Monday, September 28, 2009

Nobilities of Brunei

I was doing a bit of research for the Civil Service Day article which was published yesterday on Brunei Times. I am sure most readers by now know that the title of the Cheterias and Pehins are like today's Minister. If you are appointed as Pengiran Cheteria or Pehin so and so, you are being appointed as a Minister for a particular portfolio. For instance, Pengiran Derma Wangsa would be the head of municipal issues, whereas Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Wangsa would be the supervisor of municipal issues.

I was thinking of listing those duties for the article as part of the history of the civil service but I decided against it. It's just too long and so I only picked a couple of examples.

The other interesting was how some of the titles have changed. The material I referred to is a 1975 article on adat istiadat published by Brunei Museum Journals. Compared to today, some of the major changes are as follows:-

Today's Title (in paranthesis is the Old Title):

Pengiran Perdana Wazir Sahibul Himmah Wal-Waqar (new)

Pengiran Perdana Cheteria Laila Diraja Sahibun Nabalah (new)

Pengiran Perdana Cheteria Sahibun Najabah (new)

Pengiran Pekerma Setia Diraja Sahibul Bandar (Pengiran Shahbandar Sahibul Bandar)

Pengiran Indera Sahibul Karib (new)

Pengiran Maharaja Setia Laila Diraja Sahibul Irshad (new)

Pengiran Paduka Tuan (no longer exist)

Pengiran Maharaja Adinda (no longer exist)

Pehin Orang Kaya Di-Gadong Seri Diraja (Pehin Orang Kaya Di-Gadong Seri Nara Indera)

Maybe I will continue on an old abandoned series. The duties of the Cheterias and Pehins. I started one about a year ago and I stopped.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Raya Blues

During Hari Raya or any other festivities, when we are with our families and close friends, we often forget that there are people out there with no one to talk to, no one to visit or no one to care about them. Hari Raya can be the most poignant to many people out there. If you were formerly a student overseas, you would know it. It is so sad to be away from families. Luckily nowadays many Brunei students live very near to other Brunei students and the phone or the plane are all within reach.

There was a letter to Brudirect where the writer talked about how lonely he was during Hari Raya. Both his parents had died and he could not share the joyfulness of Hari Raya. A number of comments commented that he should open up and visit other people. While I am not going to comment what is right or what is wrong, everybody is entitled to form their own opinion and for that person to think what is best.

What struck me is the letter. There was no one else he could write to, other than the whole world. Many of us live in pressure cookers. One little thing can explode. We want to talk to someone but not everyone has a loving family or close relative or close friend they could turn to.

Public Works Department now has a hotline number. This hotline number is meant for the public to call in about emergency or services related to PWD such as your water supply, your roads, your drains etc. However it is manned 24 hours a day and you get a voice when you called. I have been told that the 140 hotline is getting strange calls like how come he gets a scholarship and I don't. Many of the people who called obviously knew that 140 hotline for PWD is meant for PWD services but the callers just did not know who to call.

In many countries, there is an organisation that deals with questions or just a voice to talk to. I remembered the Samaritans in UK that does this. I checked their website and the Common reasons to call Samaritans are:

+ Relationship and family problems
+ Loss, including loss of a job, a friend or a family member through bereavement
+ Financial worries
+ Job-related stress or overwork
+ College or study related stress
+ Body image issues

I know this should be a government issue but I think this would rather be much better to be tackled by an NGO. If there are people out there who are interested in forming the equivalent of a Samaritan group in Brunei that can help with problems our people are facing, perhaps we can talk about it? Or better still, someone be proactive and does something about it?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Selamat Hari Raya

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.

My family and I would like to wish everyone Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri Maaf Zahir Batin. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for your support and also to apologise for any bahasa yang terkasar, perbuatan yang menyinggungkan and all that and pray that the world will be a good place for us all to live in regardless of race, language or religion.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Zakat Fitrah

I brought my 9 year old boy yesterday to the mosque to see the paying of the fitrah for the first time. I told him that if the fitrah is not paid, then our pahala for the fasting will not be delivered. He kept a copy of the receipt and told me that it is proof that it has been paid.

I went to the mosque at about 12 noon and was the only one seen paying for it. The other imams were sitting there waiting for people to pay their zakat but there does not seem to be anyone paying it. But after the Friday prayer, the queues at each imam were really long. If you want to avoid long queues, pay early.

