas of influence in the Malay archipelago with Britain possessing territories lying north of Straits of Malacca and the Dutch to the south including southern Borneo even though that was not explicitly stated in the Treaty.

In 1842, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II appointed James Brooke who succeeded in crushing the disturbances as the Sultan Representative (Governor) in Sarawak. In return Brooke promised to pay the Sultan an annual tribute of $2,500, to preserve the customs and religion of the people in Sarawak and not to separate Sarawak from Brunei without the Sultan's consent. It was a big political mistake to appoint Brooke but he had the backing of the British Navy.

In 1845, Pengiran Muda Hashim returned to Brunei and had lost his high status in Brunei due to a palace coup. But Brooke and the British Navy forcibly reinstalled Pengiran Muda Hashim as the Bendahara. The foreign intervention caused a great deal of unhappiness and Pengiran Muda Hashim and his family were murdered in 1846.

Brooke viewed the massacre as a personal insult and challenge to the prestige of Britain. He asked Rear Admiral Thomas Cochrane to punish Brunei. In 1846, Brunei Town was attacked and captured by the British and Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II had to flee to Damuan. Subsequently he was forced to sign a treaty to end the British occupation of Brunei Town. In that treaty, James Brooke was recognised as the Rajah of Sarawak and given the right to rule Sarawak without interference including naming his own successor.

Hearing of the events in Brunei and under pressure by commercial groups, the British government decided to occupy Labuan in order to have a permanent harbour and safe shelter for British vessels. Due to British pressure, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II ceded Labuan to the British under the Treaty of Labuan signed on 18 December 1846. James Brooke was subsequently knighted and appointed as the first British Governor of Labuan in 1847. The loss of Labuan was a big blow to Brunei as it was its gateway to the outside world.

On 27 May 1847, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II signed a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with Britain. Its purpose was to ensure that Brunei was under British control and influence in order to benefit British trade, commerce and territorial expansion.

After the British attack on Brunei and the loss of Labuan, Brunei began to seek friendship with another western power to counter the British influence. Thus when Joseph Balestier proposed a US-Brunei Treaty of Friendship and Commerce in 1850, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II accepted.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II died in 1852. He was succeeded by Sultan Abdul Momin as the twenty fourth Sultan of Brunei.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas

Merry Xmas to whoever is celebrating it today. I remembered when I was studying in England in the mid 1980s that Xmas was the time we had to stock up for food. The area I was staying in (Stoke City, Staffordshire) virtually shut down for that Xmas week and shops did not open until after the new year. It was cold and freezing and I remembered being bored to death and spent my time watching all the Xmas shows on the then only four British TV channels (BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4). I did celebrate Xmas once with a British family who invited me to their Xmas dinner. It was certainly enjoyable.

I remembered when I was in England I was surprised to find out that Christmas was once forbidden by an Act of Parliament in 1644; the day was to be a fast and a market day; shops were compelled to be open; plum puddings and mince pies condemned as heathen. The conservatives resisted; at Canterbury blood was shed; but after the Restoration, dissenters continued to call Yuletide "Fooltide". By the time I was in England, Xmas traditions had taken over and shops were closed during Xmas. But by 1990s, some of the bigger stores such as Woolworths began the practise of not closing on Christmas Day. And finally in 2004, the Parliament passed a law called The Christmas Day Trading Act which actually now prevents large shops (over 280 square meters) from opening on Chrismas Day.

I wanted to write an article about the origin of Xmas but after reading all there is to be read about it, I thought it was a bit too controversial for me to join in the controversies. The origin of Xmas has been argued and apparently nearly all aspects of Christmas observance have their roots in Roman custom and religion. According to the many writers out there there is no mistaking the origin of the modern Christmas celebration. And it was not until the year 325 that church officials at the First Council of Nicaea formalized Christmas by making Dec. 25 the Feast of the Nativity. Because Christmas was not directly related to a lunar holiday, and because it had never been celebrated before — the date of Christ's birth is not mentioned in the Bible — the council was able to establish an unambiguous date for the celebration.

Anyway, Merry Xmas to BR.com readers celebrating it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Brunei Statistical Yearbook 2007

Yesterday I focused on one statistics book produced by the Economic Planning and Development Department (JPKE) but I did mention another book. This is the other statistics book, the Brunei Darussalam Statistical Yearbook 2007. This is the 31st series of this book.

This book contained every statistics that you needed to know about Brunei - population, labour force, external trade, finance, education and national accounts. It also provides breakdown in our agriculture, forestry and fishery industries, mining, electricity, water and gas, transportation sector, health and a number of miscellaneous data.

Did you know that our national library system only has 516,861 books by the end of 2007? I remembered my old alma mater in US had about 12 million so 1/2 a million sounds like not much. We certainly have not been spending money on books for the library. The amount of rainfall recorded in Brunei at a number of agricultural stations showed that in 2007, almost everyone showed a marked increase over the previous years. The number of rainy days recorded at Brunei Airport was 239 days over the entire 2007. We only have 365 days a year! Though the humidity level for 2007 was lower than the previous 5 years. In 2007 it was 84 but in previous years, it was all nearer 100. In 2007, there were 54 deaths from road accidents, the previous three years were all below 40.

Did you know too that the Government had a surplus of $6,211 million in 2007/2008? In 2006, it was $4,583 million and in 2005 it was $2,929 million. I don't think there will be much surplus in 2008 given that the oil prices have crashed and 2009 may be annus horribilis for the government revenue. Our education expenditure in 2007 was $545 million and our defence was $492 million. There are around $13 billion of monye and quasi money supply in the economy. Despite that, our local bank prime rate controlled by the Bank Association has remained unchanged over several years at 5.5% (this is the only page in the whole book which does not show any changes whatsoever).

Anyway, get the book from JPKE. It will tell you a lot more about Brunei than you ever wanted to know.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The 5 Year Itch

I was back at work yesterday after a 3 week leave. I think I took too a long a leave and it took a while for the brain to move to its normal speed. The last time I took anything longer than a week was to go to Scotland for my second Masters degree convocation and that was back in 2002.

Anyway, I saw two interesting books on my table courtesy of my good friend, the head honcho of JPKE, the Brunei Annual Statistics Book 2007 and the Brunei Vital Statistics 2003-2007. The Annual Statistics Book is as always contained all the statistics that you ever wanted to know about Brunei. But the Vital Statistics had some interesting statistics.

The Vital Statistics provides time series data for 6 years of the live births, deaths, marriages and divorces in Brunei. If you are involved in planning and needed these statistics, this book is indeed vital (my pun!) for you to get.

I read through it and I was struck by the interesting data provided in the marriages and divorces statistics. Did you know that in 2007, out of 457 divorces, 119 involved wives who are aged between 25-29 and 98 involved wives who are aged 30-34. Similar ages for husbands. And out of that 457 divorces, the highest number occurs when the marriages are 5 years old. I know there is a 7 year itch but I did not realise in Brunei it is the 5 year itch.

