Thursday, March 31, 2011

Brunei-Ukraine Relationship

Last night, I was at the Istana Nurul Iman for the banquet for President of Ukraine given by His Majesty. Today is the second day of the President's visit and in the news, there were a number of agreements etc that had been signed between Brunei and Ukraine.

The banquet was interesting. We had the Russian Ambassador at our table and he was surprised that the menu was in Ukrainian language. I thought it was Russian at first but he explained that there were similarities between the Russian and Ukraine languages, there were also differences. For those interested in what was served during the banquet, you have to read the menu .... in Ukranian.

For the record, both heads of states bestowed awards on each other. At the audience ceremony, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam consented to bestow the state decoration, the Darjah Kerabat Laila Utama Yang Amat Dihormati, D.K. or The Most Esteemed Family Order Laila Utama on His Excellency Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine. His Excellency Viktor Yanukovych in turn conferred, the Order of Merit, First Class to His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Malay Annals - Sejarah Melayu

One of the best sources for Malay history is the Sejarah Melayu or in English known as the Malay Annals. The subjects covered in the work included the founding of the kingdom of Malacca and its relationship with neighbouring kingdoms, the advent and spread of Islam in the region, the history of the royalty in the region as well as the administrative hierarchy of the Malacca kingdom and its successor states. As the Johor Sultanate was in a state of political crisis from 1612, the sultans were desperate for political legitimacy and political reasons motivated them to take liberties with their genealogy and historical dating.

During the last Book Fair at ICC, I managed to buy the Malay Annals in the English version translated by John Leyden and published in 1821.

The original version of it was said to be written during the reign of the Malacca Sultanate in Malacca. It was brought together when Sultan Mahmud Shah fled from Malacca in 1511 AD. During 1528 AD, the original document was brought to Johor from Kampar. In 1536 AD, the document was seized by the Portuguese but it was later brought back to Malacca.

The Annals chronicled the genealogies of rulers in the Malay archipelago. It spanned a period of 600 years. The Annals was said to be commissioned in 1612 by editing the naskhah of Sejarah Melayu as instructed by the Regent of Johor, Raja Abdullah who later became Sultan Abdullah Mu’ayat Syah ibni Sultan Abdul Jalil Syah.

Many Bruneians do not realize that Brunei was mentioned in the Malay Annals, many assuming that the Malay Annals only contained tales of the Malaysian states. However Brunei was mentioned in the Malay Annals.

It is in the XVth chapter that Brunei appeared. According to the translation done by John Leyden and published in 1821, the text about Brunei read as follows:
“…Then, Tun Talani sailed away for China, when a violent storm arose, and carried him with the mantra Jana Petra, to Burne. When the Sangaji of Burne was informed of the circumstance, he sent to call them into his presence, and Tun Talani and the mantra Jana Petra were brought before him. Then, the raja of Burne said to the mantra Jana Petra, “what is the stile of the raja of Malaca’s letter to the raja of China?” Tun Talani replied, “I, his servant, (sahaya,) the raja of Malaca, to the Paduca of my father, the raja of China.” The raja of Burne enquired, “does the raja of Malaca send this humble salutation to the raja of China, as an inferior?” Tun Talani remained silent, but the mantri Jana Petra pushed forward and said. “No, Sire, he does not greet him as an inferior, for the meaning of (sahaya) the word used in the address, signifies slave in the Malayu language, and of course the phrase ‘Sahaya Raja Malaca dulang kapada Paduca Ayahanda Raja China, ‘ signifies “we the salves of the raja of Malaca, humbly salute the Paduca our father, the raja of China.”

“Then said the raja of Burne, “does the raja of Malaca send a humble salutation to the raja of China?” Tun Talani was again silent, and the mantra Jana Petra pushed again forward and said, “No, Sire, he does not send a humble greeting to the raja of China, for the phrase Sahaya Raja Malaca denotes all of us here, who send the greeting, not the raja of Malaca,” on which the raja of Burne remained silent. When the monsoon for returning arrived, Tun Talani and the mantri Jana Petra asked permission of Sangaji of Burne, to return, and the raja of Burne sent a letter to Malaca, couched in this style, “May the greeting of the Paduca Ayahanda arrive beneath the majesty of the Ayahanda.” Then Tun Talani and the mantri Jana Petra returned, and then they reached Malaca, they presented the letter of the raja of Burne to Sultan Mansur Shah, and related all the circumstances which had occurred to them, to the great satisfaction of the raja, who rewarded highly Tun Talani and mantra Jana Petra, and presented them with honorary dresses, and he highly praised the mantri Jena Petra…”