So, this is a reminder. If you have not paid your zakat fitrah or your parents or your other half, please do so by today. Tonight is the sighting of the new moon and if it is sighted, you have until tomorrow before Sembahyang Hari Raya to pay for it. If anyone reading this is not from Brunei and would like to share how much it is that you have to pay wherever you are outside Brunei, please, you are welcome to do so. We can share it with the world.

This year, the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) has set the value of Fitrah Tithe that must be paid by each Muslim at 2kg 268g of rice, which can be paid in money - $1.93 for normal rice and B$2.84 for fragrant rice, whichever rice is consumed by a family.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Brunei's National Flower?

[Photograph of Simpur taken from trek earth]

Someone ask whether I can post about the national flower, simpur? This is interesting. I am not sure when simpur became our national flower. But definitely during the APEC Summit which Brunei hosted in 2000, simpur was part of the official APEC 2000 design and simpur by then if you don't know it already was definitely on its way to becoming Brunei's national flower. Posting about it is easy.

The APEC 2000 website is still alive and has a nice description about the Bunga Simpur or Simpor as it is used in the article on the APEC 2000 website. It was written by Drs Idris M. Said of the Forestry Department, Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources.


The Simpor belongs to a genus of plants called Dillenia, a name derived from the personal name Dillenius, a German botanist (1684-1747). There are some 60 species of the Simpor in the world, which are distributed in the region extending from Madagascar in the west to Australasia in the east.

In Brunei Darussalam, eight species of Simpor are known, two of which, Dillenia beccariana (the River Simpor) and Dillenia suffruticosa (Simpor Bini), are more common. The Simpor species are usually trees, but some can be rather shrubby. The Simpor has yellow flowers, usually conspicuous and showy.

The River Simpor (Dillenia beccariana) is depicted on the front side of Brunei one-dollar note. The species is a small tree, and it is fairly common along the rivers, especially the Temburong River, and it can be easily observed as one takes a river journey to the Ulu Temburong National Park. Apart from along the rivers, the River Simpor is also found in other areas.

The Simpor Bini (Dillenia suffruticosa) is also widespread in distribution, and it can grow in various habitats. It can be found commonly in the white sands areas, as well in secondary growth and in swamps. In the white sands, the Simpor Bini is a very important species. It acts as a pioneer species, colonizing the white sands where other tree species are unable to establish themselves on the white sands. The Simpor Bini is known to have seeds that can establish on the white sands, and on germinating, are able to send roots very deep down to reach underground water source. The low spreading shrubs that develop will eventually provide shade for seedlings of other tree species to establish themselves. Islands of fresh vegetation will be initially formed, and eventually a new forest is established.

This significant ecological role of the Simpor is something which should be given due appreciation. The Simpor Bini is an indicator of underground water source, and traditionally some wells were dug based on the presence of the Simpor Bini. Some species of the Simpor have a unique fruit, which splits open like a star to expose the seeds to the birds for effective dispersal. The inner bark of the Simpor is rather thick with radial lines and fairly loosely fibrous, such that it produces a hissing sound when cut, a unique feature associated with the Simpor.

There were various traditional uses attributed to the Simpor. The Simpor Bini was used for the treatment of wounds in stopping bleeding. The pulp of the fruits of a certain species was used for hair wash.

One significant aspect of the Simpor is that the flower is often used in Brunei art known as 'Ayer Muleh’, which is an artistic vegetative design used for decoration in traditional handicrafts, but which is now more widely used in the printed form.

The timber is usually hard or very hard, with twisted grain, but of limited use. The flowers are sometimes eaten. The usually large and stiff leaves are also used, e.g. as platters and food wrappers. The mature or old leaves of some species contain a deposit of silica in their tissues and thus they were once used as sandpaper. The Simpor flower has large brightly coloured petals, spreading like an umbrella over the clumped or united stamens, which are positioned in the middle portion.

The unique blossoming of the flower and the green color of its leaves symbolizes the development of our economy's investment (from fruit) towards better economic growth (to flower) and the prosperity of the APEC region.

The plant itself is quite hardy and can grow and survive anywhere, thus symbolizing the stability of the APEC region to survive any challenges, particularly the economic downturn.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unattainable Wish

If someone was to ask me what is it that you want? There are many things that many of us want and I too have my own wants. But I am pretty much satisfied with the Al-Mighty's gifts.