There were 2,176 marriages in 2007 of which 740 are for brides aged between 20-24 and 780 aged between 25-29 and about 234 aged between 30-34. What was interesting too is that the number of births have declined every year since 2002. In 2002 there were 7,464 births but by 2007 there were only 6,314 births. Interestingly, regardless of what you think, whether there are more females or males in Brunei, male births outnumber female births in those years.

Anyway, if you are interested in all these statistics, the book is available at JPKE at Ong Sum Ping. I don't know how much it is. The last one (2002 edition) before this one cost $7, so it would probably be around that price range too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sultans of Brunei Series - Sultan Abdul Momin

[For my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times, I am currently writing about the Sultans of Brunei. This is what I wrote about Sultan Abdul Momin, Brunei's 25th Sultan last week on BT.]

On the 5th Safar 1269 (November 18, 1852), Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II passed away. On his death, to decide who the heir to the throne shall be, the Keris Si Naga (Dragon Dagger) was first passed to Pengiran Anak Muhammad Tajuddin ibnu Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam I because it was felt generally that he was the best qualified to be the next Sultan. However he turned it down.

The next to be offered the Dragon Dagger was Pengiran Anak Abdul Momin ibnu Pengiran Shabandar Pengiran Anak Haji Abdul Wahab ibnu Sultan Omar Saifuddin I. He was also the son-in-law of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II.

Pengiran Anak Muhammad Tajuddin thought that by rejecting the dagger, it might be offered to his son, Pengiran Muda Mohamad Jamalul Alam who was the son-in-law of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuiddin II and is more senior as his son was a "Pengiran Muda" as compared to "Pengiran Anak" Abdul Momin.

The rejection embarrassed Pengiran Anak Muhammad Tajuddin that he took the decision to "melabur" which was to burn himself with gun powder.

However when Sultan Abdul Momin took the throne, he astutely took a decision that the heirs to the throne will not be his own children but that of the sons of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II (then it was Pengiran Anak Muhammad Salleh and Pengiran Anak Hashim) and prayed that his wishes will be fulfilled.

His wishes were fulfilled. It was Pengiran Anak Hashim who became Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqmadin when he died. Sultan Abdul Momin also adopted the sons of Pengiran Anak Muhammad Tajuddin.

As the 24th Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Abdul Momin's reign was during the tumultuous period of Brunei's history. Sultan Abdul Momin was well respected and was able to restore peace and order in Brunei.

He succeeded in setting longstanding enmities within the Royal Family by bringing together the descendants of Sultan Omar Ali Safiduddin II and the late Pengiran Muda Hashim through marriage.

He also encouraged the detailed study of teachings of Islam, in which he personally participated. He also sent some Ulama to the Holy City of Mekah.

It was also during his reign that the Brookes in Sarawak obtained more land and concessions from Brunei as well as the loss of North Borneo.

When Sultan Abdul Momin took the throne, Brooke made an agreement with him that not only he confirmed James Brooke as an independent Raja, but also gave up the Batang Lupar area.

In 1853, another treaty was concluded between the two of them. The 1855 treaty extended Sarawak's territories to the Rajang River which included all the seven districts of Rajang, Kalakah, Saribas, Sekrang, Lingga, Sadong and Samarahan. In exchange for the sizeable loss of territory, Sultan Abdul Momin received $1,500 annually.

James Brooke also agreed to share any extra revenue from these districts with the Sultan.

Although James Brooke failed in his quest to make Sarawak, a British protectorate in 1857, he was able to gain more land from Brunei.

In Mukah, a profitable sago trading area, the Brunei government's representative was hunted by the British navy assisted by Charles Johnson (who later became known as Charles Brooke, the nephew of James Brooke) who was then the Tuan Muda of Sarawak.

In 1861, James Brooke returned to Brunei to persuade Sultan Abdul Momin to cede the third division of Sarawak.

Britain also helped to pressure Brunei and as a result, Sultan Abdul Momin ceded territories from Rajang to the Bintulu River including Mukah and Oya.

He was paid $4,500 annually for this concession but Brunei had lost a valuable territory that produced sago.

Sultan Abdul Momin could do little to discourage James Brooke's plans to acquire more land for Sarawak from Brunei. James Brooke had the British government behind him and the British Royal Navy which backed him up.

Even the British Governor of Labuan, GW Edwardes was instructed by the British Government not to interfere in Brunei's affairs. Sultan Abdul Momin had no choice and he agreed to the demand for more territories.

Charles Brooke, becoming the new Rajah in 1868 on the death of James Brooke, wanted to get more territory including that of Baram River.

Sultan Abdul Momin refused to do so and implored the British to assist Brunei. Charles Brooke put pressure by withholding parts of the annual payments that the British Government placed a ban on Sarawak from acquiring any territory for the next 10 years.

However in 1874, the Kayans of Baram rebelled against Brunei's rule and Charles Brooke used that as an excuse to seize Baram. In 1884, the people of Limbang also rebelled for the same reasons — they believed that they would be better off under the western administration led by the Brookes.

At the same time, in North Borneo (Sabah), Sultan Abdul Momin very impressed made by an American, Charles Lee Moses of the economic benefits, that he leased out North Borneo to Moses in 1865. Moses however sold his rights to Torrey, an American businessman who formed the American Trading Company of Borneo.

Torrey himself went back to Brunei to renegotiate the lease. However his venture failed. In 1875, the Austrian Consul General in Hong Kong, Baron Overbeck bought over Torrey's rights and renegotiated the lease. He later sold the lease to a British businessman, Alfred Dent.

It was Dent and his associates who formed a company in 1881 to develop North Borneo. The British North Borneo Chartered Company obtained a Royal Charter from the Queen and gradually established its rule there. In providing that charter, the British has assumed a responsibility in North Borneo.

The British Government could not adopt different policies — stopping Rajah Brooke from expansion but supporting the Company. The company and Rajah Brooke began a contest to gain more of Brunei's remaining territories. By 1884, the company was seeking to gain further Brunei territories not included in the original lease.

Sultan Abdul Momin realised that with the expansionist policies of both Rajah Brooke and the North Borneo Company, it was only a matter of time before Brunei was wiped out from existence. He called for a meeting of his chiefs whereby he made them take an oath.

This oath became known as the "Amanat" and it was declared on 20th February 1885. It was an agreement between the Sultan, Wazirs, Manteris and the holders of Tulin rights not to cede or lease any of the remaining territories of Brunei to foreign powers. Sultan Abdul Momin died later that year.