According to the book ‘Sejarah Berunai’ written by Yura Halim and Jamil Umar published in 1951, the Sang Aji mentioned in the Malay Annals was Sultan Sharif Ali. Even though there was an apparent diplomatic relationship between Brunei and Malacca, Brunei was not a vassal state of Malacca.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Free Reusable Bags

Today, we will be going out to a few supermarkets to give out free reusable bags. If you are interested, the bags will be given out today at:

10:00 am - Hua Ho Supermarket at Hua Ho Mall

10:45 am - Teguh Raya Supermarket at Delima Satu

11:30 am - Supersave at Gadong

2:00 pm - Giant at Kiulap

2:45 pm - Utama Grand at The Mall, Gadong

See you all there. And don't forget to bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping. There is no Planet B.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Meragang in Muara

[I wrote this piece for Brunei Times and got it published on 21st March 2011 in my column, The Golden Legacy.]



The Place Names of Meragang
By Rozan Yunos

Last Thursday, His Majesty The Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam visited the newly developed housing program at Meragang. About 2,000 houses are currently being built on this site overlooking the South China Sea and the Meragang Beach across the Muara-Tutong Highway. Meragang which had been in relative isolation will have more than 10,000 people suddenly living among its hills and valleys by the end of 2012.

Not many know Meragang before the Housing Development Department selected the area as one of its housing estates under the National Housing Program. Those who knew the name mostly knew it as the Meragang Beach. But even today, the Meragang Beach is relatively untouched compared to the Muara or Serasa Beaches nearby.

Meragang hides a number of secrets. The beach itself is very near the old coalmine operated by Rajah Brooke nearby. If one was to walk along the beach and search among the ruins of the coalmine next to the beach, one can still find the entrance to the mine and the many relics left behind by the coalmine. The Brooketon Coalmine was in operation from the end of the 19th century to about the 1920s before closing down. The Japanese during the Second World War attempted to reopen the coalmine and was partially successful. It was only after the War the coalmine finally stopped operating.

During the height of its operation, the mine ran a railway line from the mine all the way to today’s Muara Port. The railway brought the coal directly to the ships. Up to the 1960s, the railway line was still visible running through today’s Muara Town.

Where did the name Meragang come from? According to Dusun speakers, Meragang in Dusun language means “red monkey”. These monkeys are solitary animals and can be found at Bukit Tempayan Pisang, a hill which also has plenty of stories to tell.

However some also believed that Meragang is not named after the monkeys but instead after another animal of the reptilian species, the crocodiles. Meragang refers to the actions of the crocodiles literally staying put in a group or ‘meragang’ at the river. Hence the action of this group of crocodiles collecting and basking in the sun is known as ‘meragang’ and eventually referred to the name of the place. Although both monkeys and crocodiles are difficult to find in the Meragang Beach or River, the name remained.

Meragang has a number of interesting local histories and local names among its terrain and hills. With the encroaching Meragang Housing Program into the area, it is feared that some of these local areas would have lost its mystic. The Brunei History Centre as part of its program managed to interview a number of local people and the result of their endeavour can be found in an article about the village published in the Centre’s journal, Pusaka Volume 17 in 2009.

The natural formation of these hills gives rise to some of their names. To the west of the Meragang River lies a granite hill. The granite hill rose up from the ground resembling a wall and it is flat. There are no trees growing on the surface of the wall because of the texture and also the angle of the hill. The first one is known as Bukit Dalas Besar, dalas referring to the wall like structure.

A slightly smaller one but much higher than Bukit Dalas Besar is known as Bukit Dalas Damit, damit referring to the Brunei word, small. The same geographical formation as Bukit Dalas Besar can be found on Bukit Dalas Damit. The Meragang River starts from under this hill.

Another hill is known as Bukit Rimba Kumpal. This hill is situated somewhere in the village itself. The hill has a cemetery known as Jahirat Panjang Tiga. According to the local folklore, there was a body buried here which became elongated and could not be fit into the grave which was already dug. So the body was positioned in such as way so that it hug itself, hence the word kumpal, which is the Brunei word for hugging oneself should one feel very cold. Hence the name of the hill, Bukit Rimba Kumpal.

