One of the more interesting aspects of my current job is that every single land transaction in this country cross my table and boy do I have interesting tales to tell but I won't - OSA. What I found interesting is that over the last 12 months I noticed that is that there is a tendency for certain groups to own land and not others. For instance, people from Tutong tended to own land and interestingly enough tended to give them or pass them down rather than sell those lands. There is not much loyalty for those in the Brunei Muara District. In Temburong, land holdings tended to be huge tracts - more than a few acres and sold or transferred in huge tracts as well.
It struck me as I come from those whose families do not own land. My ancestors did not pass anything down and yet when I go through some of the land titles, some of the lands were passed down generations. I have always wondered why is that for instance the Tutong people and the Kedayan people own lands and yet those Kampong Ayer descendants don't. After all there were similar conditions and prior to 1950s, acquiring land was cheap enough. A simple deposit of around $5 then is sufficient.
Curiously enough, the answer lies during the British Residency. In the earlier years, the government imposed a poll tax rather like the poll tax on residents in UK at the moment. Poll tax is cukai kepala as some people would say. It is not based on income or any property but a cukai for your existence and living in the country. The poll tax however was not applicable to the Kampong Ayer residents. So people living in Kampong Ayer did not have to pay any cukai. However it applies to everyone else. But, the government told those people, if you own land or acquire land and pay land tax, you don't have to pay the poll tax. And the government helped those people to acquire land by giving them away. In the early days of the Residency, those living on dry land are the Kedayans etc and they were given some 15 acres each. So this led to groups of people owning land and groups who don't.
Why did the British do this? First of all, the British wanted agriculture to take root in Brunei. Remember, these were the days prior to the discovery of oil. So the land was given away so that agriculture can take root and forced the condition that these land must be planted, if not, the land can be taken away (and some were taken away by the British). Secondly, the British was in some sense practising social engineering. In those days, the Kampong Ayer residents were either fishermen or craftsmen and some were traders. The British wanted farmers and the Kampong Ayer people in those days refused to move on to dry land to become farmers. My sense was the British government tried to make sure that everyone earned a living, hence fishermen, craftsmen, traders and farmers.
But obviously a hundred years down the road, it led to groups of people with real estate in their hands and those who do not have real estates but had to buy them in order to acquire one.