Even though the "Amanat" was in place, Brunei was unable to reclaim Limbang nor to prevent further loss of Brunei's territory. Brunei did not have the ability to enforce the "Amanat" while Brooke and the Company could use steam warships and more powerful guns. As a result, Brunei was divided into two groups of small territories with no land link with each other. Sultan Abdul Momin tried to the very end to stop Brunei from being wiped out from existence. At least he succeeded in doing that.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brunei $1 1967

Over the last two years, I have slowly been collecting all the Brunei currency notes. We do not have that many issues as Brunei has only been issuing its currency notes since 1967. I did not realise how difficult it was. This particular $1 note with Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III is not that easy to get. I do have more than a dozen with me but some of them are paid not at the price you would have imagined. This $1 note if you go to the bank and change it for a new one, you will get exactly $1. Guess how much this is currently sold on ebay?

If your answer is about $10, you are far off. On ebay, an uncirculated $1 note is currently being offered at US$90 ($135 our money). This $1 note is worth 135 times what it used to be. So if you have a lot of these notes, keep them or sell them for around US$90 each.

Even the 1 cent (copper red colour) which you despised and try to get rid off all the time, is no longer available. All the 1 cents you get today is the new 1 cent (zinc copper yellow colour). That old 1 cent is no longer worth 1 cent. It struck me home yesterday when I was at the supermarket, I got all these yellow coloured 1 cent coins. Sometimes you don't realise what you missed until you don't see them anymore.

Friday, December 19, 2008

After Birth

Someone raised the topic about placentas, especially what happens to it after a birth has taken place. I wrote about this 2 years ago which if you are interested you can still access here and you can also read the 17 comments following that entry.

On this subject matter, I would like to highlight the opinion of my colleague who is my counterpart at PMO who kindly emailed me then about the whole placenta thing from the Islamic perspective. I highlighted then among his titles, he was formerly a Kadhi and is unique in holding double first degrees, a BA from Al-Azhar University as well as an LLB from International Islamic University. I think this opinion is a more or less definitive one. For those searching for a copy of the Mufti's fatwa - there is a 1985 fatwa regarding this matter. My colleague's email is as follows:-

+++++

Assalamualaikum

I shared your concern regarding the disposal of tebuni. Berikut dihuraikan mengenei pengurusannya menurut Islam sebagaimana dalam fatwa;

Mengurus Tebuni
Dari sudut bahasa tebuni atau uri ialah sampul tian atau uri yang bersambung dengan tali pusat yang keluar sesudah bayi dilahirkan.

Amalan biasa kitani adalah untuk menanam tebuni tersebut, disamping ada pula yang menghanyutkan di laut, menggantung atas pokok dan mungkin ada juga yang membuangnya seperti sampah.

Menurut Islam tebuni itu tidak wajib ditanam kerana ia bukan daripada anggota badan yang haram dilihat, seperti haram melihat buru ari-ari dari anggota lelaki atau seperti rambut dan kuku dari anggota perempuanwalaupun benda-benda berkenaan telah bercerai daripada badan. Walau bagaimanapun cara yang elok(sunat) dalam mengurus tebuni itu ialah dengan menanamnya.Sepertimana juga kuku atau rambut lelaki sunat ditanam kerana ia merupakan anggota badan yang tidak haram dilihat. Berlainan halnya dengan rambut atau kuku perempuan, anggota tersebut wajib ditanam kerana ia haram dilihat oleh lelaki bukan mahram.

Berdasarkan pemahaman fatwa di atas, maka tiada nas yang menyuruh kita menanamnya di kawasan masjid. Cukup dengan menanamnya di mana sahaja yang selamat daripada ganguan binatang dan pencemaran. Masjid juga adalah milik awam, seharusnya mendapat kebenaran terlebih dahulu jika hendak menanam di kawasan masjid. In my humble opinion it is appropriate if we bury tebuni within the vicinity of our property, tanam bunga di atasnya dan ia akan menjadi kenangan yang indah. Demikian pendapat saya.

Kesimpulan:
Tebuni sunat ditanam;
Tidak elok menanamnya di kawasan masjid, kerana masjid adalah public property;
Lebih baik di tanam di kawasan milik sendiri.

+++++

Hope that helps everyone out there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Masjid Hassanal Bolkiah, Tutong

I have always been a bit peeved that during the aerial bombing by Allied Forces in the Second World War, our town mosque then known as Masjid Pekan Brunei or Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal was bombed to smitherens. By the end of the War, Brunei's capital did not have a mosque and only a temporary Masjid Kajang was built until SOAS Mosque was completed in 1958.

The aerial bombing by the Allied Forces not just destroyed Pekan Brunei's mosque but also the mosque in Tutong. The Tutong mosque then was built along the banks of the Tutong River. This Tutong Mosque was in fact the third mosque built for Tutong Town. This particular mosque was built in 1928.

Two earlier mosques were built in Tutong. The first was in 1922 said to be located at the site of shops no 3 and 4 of the Tutong's first shophouses block. But that was soon abandoned and a second mosque was built right in front of the river (now the site is used for taxi and bus stand). The third was of course the one that was bombed by the Allied Forces.

A fourth mosque was built in 1950 (photo), much larger than all the other 3 mosques before. But by the 1960s even this was too small and a much bigger mosque was finally built and completed in April 1965. The present Masjid Hassanal Bolkiah of Tutong was built costing only $700,000 and was opened by His Majesty when he was the Crown Prince in August 1966 and hence the name Masjid Hassanal Bolkiah. The site of the mosque was wakaf from Abd Latif bin Khatab and Mohd Daud bin Bujang.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The ASEAN Charter

Two days ago, our RTB news showed our Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister, HRH Prince Mohamed signing the ASEAN Charter with all the other ASEAN Foreign Ministers. Many among us may not realise how historic that occasion is. I thought I will spend a bit of time today on what does the ASEAN Charter mean for us in simple language.

Despite ASEAN being existence for more than 41 years, what many people did not realise before this, is that before the signing of the Charter, ASEAN was nothing more than a talk shop, forging agreements through consensus and steering away from confrontation.

This Charter now gives legal identity to ASEAN for international negotiations and transactions. This turns ASEAN more like the European Union and similar to the EU as a legal entity will allow ASEAN to become a single market - a single market for our 500 million+ people is one of the key goals stated in the charter. If ASEAN does become a single market, it brings a set of benefits and interesting situations for Brunei.

The charter also calls for the continued observance of a decade-old treaty banning nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia and prohibits all other weapons of mass destruction. This will continue to bring peace for us in Brunei.

For ASEAN, the most controversial part of the charter is a proposed human rights body. The details of this body will be agreed at the upcoming ASEAN summit in Thailand (supposedly this month but now scheduled in February 2009). In EU, member countries have to abide by the EU Court especially with regard to human rights. Whether such a system will be implemented here in ASEAN is still up in the air.