However philatelically, there is something I want the most. That one is this Brunei's stamp during the Japanese Occupation in the second World War. During the War, the Japanese overprinted Brunei's stamps with their Imperial Japanese mark and used these stamps. These stamps are all highly valued because not many were available due to the fact that not many people were sending out letters during the War - the Allied (British, Australians etc) were captured and who on earth were the then Brunei people want to write to?

The most expensive of all the overprinted Brunei is this one. This 1 cent stamp overprinted for $3 payment for telegraphic use is valued at about $12,0000 to $15,000 today! Get hold of one and you can live quite happily to the end of days. However, I acquired this stamp recently. And most of you readers are thinking WoW!

Unfortunately this is not the real McCoy. This is a fake and I paid pittance for it. Relatively speaking pittance but even fakes still cost a fair bit. If ever you find an original one hidden somewhere in your grandfatherh's stamp collection that looks almost like this or better than this and want to know who will pay good money for it, let me know. I can't offer $12,000 but let me know, we can work out a new price.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy Families II

Yesterday, many happy families received their houses. By the afternoon, today and for the next few days, many of them will be rushing in to move into their houses in Lumapas and Rimba. Many of them too will be rushing to the shops to stock up their houses for the upcoming Hari Raya.

A few other families will be happy today. I have already wrote about the Majlis Ugama Islam Brunei funding houses for the needy and the poor. Currently we are building about 19 houses for these families. A few of them are now ready and will be officially handed over to them. The informal committee of ministers - the Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports and the Minister of Development will be at various houses today and tomorrow officially handing over the houses to their respective owners. We were hoping to get all the houses ready for Hari Raya. Unfortunately a number was delayed because of the soil conditions and other factors. But the majority are almost near completion and can be handed to the recipients by October.

I will be accompanying my minister later this afternoon to hand over the above house to the recipients. We have been helping them move in over the last few days. I am glad that the staff at MOD have been especially helpful in giving donations that the family will be able to enjoy their own home for the first time in their life complete with furnishings. Hopefully the old couple can now live out their old age in peace.

These families need help. I am glad that there are now a few groups out there who are helping out these people. Under our list at the moment are about 20 families who now has funding to build houses to be paid for by the Majlis Ugama Islam, we have identified the area and we will start work soon. There are another 500 applicants which the Secretariat are now interviewing one by one. About 100+ interviews have been completed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy Families

[Model of Class A house at Rimba - price $92,000]

Today some 223 families would be ballotting for their houses. They will get their keys and they will be able to move in by later today if they can clear all the paperwork.

The Housing Development Department has two housing areas completed recently, about 200 over houses at Lumapas and more than 320 houses in Rimba. Out of the 200+ houses in Lumapas, the final 92 will now be given out whereas in Rimba, all the 320 houses will balloted out. There are some 200 additional houses will be given out as soon as the new contractor starts work taking over from a previous contractor who could not complete their contract.

There should be 405 families today but only 223 families will be getting the ballots, the others have rejected the houses they have been allocated.

Out of the 92 houses in Lumapas for STKRJ, only 42 will turn up today thus leaving 50 houses to be balloted next time. For Rimba, out of 83 class A houses, only 67 families, out of 78 class C, only 43 and out of 152 terrace houses, only 71. The remaining 182 families have opted to wait out for the next cycle citing the houses or the areas are not suitable for them. At the same time, houses are now allocated based on salaries. This is to ensure that the recipients still have sufficient income to support themselves.

What are the public housing options within the next year? About 200 houses will be balloted in Lumut and Sungai Liang before the end of this year. About 400 houses (200 not taken up and another 200 to be completed by next year) to be balloted in Rimba by next year. Another 1,000+ will be available by end of next year at Meragang. About 50+ will be available in Bangar.

All the houses are heavily subsidised. The prices paid by the recipients are below the cost of construction, the prices do not include the value of the land, the cost of development of the land, the infrastructures such as roads, drainage, sewerage, street lights and other facilities built in that area.

Long term prospects? The three districts of Belait, Tutong and Temburong will see zero queue by the end of the 5 year RKN, STKRJ demand in all four districts will also see zero queue but RPN demand for Brunei District is still growing. The big issue. Land areas suitable for large scale housing in Brunei District is scarce. The two big areas left are Lugu (done by Housing Department) and Mengkubau (to be done by BEDB). After these two areas, are the people ready to go high?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Modern But Gone Kampong Ayer

Apologies to those who visit my blog in the early morning. Today, the posting is late. You see, I start my leave today. A few weeks ago, I realised that I have not taken leave for Hari Raya for about 20 years. I remembered the first few years before I got married, I did take Raya leave to join my parents when they were posted to Singapore but that was in the 1980s.

