[Note: My article below was published in Brunei Times about a month ago and was actually based on my blog entry about 2 years ago.]
[This sketch of Kampong Ayer was published in the Illustrated London News on 27 June 1857.]
Prior to the 1960s, Bruneians have their own concept of time. A number of our elderly Bruneians, when you asked them do not know exactly when they were born. Sometime some do not even have birth certificates to prove that they were born in whatever years. Even though it was in the 1920s that births in Brunei first started to be registered, it was after the Second World War that many births were officially registered and birth certificates were issued. But there are still a number who do not have birth certificates to prove what year they were born.
Some of our elderly folks then were not literate in the ways of the British to register their children. There are many cases in the civil service where the elderly siblings are still working but the younger ones have reached retirement age. This is because the elderly ones can claim any year that he was born but the younger ones have birth certificates which show the exact year when he was born.
In many cases, to determine how old a person really is, one can ask them how big or how old were they when a certain event took place. It seemed that there were several major events in Brunei between the 1900s to 1950s.
‘Beras bau tahi’ (cooked rice smelling like feces): this event took place around early 1900s - there was an episode when the rice that was available in the country was of such low quality that it smelled very badly. Some say that at that time, the rice was imported and by the time it reached Brunei, the rice had turned bad and when cooked, it smelt so bad. The smell was probably that of sulphur. It is not known whether the rice consumption dropped during that time.
‘Perang Jerman’ or German War – this is actually the First World War which took place around 1914. The Bruneians called this war Perang Jerman or German War so as to distinguish it from the Second World War which is known as Perang Jepun or Japanese War. The War did not affect Brunei much and even though technically it was a World War but it was mainly between the Germans and the rest of the world.
Though according to the Brunei Annual Reports of the years during the War, there were some indirect effects. The most affected was the importation of rice. Due to the war, ships were not easily available to deliver rice and other products. There was a rice shortage and in 1914 this was coupled with a bad drought. Locally grown rice in the country was affected by the drought and could not overcome the short supply of rice.
Even though it was not involved in the war, Brunei was firmly on the side of the Allies. The Brunei Annual Reports of 1916 and 1918 reported that His Highness the Sultan ‘has frequently expressed his loyalty to His Majesty the King, and prayers are offered in the mosques for the success of the British army’. When the armistice was announced on 14 November 1918, His Highness the Sultan ‘gave orders that prayers of thanksgiving should be said in the mosque: these continued all night, His Highness attending’.
‘Rahmat’ or ‘Blessed’. This episode took place around 1920s and during this period, a cholera epidemic broke out in Brunei. A number of Bruneians died during this time. However the Bruneians stoically carried on. They did not blame anyone but just called the deaths of their loved ones as being ‘blessed’ and hence the period was called ‘Rahmat’.
‘Tamoi Angus’ or Tamoi Village burnt – this episode was around the mid 1920s. There was a huge fire at Kampong Tamoi, one of the villages at Kampong Ayer. Technically, this fire when it broke out was not as big as the fire which had inundated the villages at Kampong Ayer in recent times. But when it happened, the fire at Kampong Tamoi was considered then as the largest those people alive they have ever seen and this became an event marker.
‘Perang Jepun’ or Japanese War. This is to distinguish between the First and Second World War. This episode took place in the 1940s.
Even though the war was fought by the Allied Forces against the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan), however it was the Japanese that invaded Brunei and occupied Brunei from 1942 to 1945. Even though in the beginning, the Japanese presence was tolerated but towards the end of war, the benevolent attitude of the Japanese Army in Brunei changed. So much so, the Sultan and his family had to flee to Tantaya, a village near Limbang.
‘Orang Australia datang’ or literally the Australian people came. This episode took place during the end of the Second World War when the Australian Army arrived as part of the Allied Forces driving out the Japanese who were occupying Brunei at that time.
The Allied Forces which came were mostly made up of soldiers from Australia and it was the Australian Army which landed in Muara and eventually recaptured Brunei Town from the Japanese. However with the Australian Army were also some British army officers and they formed the core of the British Military Administration until 1946. The BMA ran the government until the British Resident returned back to Brunei. Many elderly Bruneians remembered the Australian soldiers.
‘Marhum Puspa’ or the Coronation of Al-Marhum. Al-Marhum refered to the late father of His Majesty the Sultan. This event took place in 1951 when His Royal Highness Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien was coronated as the 28th Sultan of Brunei Darussalam.
His Royal Highness ascended the throne on 4 June 1950 when his elder brother Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin suddenly died, leaving no male heir to succeed him. His Royal Highness who was also the Duli Pengiran Bendahara was proclaimed the 28th Sultan on 6 June 1950.
However, the coronation took place at Lapau DiRaja (The Royal Ceremonial Hall) on 31 May 1951. It was during this ceremony that Al-Marhum was awarded the British medal, the Champion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG). It was not until he visited London in 1953 to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England that his CMG was upgraded to Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) which gave him the title ‘Sir’.
Additionally one can also add the following timelines in Brunei history:-
‘Masa Pemberuntakan’ or Rebellion Time (1962) – this referred to the rebellion which took place on 8 December 1962 when a rebellion broke out trying to overthrow the government. The word ‘pemberuntakan’ referred to the word ‘memberontak’ which is the Malay word for ‘rebellion’.
In the latter 1960s, we have the abdication of His Royal Highness Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien which took place in 1967. We have the Coronation of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah which took place on 1 August 1968. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Brunei which took place in 1970 was also a significant time stone.
In the 1970s, the main event we have events such as the renaming of Bandar Brunei or Pekan Brunei or Brunei Town which took place in October 1970. And of course the famous date in 1980s was the declaration of the Brunei Independence on the eve of 1 January 1984.