BUT, there is a but? Yes, there are certain development that we need to be aware of before the ASEAN Charter can be fully implemented.

One, is that the current deepening global financial crisis and political instability in several member states could derail the plans in the ASEAN Charter.

Two, and a very important two is that the Charter is largely without enforcement action. ASEAN does not not have the ability to impose sanctions or expel countries that violate the rights of their own citizens, which could limit the Charter's effectiveness.

Three, the Charter also sets out a common set of rules for trade, investment, environment and other fields. Though this is not a problem per se, ASEAN countries including us in Brunei, now have a set of rules of follow.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sultans of Brunei Series II - Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II

[For my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times, I am currently writing about the Sultans of Brunei. This is what I wrote about Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II, Brunei's 26th Sultan two weeks ago on BT.]

HIS Royal Highness Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II was the third son of Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam. When his father Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam died in 1906, he became the Sultan as his two elder brothers had passed away a few years earlier.

In 1889, Sultan Hashim first appointed his eldest son Pengiran Muda Besar Omar Ali Saifuddin as the Acting Sultan. This was to give him the experience needed when he took over the throne.

Sultan Hashim's second son, Pengiran Muda Tengah, decided to leave Brunei and stayed at first in Sabah and later at Tawi-Tawi in the Philippines.

In 1903, there was a smallpox outbreak in Brunei. At that time, Brunei did not have any modern medical facility and any medical requirements had to be brought in from Labuan. Unfortunately during that smallpox outbreak, Pengiran Muda Besar Omar Ali Saifuddin died together with a number of other Bruneians.

Sultan Hashim commanded for Pengiran Muda Tengah to return to Brunei. But in 1905, there was another outbreak, this time, an outbreak of cholera and Pengiran Muda Tengah also died during that outbreak.

So, when Sultan Hashim died in 1906, it was Pengiran Muda Bongsu Jamalul Alam, the third surviving heir that was appointed as the Sultan.

However, Pengiran Muda Bongsu Jamalul Alam was only 17 years old at the time, so the responsibility of the Sultan was in the hands of the "Majlis Pemangku Raja", that was the Council of the Regency.

It was not until 1918 that His Royal Highness Sultan Jamalul Alam was coronated as the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam.

Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam's reign coincided with the beginning of the Residential System. The Residential System was introduced in Brunei as result of a Supplementary Protectorate Agreement signed on 31 December 1905 and January 3rd, 1906, between Sultan Hashim and the British, represented by John Anderson.

Under the system, a British Resident was appointed to advise the Sultan on all matters regarding the administration of the country except those touching on Islam. The first Resident Malcolm Stewart Hannibal McArthur took office in May 1906.

In the beginning, Brunei was administratively linked to Labuan and also had strong administrative links to the Straits Settlement Government and Federated Malay States. Many of the state's affairs were linked such as the use of a common currency between the various states. It was not until 1967 that Brunei had its own currency.

Throughout his reign, the Sultan did not have much say in the government as the British Resident took all the executive decisions. The Sultan however kept his position on the State Council which met to approve and amend laws and policies.

With the introduction of the Residential System in Brunei in 1906, all the executive power, except in the matters of religion was transferred completely from the Sultan to the Resident. In the face of a totally modern and western form of government, the State Council could not do much. The Resident removed all the executive decisions from the Council by establishing new offices such as the Land and Custom Offices run very differently from the traditional "kuripan" and "tulin" systems.

The Resident brought in new civil servants from outside Brunei thus ignoring local objections. As the Residential System progressed, the Resident assumed more executive power, making important decisions.

The System also disrupted the traditional responsibilities and rights of Wazirs and forced them to give up their land rights and privileges. The System also did not help to work for Brunei's interests as stated in the Protectorate Agreement such as to help Brunei in recovering Limbang from the Brookes regime.

Despite the setbacks, there were also a number of positive advantages which the Residential System brought about. One of them was in the area of administration where among others taxation and revenue collection were centralised. The new government established modern important departments such as the Customs and Excise, Postal Services, Agriculture, Public Work, Medical and Education.

In the area of social welfare, the sanitary board was set up responsible for the cleanliness of the towns and streets as well as the improving of communications and transportation such as the building of roads.

In Economics, the British Resident encouraged rubber and fruit plantations. A land policy was also introduced whereby land was properly transferred with the issuing of land grand titles and title. Politically too, the dynastic line of Sultan Hashim was guaranteed and the line of succession survived until today.

The Residential System also prevented the Brookes or the Dutch from gaining territorial control over Brunei and it also made the Resident responsible for Brunei's foreign affairs.

During his reign, His Royal Highness Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II took a great deal of interest in the progress of the country, encouraging advances in agriculture, medicine and education.

His Royal Highness also encouraged the teaching and learning of Islam which was often carried out in the surau or small mosque. As a sign of his commitment to Islam, Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II built a mosque despite the country's lack of revenue.

The mosque was built on a piece of land near the present Kampung Sultan Lama. The local community used the mosque until it was destroyed in wartime bombing during the reign of his son, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin.

It was also during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II that Islamic Law was officially introduced. This was known as Muhammadan Law. It was introduced in 1912, replacing the Brunei Canons. Then in 1913, the Marriage and Divorce Act was introduced.

Friendship and cooperation with the British Government earned His Royal Highness recognition. In 1914, Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II was honoured with the award of Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) and in 1920, he received a higher distinction Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (KCMG).

Unfortunately, Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II's reign was a short one. An outbreak of malaria claimed his life as well as three members of his family. His Royal Highness died in September 1924, at the age of 35. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Pengiran Muda Ahmad Tajuddin.

EF Pretty, the British Resident announced with the most profound regret in the Brunei Annual Report of 1924, the death of His Royal Highness the Sultan.

The report also indicated that the cause of death was Malaria as certified by Dr Cleverton aggravated by grief at the death of his wife and two children. Pretty also noted that Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II was "a most loyal friend of the British Empire" and by his premature demise, Brunei has lost a dignified and enlightened Ruler.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sultans of Brunei Series I - Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin

[For my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times, I am currently writing about the Sultans of Brunei. This is what I wrote about Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin, Brunei's 27th Sultan three weeks ago on BT.]

HIS Royal Highness Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Akhazul Khairi Waddien ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam II was born at the palace in Pekan Brunei on 4th June 1913. His father His Royal Highness Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam II was coronated the Sultan of Brunei in 1918 even though his father Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam died in 1906. During that time, Brunei was ruled by a Council of Regency until Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam was coronated as the Sultan of Brunei in 1918.

His Royal Highness Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam II had encouraged the teaching and learning of Islam in Brunei. He also built a mosque in the capital even though during his reign, Brunei's revenue from oil had not yet materialised.

The mosque was popularly known as Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal but it was officially known as Masjid Pekan Brunei — the Brunei Town Mosque. The mosque was used by Bruneians staying in the capital before it was destroyed by Allied bombings during the Second World War.