Anyway for this leave, I haven't planned on doing anything much but just to enjoy the atmosphere of spending the last few days in Ramadhan with my family before Hari Raya plus catch up with my quran reading. I have about 4 juz left. Hahahaha... the phone just rang. I have just been called back to go to the office.

Anyway, before I go, I want to post this photograph:

This to me is a modern postcard of Brunei. But go to Kampong Ayer and see if you can find this scene. This scene has already gone. There used to be many shops in Kampong Ayer especially the shops fronting the road which has now been demolished to make way for the riverfront at Yayasan. I remembered too there was a walkway where there was a makeshift market and many people used to go there to buy fish. That has gone too.

This is a modern postcard but you find that it is not as modern as you think. In fact, think of it. There are many things we have lost recently. Buy any postcard of Jerudong Park. The postcards being sold still shows the rides which are no longer there. I am already buying these postcards. They are already history.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

First Arch

You must be thinking, what is extraordinary about this arch? We all know where this is. This is the traditional arch on Jalan Sultan in between the Secretariat Building and the General Post Office Building. You cannot imagine His Majesty's birthday without an arch in that location.

This photo is actually a postcard which is part of my collection. I collect old Brunei postcards as part of my hobbies. This one attracted me because this is the first arch made for His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's Birthday. This one was erected in 1968. Remember His Majesty ascended the throne when his father, Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien abdicated in October 1967. So in July 1968, it was the first celebration of His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's birthday as the Sultan of Brunei.

If you look closely, it is not one arch. There is an arch behind the first one. So there are actually two arches erected there.

This postcard is more than 41 years old now.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gula Anau

Many people know about gula melaka or gula anau. They are not quite the same thing and sometimes mistake gula melaka is gula anau. Honestly I did until I had to do tomorrow's articles about Brunei cakes for Hari Raya (as usual will be published in Brunei Times Sunday Edition).

This sugar was and continued to be a very important ingredient for local delicacies. For those who loved cindul temburong, the gula anau in fluid form is packed separately. Without it, many local delicacies could not be made. Today gula anau is easily available at the tamu. In the past, searches for this sugar would start months before the fasting month. This sugar was not easy to be made and hence the long waiting period. It can take days for the sugar to be made.

How do you make gula anau? The process is similar to making gula melaka or palm sugar. The only difference is the source of the main ingredient. Palm sugar was originally made from the sugary sap of the date tree. However for local use, it is made from the sago or nipah trees (for ‘gula anau’) or coconut trees (for ‘gula melaka’). It is made by making several slits into the bud of a palm or coconut tree and collecting the sap.

Then, the sap is boiled until it thickens.

For ‘gula melaka’, it is poured into bamboo tubes between 3 to 5 inches long and left to solidify to form the familiar cylindrical cake blocks. For ‘gula anau’, it is sold in solid paste form and nowadays sold in plastic bags. For those buying larger quantities, it will be sold in large cans. The sugar is a hard golden brown paste.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Looking at the Past

I don't know how many of my blog readers know Tuan Haji Ahmad Arshad. As a small boy, Haji Ahmad regularly appears on television. I always remember him giving his enthuasistic report on the Legislative Council in the late 1970s and early 1980s before the Legislative Council was kept on hold. Somehow I don't remember anyone else. I remembered there was someone else but up to now, all I can remember his him.

Haji Ahmad started his career as a peon (today called Pembantu Pejabat) and worked his way up to be the Head of Current Affairs at RTB by the end of his career. He worked for a time as a Press Officer at MOE in the 1990s. He has written a number of articles and has published them in compilations of books.

However, the one that I remembered the most was his articles which he wrote for Pelita Brunei. From about November 2001 to October 2003, he wrote about 100 articles about Brunei. I would say that his writings were among the writings that I read that eventually inspired me to write for this blogsite and also for Brunei Times. He wrote short articles about 800 to 1000 words (same as my articles in BT) which he published in Pelita Brunei. Unlike yours truly, he wrote from his experiences. He was born in Kampong Peramu in Kampong Ayer in 1940. His childhood was in Kampong Ayer and he remembered the Brunei of the 1940s and 1950s very well.