The body that is supposedly buried in the cemetery known as Jahirat Panjang Tiga was found on the Meragang Beach. According to the local tales, the body was carried up to this hill to be buried. While searching for pieces of wood to complete the burial, nobody was left to look after the body. According to one story, one man was left behind but he too left because he was too scared to stay. When they all returned, they found that the body has elongated and could not fit into the grave. By then it was already dark and they did not have time to dig a longer grave. So they decided to place the body into the grave by folding the body into three and from this action, the name of the cemetery was derived, Jahirat Panjang Tiga, with panjang referring to the length of the body and tiga, is the Malay word for three.

Another cemetery is known as Jahirat Tanjong Tahi Ayam. The name of the place is derived from a tree which produces a flower smelling like the ‘bunga tahi ayam’ or in English better known as the Lantana Camara, a herbaceous shrub like plant. This cemetery has not been in use since the 1920s.

There are also a few swamps with names like Luagan Hambaniah, Luagan Kala Potong, Luagan Si Mayun and Luagan Tengkorak. Luagang Hambaniah is at the mouth of Pemarangunan River and was used by the Meragang crocodiles as a nesting place. The name is derived from the Hambaniah trees which grew there. The fruits of the hambaniah is said to be red and tasted sweet and sour. Another source said that the place was named after a little girl who drowned in the swamp.

Luagan Kala Potong derived its name from the grass which grew there known as ‘kala potong’. Luagan Si Mayun is named after another folknames of the place who is said to be the wife of Si Keruai. Luagan Tengkorak is named after the skulls found strewn in the area. Tengkorak is skulls in Malay and the skulls found there could be the skulls belonging to victims of the crocodiles.

There is not enough space to document the interesting names and origins of all the place names in Meragang. There are rivers with names like Sungai Akau, Sungai Kemangsi and the afore-mentioned Sungai Pemarangunan. There are place names like Tanjong Bukit Batu Berkajang, Padang Si-Keruai, Pulau Asam Besar and Lalak Lampai. Perhaps readers can go to Meragang and find out for themselves just how interesting one place can be.


Friday, March 18, 2011

New Duties for Cars in Brunei

Last night's news on the new excise duties for cars was good news for buyers of small or hybrid cars. But those who are hankering after the muscle type diesel hungry powerful engine SUV, you have to pay higher duties and more expensive cars. Diesel subsidies are just too high and many of us are using it for our fuel hungry SUVs.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah Ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has consented for the change to the rate of Vehicle Excise Duty through the Excise Order 2006 Amendment which will take effect from April 1st, 2011.

The Amendment aims to raise awareness among people and residents in the country on the effect of vehicle use towards protecting and conserving the environment in the country. It is also hoped that the change of Excise Duty rate, will also achieve the following objectives:

- To control the use and import of vehicles that consume high fuel and cause negative effects to the environment;

- To reduce cost of vehicle ownership to help control the increasing cost of living in the country, and

- To encourage the growth of the public transport sector in the country by giving specific incentives to public transport service operators.

The rate of Vehicle Excise Duty is therefore amended as follows:

~ The rate of Excise Duty for all types of vehicle is amended and imposed to the rates as shown on the screen.

~ Apart from this excise duty, for vehicles consuming diesel, an additional 5-percent excise duty will be imposed after counting excise duty for all types of vehicles.

~ In encouraging more use of hybrid type cars that can help increase the conservation of petrol efficiency, the rate of duty for all types of hybrid cars is reduced by 5 percent after counting is made on excise duties imposed on all types of vehicle and vehicles using diesel.

~ In boosting the growth of the public transport sector in the country, the Excise Duty for buses or vehicles that accommodate not less than nine passengers will be reduced to 15 percent compared to the current 20 percent. However, Excise Duty for other heavy vehicles such as lorries and tankers will be retained at the rate of 20 percent.

~ For vehicles used as rental cars, taxis or vans that accommodate not exceeding 9 passengers, the Excise Duty imposed is similar with individual vehicles like those imposed on all types of vehicle, those consuming diesel and hybrids.

~ While new vehicles affected in the reduction of Excise Duty and registered after the change of Excise Duty rate takes effect, car sale operators can apply for Excise Duty refund to coordinate with the new Excise Duty rate.

It is hoped that with the change of Excise Duty rate, people and residents in the country will be more aware of the need to cooperate and to raise awareness in protecting the environment. This awareness could assist towards a balanced and sustainable nation building.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fulbright Grant for Bruneians

I received the following information from the US Embassy. Hope it will come in useful to readers.



The Embassy of the United States of America is pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the Fulbright grant for graduate study. This prestigious flagship international educational exchange program, sponsored by the U.S. Government, is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of Fulbright eligible nations.