His Royal Highness Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam died young. He died in 1924 at the age of thirty five and his son, Pengiran Muda Ahmad Tajuddin, ascended the throne.

His Royal Highness Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin was only eleven years old when he ascended the throne and became the 27th Sultan of Brunei. Similarly like his father when he ascended the throne, being a minor, the reign was again temporarily held by a Council of Regency on his behalf until he came of age. The Council then consisted of Pengiran Bendahara Pengiran Anak Abdul Rahman and Pengiran Pemancha Pengiran Anak Mohammad Yassin. The Council reigned Brunei from 11th September, 1924, to 19th September, 1931.

His Royal Highness was the first Sultan to receive formal education at the palace. From a very young age, His Royal Highness studied Islamic Knowledge under a specially appointed religious official. He was also taught English by a European teacher from the age of fourteen.

His Royal Highness was very active. In 1927, he officially opened the Brunei-Tutong Highway. It was during his rule that the conglomerate of British Malayan Petroleum Company and Shell struck oil in Padang Berawa, now known as Seria.

In 1929, he opened the first modern hospital in Brunei Darussalam. It was a thirty-bed hospital. Before that hospital was opened, there was no government doctor or hospital in Brunei. In 1932, he also managed to visit England.

The year before that His Royal Highness had assumed the throne. On 19th September 1931, he was only eighteen years old. The official coronation however took place almost nine years later on 17th March 1940. Even though it would take almost nine years when he was officially coronated, he was still the Sultan of Brunei.

As Sultan he had married Tengku Ampuan Raihani binti Sultan Alaudin Sulaiman Shah, the daughter of Sultan Alaudin Sulaiman Shah, the Sultan of Selangor. The nikah ceremony was held at the Jame Rahmah Mosque in Klang, Selangor. The wedding took place on 6th May 1934. Slightly more than a year later in October 1935, Her Royal Highness gave birth to a princess named Pengiran Anak Puteri Noorehsani.

During the World War II, in 1941, the Japanese landed in Brunei. His Royal Highness 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. In 1945, the allied army landed and liberated Brunei from the Japanese. The British Military Administration (BMA) took over the running of the government. It was in 1946, before the government took over from British Military Administration.

Like his father before him, His Royal Highness too was concerned with the expansion and improvement of formal education as well as that of religious education.

His Royal Highness was also a keen writer. Among others he wrote a book called the "Panduan Keselamatan" which contained useful advice. These were some of His Majesty's contribution during his reign.

It was also during the reign of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin that saw Brunei Darussalam having her own national anthem "Allah Peliharakan Sultan" or "God save the Sultan". In 1947, the national anthem was composed by Awang Besar Sagap and lyrics written by Pengiran Mohammad Yussof Bin Pengiran Haji Abdul Rahim.

That same year, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin bestowed the title "wazir" to his brother, Pengiran Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien.

On 20th September 1949, His Royal Highness Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin celebrated his Silver Jubilee or the 25th anniversary of ascending the throne. At the ceremony His Royal Highness was knighted and bestowed with the KBE by the British High Commissioner to Brunei on behalf of King George VI.

The ceremony was attended by the Commissioner General of Southeast Asia and representatives from neighbouring countries.

A few months after the celebration, His Royal Highness Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin was on his way to Britain for an official visit. Unfortunately he was taken ill and later died in Singapore of a haemorrhage. It was 4th June 1950 and His Royal Highness died at the young age of thirty six.

After his untimely death from natural causes, he was succeeded by his brother who became His Royal Highness Sultan 'Omar Ali Saifuddin III, the 28th Sultan of Brunei. His Royal Highness Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin did not have a male heir.

His Royal Highness reign represented the start of a new era in Brunei. The discovery of oil changed the whole course of Brunei's history and enabled faster development in all sectors of the country. The expansion and improvement of formal education and his encouragement of religious education were some of his additional contributions to Brunei Darussalam.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Australians in Brunei Part 2

The Australians were here in Brunei yesterday to commemorate the monument where they landed at Muara Beach (codename Green Beach) in 10th June 1945. It was probably one of the last battles of WWII and some questioned whether all these were necessary as the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse. But for whatever it was, the Australians did clear Brunei and liberated Brunei from the Japanese then. Here are a few photos which I borrowed from the Australians Veteran Affairs. The first is the maritime landing at Muara Beach, the second is the march from Muara to Brunei town (that path was what Jalan Muara looked like in 1945) and the last is the field emergency centre at Muara Beach.



Friday, December 12, 2008

The Bruneian Haj

Alhamdulillah, by the time you read this, Brunei haj pilgrims this year would have completed their tasks, everyone would have performed the full obligations of the hajj and will soon be preparing to return home to Brunei.

What most people don't know is that prior to 1954, to go on haj means that you have to be assisted by the British Resident Office. Prior to the world war, going on haj is a more laissez faire affair. You go on your own and make all the arrangements yourself and it was a very difficult trip. My father in law who went in 1930s, I was told spent at least 4 to 5 months away just to go on the hajj and it wasn't a luxury trip like today. He spent more than a month just travelling on board ships (not just one - you probably changed ships in Singapore and other ports). Going on haj then means literally you wouldn't whether you would be coming back. It was such an ordeal that even when a pilgrim died on board the ship, his body would be lowered into the sea for a sea burial.

Nowadays, completing the hajj despite the millions of people going to Mecca is much easier because the Government has everything in place through Darussalam Holdings. Even those who went on private packages would not face that much difficulty. The Hajj Management Department of the Ministry of Religious Affairs is responsible for ensuring that Brunei Muslims who go on hajj will be taken care of. In 1954, the haj management was looked after by the Office of Royal Customs, Religious Affairs and Welfare (Pejabat Istiadat, Ugama dan Kebajikan). It wasn't until 1960 when the Religious Affairs Office was set up on its own was a proper haj management division formed. The Religious Department was headed by the Principal of Religious Affairs but the haj management was overseen by a Haj Advisory Body which remained till today.

Before 1965, intending haj pilgrims will go to Mecca using ships via Singapore - the most famous ships are known as the Angking and Anshon. From 1965, some pilgrims started to fly by aeroplanes but the ships were still being used. It wasn't until 1975 that the ships stopped being used to carry the haj pilgrims. In October 1986, with the formation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Haj Management Department was officially set up.