If you read the first article of my book, The Golden Warisan Volume 2, I have an article entitled 'Berjanawari'. For many readers, that is the first time that they have read about this water festival in Brunei. For me, I first read it in Haji Ahmad's column on Pelita Brunei. There are many other things which Haji Ahmad touched and I unabashedly have been regurgitating his articles as articles for The Golden Legacy column. I indeed have a lot to thank him for.

His articles have been compiled into one book entitled "Melirik Masa Silam" which is published Dewan Bahasa. It was printed in 2005. This book is still available at Dewan Bahasa and if you don't want to read my books, The Golden Warisan series or you want to know the origins of many things Brunei, then I would suggest get Haji Ahmad's book. It only cost a measly $8.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Socioeconomic Histroy of Brunei

On the subject of Malay books, this one is interesting. I bought this a number of years ago but from time to time I refer to this book for some of my Golden Legacy articles. This book was published in 1995, so it is a bit old. But I saw one the other day at Mega and sometimes during the books show, this book is still around. It cost me $14.40 but I don't know what the price is now.

Anyway, this book written by Jatswan Sidhu, a historian with Universiti Malaya focused his writing on the socio-economic history of Brunei. His primary source was the Brunei Annual Reports with added materials from other sources. If you have access to the Brunei Annual Reports, you could probably come up with something similar but I guess not that many people other than researchers and economic historians or sociologist were willing to do that. Jatswan Sidhu did just that.

I am not sure whether Jatswan Sidhu had ever visited Brunei but sometimes I get the feeling when he wrote this, he has not. He probably would have by now. But nevertheless he has managed to write in essence the physical development history of Brunei. I just wish someone in UBD did this instead of a non-Bruneian.

It is a good read and worthwhile the $14.40 I invested in it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


I saw the news, I read the news and a few blogsites have reported it. But I have not seen the book till yesterday. I came, I saw, I conquer or rather I bought it.

Gaplah is a Brunei dialect comic book currently in the markets for the last few months. The book itled: "Gaplah" - was officially launched by my colleague at the PMO Haji Omar bin Haji Abdul Rahman. It's the fourth comic by Malai Yunus Malai Yusof to be published, as a follow-up to "Dooi Malai Ku", "Malai Ku Sayang" and "Bah Malai Ku".

Malai Yunus is currently a student at UBD and the first few pages of cartoon are actually about his life at UBD especially life as a mature student.

The cartoons are hillarious and like Cuboiart depicts Brunei scenes very succintly. Get the book. It only cost $6

Monday, September 07, 2009

Brunei Star Athlete?

I was trawling the news looking for Brunei news. One photograph from Associated Press (AP) popped up. This photograph had this writeup

"Brunei's Yusuf Saad Kamel celebrates winning the gold medal ahead of Ethiopia's Deresse Mekonnen, right, in the final of the Men's 1500m during the World Athletics Championships in Berlin on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)"

Wow! I didn't hear anything about this. We are pretty good at highlighting this but for sure I didn't hear or see this on RTB. A quick check of who Yusuf Saad Kamel is - he is a Kenyan but now he is running for Bahrain. Of course, there was this possiblity that he no longer runs for Bahrain ut now runs for us here in Brunei. Nope...

Welll, for Bahrain and Brunei, the first letter is B and many people assumed Brunei is also part of the Middle East, so I guessed that's why the mistake happen. But I am surprised it happened for AP, they are the newsworthy news agency. The mistake should not have happpened.

We didn't win that gold medal. Neither did any Bruneian took part. Because another one of 'our' ahtletes won according to AP:-

Brunei's Maryam Yusuf Jamal, center, Britain's Lisa Dobriskey, left, and United States Shannon Rowbury, right, pose during the medal ceremony for the Women's 1500m at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. Jamal won gold, Dobriskey silver and Rowbury silver. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

There are many photos of these 'Brunei' ahtletes posted by AP.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Aerial Seria

This postcard came up on ebay the other day. I tried to win it but apparently there are other people out there willing to pay the earth for it. I couldn't figure out why.

This aerial photograph of Shell's housing at Seria with Seria itself in the background. I am not very familiar when this is but the houses looked as if this photograph belonged to sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Seria itself does not seemed to have changed much. We do know that there are changes.