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, and is administered by the Department of State and the Institute of International Education (IIE).

ChargĂ© d’Affaires a.i., Alexander L. Barrasso noted “I hope Bruneians will take advantage of this great opportunity and apply. The Fulbright grant is a unique program for Bruneians to obtain higher education at some of our finest institutions and experience the diversity of America and its people.”

Prospective candidates (Brunei citizens or permanent residents) are invited to apply for the prestigious scholarship. This award is for advanced students preferably in their early to mid career interested in pursuing a Master’s degree for study commencing in August, 2012. Details on the application procedure including forms can be obtained from the U.S. Embassy website at The deadline for submitting the preliminary application form is April 30, 2011

Since the program’s reactivation in 2004, there have been a total of seven Bruneians who have received the Fulbright grant. Former Fulbright Scholarship recipients include Pg. Dr. Hishamuddin Pg Badaruddin, Mohd Yusra bin Hj Salleh, Vivi Jafiana DP Hj Jaafar, Zul Fakhri bin Maidy, Salehkamal Badarudin, Haji Sofi Hasni bin Hj Sharbini and Sumardi bin Hj Abdul Hamid. For more information on the Fulbright program, visit the U.S Embassy website.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Brunei in Chinese History

[Note: My article below was published yesterday in the Brunei Times, 14th March 2011]



By Rozan Yunos

The Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports stated recently during the launching of new books published by the Brunei History Centre that history is crucial for the life of a nation and in determining the survival of its race, development of its civilisation and also nation-building of a country and community.

The Brunei History Centre, as the premier national institution responsible for researching, collecting, keeping and publishing Brunei history in that role has just published eight new books and two journals.

Two books focused on more recent history that of the late Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien III. One was a book entitled, “Royal Poet: Al Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien” produced by Yang Berhormat Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Dato Seri Utama Doctor Haji Awang Mohamad Jamil Al-Sufri and another was entitled “Pemerintahan Sultan Ahmad Tajudin 1924-1950 - Kerajaan, Masyarakat dan Perubahan” an adaptation from the thesis of Awang Haji Muhaimin bin Haji Mohammed.

However, today’s article will focus on a book focusing on the very early history of Brunei. This book entitled “Brunei dalam Sejarah Cina” or “Brunei in the History of China” documenting Brunei and Borneo in the annals of Chinese historical documents.

This obviously is not the first attempt at the compilation of Chinese-Brunei related documents. A number of publications have been published about the existence of Brunei from the Chinese sources. One of the early ones were written by W.P. Groeneveldt entitled “Notes on the Malay Archipelago and Malacca Compiled From Chinese Sources” published in Batavia in 1876 and “Early Notices of North Borneo and Sulu from Chinese Sources” published in The British North Borneo Herald in October 1886. One of the more recent ones was a book edited by Liu Xinsheng entitled “The Collection of Historical Documents Related to Bilateral Relations Between China and Brunei Darussalam” published by the World Affairs Press China in 2006.

The new Brunei History Centre book and this latter publication had a lot of similarities as they draw from almost the same sources. However “Brunei in the History of China” is said to focus on more sources and covered more ancient Chinese documents than the 2006 Chinese publication.

The documents referred to in the book are official Chinese documents written in ancient Chinese language. The documents were translated into modern Chinese Mandarin and it was translated again into Malay. Surprisingly the academic scholar who did this was Professor Wu Zong Yu, a Chinese historian. He was assisted by Ze Fang and a number of other translators who translated the ancient Chinese texts into Mandarin.

Professor Wu was born in Shanghai in 1939. He taught Indonesian language for 10 years. He was the first to teach Malay Language at the Beijing University of Foreign Studies. Now he is the Director of the Malay Studies Centre at the Beijing University of Foreign Studies.

His book referred to 114 different documents which stated or noted about Brunei from the ancient Chinese documents. In Liang Shu Vol. 54, the country “Po-Li” said to be the ancient name of Brunei, can be found south east of Guangzhou and that from Guangzhou to Po Li takes about 2 months. Po Li’s size was about 50 days of walk from east to west and 20 days of walk from north to south. It had 136 districts. That entry was written during the era of the Northern and Southern Dynasty from 420 AD to 589 AD, almost 1,600 years ago.

In another entry in Song Shi, Vol. 489, it was written that in 977 AD, the King of Bo Ni, another name for Brunei, by the name of Xiang Da has sent a mission to China headed by Shi Nu (Syeikh Noh), his deputy Pu Ya Li (Abu Ali), Pun Guan Ge Xin (Kadi Kasim) and others to bring a letter and gifts. The gifts included camphor which weighed 1 jiad di (kati).