However the management of Brunei haj pilgrims was still not as well managed as today. Until 1994, the majority of Brunei haj pilgrims will be looked after first by one of the Sheikhs of Mecca - Sheikh Ibrahim and Sheikh Ali Yassin were famous names in those days - all the pilgrims' bags would have those names written in huge jawi letters - and later by the Mausasah which is the organisation entrusted to look after all the pilgrims in Mecca. Then going on the mausasah was said to mean 'maha susah' (great difficulty) by the pilgrims. You would hear tales of pilgrims living in rundown buildings with no ventilation or extremely basic washroom facilities. The more well to do pilgrims go via private haj operators which was very expensive - even in the 1980s, it can cost more than $10,000 per person. However it wasn't until TAIB which was formed in 1991 and in turn formed the haj management agency Darussalam Holdings sometime in 1994, and only then the masses in Brunei get to enjoy better facilities as they enjoyed today.

Before our own airline Royal Brunei Airlines carry our own pilgrims, a number of airlines were used. I remembered in 1976 when my father was one of the haj officials, the pilgrims were flown using China Airlines. My wife who went in 1973 said she used a British airline and the flight attendants were all British. Nowadays, the Royal Brunei Airlines Boeing 767 are even fitted with ablution places so that pilgrims can pray on board the plane. The planes even fly direct to Medina and avoided the almost 6 hour bus trip from Jeddah to Medina.

Bruneians used to have interesting practises for pilgrims going on haj. Up to until recently, haj pilgrims would encased their bag in a net made up of ropes called the 'karut' (and the practise was known as 'mengarut bag') and I can tell you that it is very difficult to take off. This practise goes back to the days when pilgrims travel by ships and have their luggages thrown and needed the net to secure it from accidentally opening. Another practise was honouring the haj pilgrims. I remembered in the late 1960s when my late grandfather returned from the haj with his robe and igal and dark glasses, he sat on a chair and everyone else would just sit around on the floor listening to the tales from the holy land.

Other interesting practises include one where rooms of the pilgrims are undisturbed throughout the absence. In Kampung Ayer, this is taken to mean that even boats or sampans are not allowed to go under the house especially under the part of the house where the room was. The practise of building arches to commemorate the returning pilgrims was set way back and it is not a recent practise. In those days, practically all are handwritten but nowadays, some are professionally made.

Some practises which are no longer allowed include the 'puadai' - this is a long piece of uncut white cloth laid down so that the newly returned pilgrims step on it on the way to the house. There will be small scissor cuts every couple of feet or so, so that relatives can cut and keep the cloth the pilgrims step on. On the way, they will be feted with coins and rice thrown to the air and children would run to grab the coins. During the absence, their family members in Brunei would give or sedekah umbrellas, slippers and sugar canes in the hope that their relatives in Mecca would be well sheltered, shod and with ample water supply. I have also heard of practises of taking a clump of Brunei earth so that one will go back to Brunei and then the practise of taking small rocks and stones from the holy land.

There are many things related to the haj. It is after all as some described as 'small death' - you died and you are reborn after returning from the haj. Mudah-mudahan kesemua jemaah haji Brunei selamat dan mendapat haji yang mabrur. Amin. Selamat Pulang Ke Tanah Air to my cousin, Hajah Ramlah and her husband and also to Haji Nazri of MOD.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

RIPAS and the Cafetaria


My minister was hospitalised yesterday and we visited him. I did not realise the hospital is very busy around lunchtime. There were many people walking about and I have to admit it has been a while since I last visited the hospital. I always have this impression that hospitals should be quiet but I guess I was wrong.

The cafetaria was interesting. There were many people there and the cooperative running it is certainly making lots and lots of money. One of the more interesting observations is that a number of customers who has these little bandages on their arms (presumably after having their blood samples taken) are really having a feast. Most people who have their blood samples have to fast the night before and after having their blood taken are of course anxious to break their fast.

I used to be one of these people. It's interesting that - one is the fasting bit, but the other is that, it is like an exam, a few days before your blood samples is taken, you behave like an angel so that you blood samples supposedly show the good stuff. You know - like passing an examination. You study hard and then the exam. After the exam, you let your hair down and hence the trip to the cafetaria. You see all these people with their arms tucked in and them tucking into the food with gusto. Maybe someone from the medical community can tell us whether behaving well for a few days before the blood samples will show the 'right' results or whether this behaviour is any good.

I have to admit that the hospital is a really busy social place and that all our doctors and nurses are working very hard. That women and children's hospital I hope will be built soon. At least that will remove the burden from RIPAS. Let me also highlyight a blog which is run by a group of Brunei doctors who deserve all the support they can get at doctorsbrunei.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Australians in Brunei

As a historian, I sometimes wonder what if... During the second world war, the British virtually left Brunei, or rather the entire Southeast Asia defencelss. Strategically it is a good decision, mounting their might against the Germans in Europe. At the end of the war, it was not the British who came. The so-called Allied Forces which liberated Brunei from the Japanese were Australians. TS Monks who was in fact a Brit came together with the Australians, wrote about the end of the war in his book 'Brunei Days'.

Where the Australians landed on Muara Beach, a memorial has been built to dedicate to the men who served there. So, this coming Saturday, there will be a dedication to the memorial. I also found this on an Australian news website about a World War II Australian veteran who arrived in Brunei:-

"World War II veteran Rex Kawelmacher recalls there were no five-star hotels when he was last in Brunei.

After more than 60 years the Shellharbour resident will return to Brunei Darussalam this week.

He is one of six veterans who will attend the dedication of the Brunei-Australia memorial on Saturday.

The 84-year-old is curious and excited about the journey. His memories of Brunei include the sweltering heat and humidity and the stench of burning oil wells set alight by the retreating Japanese, fires that took three months to extinguish.

"They made a hell of a noise," he said.

More than 20,000 Australians from the Australian Army, Air Force and Navy took part in the operations in June 1945.

The memorial will honour the 114 Australians killed and 221 wounded in one of the final acts of World War II.

Originally from Ardlethan, in the Riverina, Mr Kawelmacher was just 17 when he first tried to enlist.

"They told me to go back home and grow," he said.

The following year - 1943 - the Australian government introduced conscription for 18-year-olds.

"They didn't tell me to go home a second time."

In November, 1943 Mr Kawelmacher joined the 2/17th Infantry Battalion as a reinforcement in New Guinea. The battalion returned to Far North Queensland to train for 13 months, before sailing north for the Borneo campaign.

On June 9, 1945, cruisers shelled Green Beach, just to the east of the Brunei Bluff on Borneo's mainland. The next day the battalion left HMAS Kanimbla and went ashore without resistance.

A forward scout, Mr Kawelmacher's B Company soon came in contact with a party of Japanese soldiers, killing two and taking a wounded prisoner.

Within three days the 2/17th had occupied the Brunei airstrip. By June 16, Brunei and the nearby island of Lauban were in Australian hands.

While the Japanese offered little resistance at Brunei, they faced a more determined enemy in the jungle of Labuan where more than 380 Japanese troops died.

The 114 Australians who died in the fighting are buried at the Labuan War Cemetery.