Anyway, this is for the Seria people out there.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Sarawak Stamps Used in Brunei

Look at the stamp on the left. What do you see?

For the uninitiated, you will see a Sarawak stamp. But not realising that this Sarawak stamp was postmarked in Brunei. Brooketon was the former name for today's Muara. Unfortunately the year is not very clear, it was 96 (1896). In those days, Rajah Brooke was the concessionary holder for the coal in Muara (what do you mean you did not there was coal in Muara?). Anyway Rajah Brooke bought the rights to the coal mine in Muara from someone named Cowie. Cowie obtained the earlier concession from the Sultan. Rajah Brooke named the mine as Brooketon and Muara became known as Brooketon.

Even though Rajah Brooke was only in Muara as a concessionary holder, he brought the entire administrative machinery from his government in Sarawak. Muara became in effect a territory within Brunei with its own government even though Rajah Brooke had no right to do so. So he had his own police as well as his own postal service. This Sarawak stamp was postmarked Brooketon as it was posted there.

From records, the mine never made money. Rajah Brooke wanted it as it was a slow stranglehold over Muara. During those years, he managed to acquire Kota Batu as well as Buang Tawar thus slowly going for the jugular Kampong Ayer. But when he died, the next Rajah Brooke decided to abandon Muara and the British Resident brought Muara back under Brunei government administration. Hence Muara is considered as a separate district and today is part of the Brunei-Muara District.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Churchill Museum

Remember this? I have posted several photographs from this defunct museum. The most memorable was this statute in front of the museum.

If you go in to the museum, there was a button which when you press, you will hear the late Sir Winston Churchill speaking in the British Parliament: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in Gods good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

I am not an anglophile but neither am I an anglophobe, call me weird, I missed that museum.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Brunei in London Papers in 19th Century

I wrote this for my "The Golden Legacy" column on Brunei Times published about three weeks ago.


Brunei in the Illustrated London News

ONE interesting source for those interested in Brunei’s history is found in the pages of a London newspaper “The Illustrated London News” (ILN). The ILN has often been described as the world’s first illustrated newspaper.

It published its first issue on 14 May 1842. On its front page was the picture of a disastrous fire in Hamburg which broke out on 5 May. The news had arrived in London via the steamship Caledonia on 10 May, so an artist ran to the British Museum, borrowed a print of Hamburg, redrew it on a wood block and added smoke, flames and sightseers. Then the picture was engraved and, accompanied by a full descriptive text, made a dramatic feature for the ILN’s first front page.

The ILN was the first newspaper to make illustration of news events a regular feature of the newspaper. Herbert Ingram, who realized that additional copies of London newspapers were sold whenever they contained a picture of a topical event, working together with Henry Vizetelly who had an engraving and publishing business, launched ILN.

The sale of ILN’s first issue exceeded 26,000 copies and remained steady at around 24,000 weekly. It reached 66,000 by December by covering Queen Victoria’s fortnight tour to Scotland on the Royal Yacht. The magazine was published weekly until 1971, when it became a monthly. From 1989, it was bi-monthly, then quarterly. The magazine is no longer published, but the Illustrated London News Group still exists today.

During its life, ILN made quite a number of coverage of events in Brunei and in Borneo in general. Even though the coverage was not complete and one has to rely on other sources to complement their coverage, what had been published on Brunei was valuable and added to the understanding how life was like in Brunei in the mid 19th century.

ILN’s reports are not necessarily accurate or objective. It was a London based newspaper after all and its coverage on Brunei and Borneo is only when they impinged on British interests and concerns.

Borneo and Brunei was to some extent, considered the exotic image of the world complete with its Sultan, adventurer turned Rajah, headhunters, pirates, monkeys and giant trees.

But what it covered of Brunei is indeed priceless. The coverage of ILN was focused on the shipping and trading of British interests in Borneo. Attacks against whom the British defined as ‘pirates’ made up quite a big proportion of ILN news.

The earliest stories on Brunei were the stories of James Brooke. With the backing of the British Navy, he managed to crush those who were against him and gained for himself, not just a foothold over Sarawak but he managed to establish the modern Sarawak state of Malaysia today. Not only that, Brunei also lost Labuan, the story of which was also contained on the Illustrated London News.