Mr Kawelmacher's unit continued to move along Borneo's South China Sea Coast until they were ordered to stop at the town of Seria in July 1945 where they remained until the war ended.

After four decades as a sheet-metalworker in western Sydney, Mr Kawelmacher and his wife Norma retired to Shellharbour in 1984. Apart from lawn bowls he remains a keen follower of the Shellharbour City Sharks.

The six veterans will also visit wartime locations in Malaysia and Singapore and lay wreaths and poppies at the Labuan War Cemetery."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Selamat Hari Raya Haji

Two of the most important Islamic holidays of the year are Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. Brunei as the rest of the world is celebrating Hari Raya Haji or Hari Raya Korban or Eid ul Adha. Do you know the history behind it?

We know Hari Raya Eid ul Fitr or Hari Raya Aidil Fitri as we say in Brunei marks the end of the long fasting month of Ramadan, Eid-ul-Adha marks the end of Hajj, the sacred pilgrimage to the holy city Mecca. Also popularly known as the Festival of Sacrifice, this Muslim holiday Eid-ul-Adha commemorates Nabi Ibrahim’s unselfish act of sacrificing his own son Nabi Ismail to Allah.

The history behind Eid-ul-Adha follows the story of the faithful Nabi Ibrahim, who was instructed by Allah in a dream to raise the foundations of Kaabah, a black stone, the most sacred Muslim shrine in Mecca. Immediately responding to Allah's command, Nabi Ibrahim set off for Mecca along with his wife and son, Nabi Ismail. At that time, Mecca was a desolate and barren desert and Nabi Ibrahim had to face a lot of hardships. However, he supplicated Allah’s commands uncomplaining.

In a divine dream, he also saw himself sacrificing his son Nabi Ismail for Allah’s sake. When he told this to Nabi Ismail, the latter immediately asked his father to carry out Lord’s commands without faltering and assured that he was completely ready to give up his life for God. But miraculously enough, when Nabi Ibrahim was about to sacrifice Nabi Ismail, Allah spared the boy’s life and replaced him with a lamb. And this is what Nabi Ibrahim ultimately sacrificed.

To commemorate this outstanding act of sacrifice (qurbani) by Nabi Ibrahim, people sacrifice a lamb, goat, ram or any other animal on Eid-ul-Adha and give the meat to friends, neighbors, relatives and the needy. People who are away from the holy pilgrimage, Hajj, also carry out this traditional sacrifice. Hence Eid-ul-Adha is also known as the Feast of Sacrifice or the Day of Sacrifice.

Eid-ul-Adha begins from the 10th day of the 12th Islamic month Dhul-Hijjah. But the date of Eid-ul-Adha depends on the visibility of the moon each year. Eid-ul-Adha is known by different names in different parts of the world. For instance, Eid-ul-Adha is known by the name Hari Raya Aidil Adha in south-east Asia. In Brunei and Singapore, the local name for Eid-ul-Adha is Hari Raya Haji and in Malaysia, people refer to this festival as Id al-Adha and have made it a national holiday there. Indians know Eid-ul-Adha as Id al-Adha or Idu’z Zuha. And in Bangladesh, Eid-ul-Adha is known as Eid-ul-Azha or sometimes even Id al-Adha. But whatever the name, the celebratory spirit of Eid-ul-Adha runs high among Muslims all over the world, the geographical variations notwithstanding.

Selamat Hari Raya Haji to the visitors of bruneiresources.blogspot.com today!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Rainforest Kidzworld

My son wanted to go to the Singapore Zoo. My better half and I were quite reluctant as we have been there quite a number of times already. The white tiger attack on one of the zookeepers too We have seen the day version and the night version (night safari) over the last few years. But on Thursday, I was reading the newspaper and saw the Singapore Zoo's advertisement advertising their latest exhibit the "Rainforest Kidzworld".

So off we went yesterday morning and I think we were not the only ones who read that advert. Half of Singapore was there and the queue to get the entrance tickets when we got there was about three hundred meters long. It was that long and it took us quite a while just to get to the end of it. But the good thing is that even though the queue was long, it moved very fast. The zoo had six counters and it took us around 25 minutes to get the tickets. Even then when we were queueing, the assistants took our ticket preferences and by the time we got to the counters, we just gave the lady the small piece of paper thus saving lots of time.

The new exhibit has nothing much to do with animals. The main exhibit was a splashy area full of water, the rides around it are a carousel, pony rides, animal farm plus a few other fun things like the flying fox etc. That in itself is already good enough to attract kids like bees to the honey. By the time we left, we could have counted all the animals we actually saw in the zoo. Most of the visit was taken up visiting the new exhibits.

This is what gets me. We went to the zoo not to visit animals but to do something else altogether. In fact we did not even want to go to the zoo but was attracted to the zoo because it changed itself - adapting to the needs of the children while at the same time keeping to the theme of zoo keeping. The crowd management was good and even the trams when full kept on coming thus our tram queue was no longer than about 10 minutes. I guess there are many lessons here for us.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bolt?

Yesterday was just spend the day away during the holiday kind of thing. We did not have any specific plan but just to jalan-jalan makan angin if I may use the phrase. We found ourselves at an old place in Singapore, the Plaza Singapura. Plaza Singapura is one of the oldest shopping centre in Singapore. I remembered the place when I was already here for my secondary education at Telok Kurau in 1976. Yet, in 1976, Plaza Singapura was already well established. It must be close to 40 years old.

From what I can see yesterday is that what's amazing for a building that's 40 years old is that it has kept to pace with its competitors along Orchard Road. I can't remember a building in Brunei which has managed to keep pace with its competitors. Most of our buildings, once they have lost to other competitors, generally began a downward spiral to oblivion.

Anyway, one of the ways that Plaza Singapura has kept up to date was by having a 10 cinemas cineplex run by Golden Village. We checked the schedule and we found that Bolt was playing. I have no idea what Bolt was all about. All I know was that it was another Disney's animated movie and to me that was good enough to enable me to purchase two adults (at $8.50 each) and a child's ticket (at $6.50) to watch the movie.

Generally I have a pretty good idea what a movie was all about before I walked in. This time I did not even have time to read a review or a sypnosis of the movie. So I walked in totally not knowing the story line. I was pleasantly surprised about the movie and certainly enjoyed the movie. There were parts of the movie which was hillarious but generally it was all ok fun. You know the usual Disney stuff. I don't want to spoil your Bolt experience so I won't say anything about it. Other than it is fun. So go and spend your hard earned money watching it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Beribi Roundabout

My favourite and the number ONE Brunei cartoonist, Cuboiart - his latest cartoon is about the Beribi Roundabout. A roundabout, many people I know tried to avoid but unfortunately it is still the best way to get around the area. I tried to avoid it whenever I can. For instance going to Kiulap from Batu Satu, I would rather go through the small streets of RIPAS and Kiarong and emerging at the traffic lights near Jame'. Even to the point, I would rather go up to RIPAS and going back down the other way just to avoid the Beribi roundabout.