There were four major expeditions led by the Brooke together with the British Navy against ‘sheriffs’ or the officers appointed by the Sultan of Brunei. Surprisingly the first of the four expeditions against Sahap of Sadong, Mullah of Undop and Ahmad of Linggi in June 1843 was not chronicled in ILN. HMS Dido commanded by Captain Henry Keppel published his accounts on the attacks at Saribas in his book “The Expedition to Borneo in HMS Dido” published in 1846.

The attacks against ‘pirates’ must be seen in the context of Rajah Brooke trying to gain control over Sarawak. His emergence in Sarawak caused great consternation to many. James Brooke attracted by the richness of the area was offered the governorship of Sarawak in replacement of Pengiran Indera Mahkota by Pengiran Muda Hashim, the son of Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam. Pengiran Muda Hashim had a long standing resentment against Pengiran Indera Mahkota.

Pengiran Indera Mahkota had given his active support to the Sheriffs of Saribas, Patusan and Sekrang and their opposition to Brooke. So the attacks by Brooke and the British Navy on them cannot be viewed in terms of piracy.

The next attack against Brooke’s enemies was against Sheriff Osman at Marudu in August 1845. This was covered in great detail because it was carried out by Sir Thomas Cochrane, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Navy, Far Eastern Station. Rear Admiral Cochrane on HMS Agincourt destroyed Sherif Osman and the ‘Lanun Base’ at Marudu. Sherif Osman was also a supporter of Pengiran Indera Mahkota and removing him removed the most dangerous opponent to James Brooke.

The massacre of Pengiran Muda Hashim in 1846 led the British to attack Brunei itself. Pengiran Muda Hashim was a strong backer of Rajah Brooke and the British and Rajah Brooke forcibly installed him as the Bendahara which caused major unhappiness in the Brunei royal court. ILN reported that Rear Admiral Cohcrane after his arrival off the river of Borneo Proper tried to arrange matters with the Sultan in an amicable manner but found that all his efforts were met with suspicion.

So, on 6 July, HMS Spiteful towed HMS Agincourt, HMS Iris, HMS Ringdove, HMS Hazard and HMS Royalist into the river about twelve miles below the town of Brunei (spelt as Brune in the book). On 8 July when they proceeded up the river, the Bruneians opened fire and Captain Mundy of HMS Iris landed and stormed the fort. Sultan Omar Ali Saiffuddin had to flee to Damuan. The British stole many guns and cannons. One of these was said to be described as a magnificent Spanish piece of the reign of Charles III.

Subsequently Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II 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.

Due to British pressure, Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddin II also 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.

The ILN carried many illustrations and even included a personal sketch of Admiral Cochrane which was very frank. In it he described how he should have “… pity upon the better portion of the community and though the conduct of the Sultan is detestable in the eyes of God and the Queen; I have likewise, for this once, some pity for the Sultan, because I understand he has been instigated by wicked advisers …”

Even though the ILN carried many of the sketches of these ‘visits’ and ‘attacks’ but their ‘news’ stories did not tell the whole story. For that historians had to refer to other books such as Henry Keppel’s book “The Expedition to Borneo in HMS Dido” published in 1846, Frank Maryatt’s book “Borneo and the Indian Archipelago” published in 1848 and Mundy’s book “Narrative of Events in Borneo and Celebes down to the Occupation of Labuan” published in two volumes in 1849. But ILN was certainly one of the few interesting sources which one has to rely on for news about Brunei in the 19th century.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Weddings in the past

I have always wondered what a Brunei wedding in the past looked like. This postcard unfortunately is not a Brunei Malay wedding but a wedding somewhere in Malaya in 1908. I wish someone would have taken a photograph of a Brunei wedding then.

Wedding practises changed. I remembered not that long ago, for a wedding ceremony, you need a lot of help. One is to get all the bamboos from the nearby forest to build the kem as we Bruneians called them. These kem are handmade complete with the seats all being built from bamboo and timber. Even the roof was using the various leaves especially the coconut tree leaves. As times get more modern, canvas was borrowed and rented out for the roof. Once the wedding is over, you have to remove everything.

Cooking too was not easy. Cows had to be slaughtered. Chickens had to be caught. Unlike the pay and pay method of today, the days in the past meant that one had to get everything oneself. And this includes borrowing all the pots and pans and the dishes and the bowls etc. In the 1950s, food was served safrah style. Four to a talam. It was none of this everyone kaut sendiri kind of thing. Serving buffet style when it first appeared was talked about. But over time that changed. We have no problem going to a main central table to get the food ourselves.