However lately I noticed that it's not that bad using the roundabout. People are more careful and do use the right lanes. Our ministry's pet peeve is that there is one lane too many especially the one joining the road to the pasar area. So cars emerging from the Beribi area have to be contend with cars going to the pasar area as well as cars going down the highway towards Berakas.

Sometimes I wonder whether all those adverts issued by the Road Safety Council is effective given that it is shown on RTB. I watched RTB but I get the feeling that I am in the minority. So I do hope that the Road Safety Council keeps up their efforts in making sure that the rules are being informed to all road users. I think we have to use those giant billboards too. I remembered the most memorable one I saw many years ago in Jakarta was this - Keluarga Anda Menanti Anda Di Rumah - Your Family is Waiting for you at Home. I thought you can't get any more direct than that.

The interesting bit is that it is the Road Safety Council which coordinates traffic and transportation policies in the country. You see, engineering portion is handled by our Road Department at PWD, the enforcement is done by the Police and for commercial vehicle it is done by Land Transport Department and LTD also handled other related matters. These three agencies belong to three different ministries. No one has come up with a better model than the one done by the Japanese. They had the Traffic Management Agency which coordinates everything. Maybe we can try that one day.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Shopping in Singapore?

I don't have to tell you where I am together with my family for the next few days. We arrived yesterday afternoon and had been hitting the road since then. Other than a few Bruneians who are in Singapore for treatment, not that many Bruneians are making Singapore a holiday target.

Yesterday was interesting. We flew on SIA flight, it was a Boeing 777 which means a passenger load of 280 to 320 and it was a full flight. Yet when we landed at Changi Airport, there was only my family and a handful of other passengers who were waiting for our baggage. Where did the other passengers go? I know of a Darussalam tour group to Beijing and a group of Pakistanis going back to Karachi and Lahore as I saw the connecting flight signs as we exited. I guess, many Bruneians used SIA but not to go to Singapore.

What's the point? You see, I came from a different era. I remembered a time in the 1970s and 1980s, Bruneians flocked to Singapore like crazy. You bake cakes - you come to Singapore. Why? Because you can buy all the things you ever needed to make cakes are available at Geylang (that particular shops still existed). You repair cars - you come to Singapore. Why? Because Singapore has all the car spare parts there is at a price much cheaper than Brunei. You need kain - you come to Singapore. Why? Because Singapore has all the kains there is.

Mind you in those days, tambang was like $199 for a three day weekend and $219 for a four day stay. Today, airline tickets are expensive and not to mention also that hotel stays in Singapore too are also expensive. But the biggest change, our shops in Brunei started selling the same items as in Singapore. Internet happened too. Now we can order what we want online. We don't even send that many patients to Singapore anymore. Singapore has lost its competitve edge at least in the mindset of Bruneians.

In the cosmic time, a change over 10 to 20 years is only like a blink of an eye. The changing shopping pattern came quickly that many people had forgotten that they used to come to Singapore to shop. We were asked where were we going for our holidays and we said Singapore. We got quizzical looks. See. People don't see Singapore as a shopping paradise anymore.

Going back - what's the point of all these? Changes are fleeting. Today we are an oil producer - tomorrow? Today we are seen as a very rich country - tomorrow? I leave you with that thought.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bangar and Old Text Book

When we were in Temburong for our ministry's away day, I took sometime off to visit Bangar. I was not allowed to take part in OBBD's activities because of my rather too heavy frame and other associated medical problems. So I missed out on the rafting and the intentional overturning of the rafting where every passenger ended up in the water. I certainly missed not being thrown in the cold water of the Temburong River.... not!

Anyway, while all my colleagues were having 'fun' in the water, I went to Bangar with Zainal Tinggal, the Mind Over Matter consultant. Even though I have been to Temburong a few times this year, I have never actually seen or visited the shops in Bangar. I managed to drop in to the TAP branch at Bangar. I remembered when I was the Managing Director for TAP, the management team would visit the Bangar branch once every month. The TAP Branch is a two man operation and the visit would last something like 10 minutes. This branch knows all the employers in Temburong and if there is any late payment of contribution, that employer would get a personal call from the branch manager.

We found one bookshop or the nearest equivalent to a bookshop in Bangar. Bookshops in Brunei are not known for their flair in displaying their books. This one takes particular pride in hiding books. While browsing, I found somewhere hidden at the back, this particular book. This is an old Primary School history text book writeen some 22 years ago (1986).

I don't know what the new primary school history text books look like. This one is interesting as it contains many things about Brunei that I want to know about. It did not read like a reading for 9 year olds. It had photographs that will appear in this blog in the future. So to me, it is an interesting find for a book that only cost $3. Whether the other two copies which that bookshop still has will ever be sold will be an interesting question.

The only inaccuracy that I could gather was this one. As far as I can tell, the prehistoric humans and dinosaurs did not belong to the same era. Dinosaurs belong to the Cretaceous, Jurassic, and Triassic eras many millions of years ago. Modern human is said to be about 40,000 years ago. It has been argued that the only reason why these two species did not meet was because no one ever found fossils of the two species. Though, the Creationists have been arguing strongly against this argument. I leave it at that.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Brunei Economic Bulletin September 2008

The Economic Planning and Development Department (JPKE) issued two publications recently. One I have already highlighted which was the handbook. The other was the first issue of Volume 6 of the Brunei Economic Bulletin. This was published in September and released last month.

I wanted to put up the link of the pdf of the bulletin but surprisingly JPKE only had the link to the May issue. I guess if you want the pdf copy, you would have to wait. If someone from JPKE is reading this, please put up the latest pdf. You got the old pdf there. So there, hopefully by the time you get to reading this, JPKE would have put up the latest bulletin on line.

The report only covers Quarter 1 of 2008 so it is slightly out of date and has not captured the latest economic crisis that the world is facing. But then the data was already showing signs of trouble. Economic growth for the Q1 was already down 4.9% year on year. Total loan increased by 29.5% but the size of NPL (non performing loans) at least was down to 9.9% compared to 11.4% the previous quarter. Fiscal surplus was up - during Q1, oil price was still high. Though inflation (measured through CPI) was up 1.4%. Production of Brunei's crude oil was around 192,633 barrels a day, although high is 5% lower that the same period last year, though LNG production increased 5.6%.

The Bulletin also covers four additional articles - all useful to economists - the progress of RKN project implementation, inflation dynamics across different types of household consumption basket, a macro overview of the rise in food prices and its implications on food security, and BEDB's update on oil and gas downstream activities.

If you need a copy badly, write to JPKE.

Inspirational Quotes

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