The interesting part was the cigarette. I remembered in the 1970s, cigarattes had to be served. There used to be a few packets to a table to cater for the various tastes. Smoking was socially acceptable. But then everyone don't smoke that much. Just one cigarette and that's it. And bananas were served too. I don't know what it is that connects bananas to cigarettes but they always go together then.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Battle in Brunei

I was reading this interesting book entitled "THE EXPEDITION TO BORNEO OF H.M.S. DIDO FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF PIRACY: WITH EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL OF JAMES BROOKE, ESQ., OF SARAWAK" written by Captain Keppel and published in 1846. There were many mentions of Brunei (Bruni or Borneo Proper as mentioned in the book). One was especially about the British and James Brooke wanting to keep Pengiran Muda Hashim in power in the Brunei Court. Pengiran Muda Hashim was a supporter of Rajah Brooke. It was Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II who was the Sultan at that point in time.

I thought I will reproduce the entire paragraph and let you readers read the actual excerpt from the book:-

"31st.--Started for Bruni, and half way met a boat with Pangeran Illudeen, bringing the news of the place. Two days after the admiral and his steamers left, Pangeran Usop seized the hill behind his late house with 300 Kadiens, and commenced an attack on the town. Pangeran Budrudeen on this mustered about the like number and mounted the hill, and by a fire of musketry dislodged the enemy, who retired, stood again, were again defeated, and finally dispersed. This victory raised the courage of the Brunions, and a counter-attack was planned, when the arrival of her majesty's ship Espiegle delayed them. As the officers of the Espiegle and the rajah could not speak a word of each other's language, the boat only stayed a few hours, and went away in ignorance of the condition of the town. After her departure, Budrudeen gathered about a thousand men of all arms, with some hundred muskets; and leaving Bruni at three o'clock in the morning, reached the landing-place at 6 A.M., and at eight marched for Barukas, where they arrived at one o'clock. On the way the Kadiens humbled themselves, and begged their houses might be spared, which were spared accordingly. On reaching Barukas, they found Pangeran Usop had been deserted by the Kadiens, and was in no way expecting their coming. The few persons who remained fled ignominiously, Pangeran Usop showing them the example; and his women, children, gold, and other property, fell into the hands of his victors. The same evening Budrudeen returned to the city in triumph; and there can be no doubt these vigorous measures have not only settled them in power, but have likewise raised the spirits of their adherents, and awed the few who remain adverse. 'Never,' the Brunions exclaim, 'was such a war in Bruni. Pangeran Budrudeen fights like a European; the very spirit of the Englishman is in him; he has learned this at Sarawak.' Fortune favored Usop's escape. He fled to the sea-shore near Pulo Badukan, and there met a boat of his entering from Kimanis: he took possession and put out to sea, and returned with her to that place.

"Budrudeen we found in active preparation for pursuit. A dozen war-prahus were nearly ready for sea, and this force starts directly we depart.

"Budrudeen's vigor has given a stimulus to this unwarlike people, and he has gained so great a character--victory sits so lightly on his plume--that his authority will now be obeyed; while Usop, in consequence of his cowardly flight (for so they deem it), from the want of energy he has displayed, has lost character as well as wealth, and would scarce find ten men in Bruni to follow him. Unluckily for himself, he was a great boaster in the days of his prosperity; and now the contrast of his past boasting with his present cowardice is drawn with a sneer. 'His mouth was brave,' they exclaim, 'but his heart timid.' 'He should have died as other great men have died, and not have received such shame; he should have amoked, [20] or else given himself up for execution.' This seems to be the general impression in the city.

"My mind is now at rest about the fate of my friends; but I still consider a man-of-war brig coming here every month or two as of great importance; for it will be necessary for the next six months to consolidate the power of Muda Hassim and Budrudeen; and if, with the new order of things, they constantly see white faces, and find that they are quiet and inoffensive, the ignorant terror which now prevails will abate. Besides this, we might find the opportunity a favorable one for becoming acquainted with the Kadiens and the Marats, and giving them just impressions of ourselves; for I have no doubt that on the late occasion the Kadiens were worked upon by all kinds of false reports of the pale faces taking their lands, burning their houses, &c., &c., &c. We only see the effects; we do not see (until we become very well acquainted with them) the strings which move the passions of these people. The Kadiens are, however, an unwarlike and gentle race, and have now given in their submission to Muda Hassim.

Inspirational Quotes