The names of Syeikh Noh, Abu Ali and Kadi Kasim certainly pointed out that the King’s emissary was a Muslim one and this has shown that by the 10th AD, Islam has not just existed in Brunei but has also spread among the populace in Brunei. The use of the word ‘kati’ has also indicated that the Malay language was widely used in Brunei.

The book collected documents ranging from the 3rd century to the 17th century and in the book, the documents are divided into three time periods. The first was from the era of the Tang Dynasty and before the Tang Dynasty which are pre-907 AD. The second was from the Song and Yuan Dynasties which are from the years of 960 to 1,368 AD. The third was from the Ming and Qing Dynasties which are from the years of 1,368 AD to 1911 AD. From these 114 publications, 24 were from the first period, 15 from the second and 75 from the third era.

In the book, the ancient Chinese texts are also published with the bits that referred Brunei/Borneo highlighted, its Mandarin translations and finally the Malay translations.

It was also clear that it was quite hard to pinpoint the exact position of Po Li or Po Ni or Bo ni and Fu Ni. From Si Yu Bu, there was a reference from as early as the 3rd century, a book entitled Fu Nan Tu Su written by Kang Tai during the Years of 220 AD to 265 AD. Kang Tai wrote that to the north east of Zhu Bo (Jawa) sea, lies the area of Ju Ji Zhou (Borneo Island), whose people did not plant rice, but they planted yam and they sail on the seas, they processed giant snails turning them into ‘cangkir’ and exporting them to Fu Nan (today’s Cambodia).

One of the earliest entry about Po Li was that during the first year of the Yuan Hui administration (2nd May 473 AD), Po Li has sent a mission to the Emperor with gifts of local products.

The first major entry about Po Li can be found in Zhu Yi., Liang Shu Vol.54 written by Yao Silian during the Tang Dynasty (557 AD to 637 AD). Poli was situated on an island in the sea southeast of Guangzhou and takes about two month to get there. The climate was said to be really hot and helped to bring two crops of rice a year. The King wears beautifully dyed broacade with strings of pearls and jade all over. The gold crown on his head is more than one foot in length and decorated with seven treasures. The name of the king is Kaundiya.

This book now available at the Brunei History Centre is a very valuable book. One should consider getting it as it deserved to be in everyone’s library so that we all can learn about old Brunei.


Friday, March 11, 2011


Do you know what is in our landfills? Do you know how many landfills do we have in the country? Do you care? If we don't do anything, there will be more landfills taking up valuable land spaces and creating environmental problems.

According to the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation, the last major study on waste was done in 2005. According to that study, we throw away around 189,000 tonnes of waste per year. Those wastes are made up of:

Food Waste - 36%
Paper - 18%
Plastics - 16%
Yard Waste - 6%
Diapers - 6%
Metal - 4%
Glass - 3%
Textiles - 2%
Wood - 1%
E-Waste - 1%
Rubber - 1%
Inert - 1%

Out of the top 3, the ones that do not biodegrade well is plastics. Over 1/5 of all waste is plastics and the majority of plastic waste are mostly shopping plastic bags. That's right. Those thin flimsy plastic bags are in the world's landfills and not just us here in Brunei.

Last December, JASTRE went to 4 supermarkets during the weekends and counted the number of plastic bags used. They found that on Saturdays between 3,000 to 5,550 plastic bags were used and on Sundays between 4,200 to 8,200 plastic bags were used. This means to almost close to 400,000 pieces of plastic bags were used per store every weekend. 20 majos supermarkets can consume between 22 million to 60 million bags per year.

Not many realised the impact of plastic bags. They do not biodegrade well and can take hundreds of years to break down. During breakdown, they will produce toxic particles polluting the environment. They are everywhere because they are so light and they have clogged up waterways and drainage system contributing to floods. They choke, strangle and starve wildlife to death. Producing plastic bags require million of gallons of fuel. Manufacturing also adds tonne of carbon emissions into the air annually. Those 22 million to 60 million plastic bags in Brunei require 30,000 to 90,000 litres of fuel to produce.

What do we plan to do?

On 14th March 2011, the Honourable Minister of Development will launch the promo campaign to introduce the no plastic bags weekend. There will be posters at the supermarkets and public places, there will be adverts on radio and television, there will be SMS on DST and B-Mobile phones, there will be adverts on local newspapers and there will be banners throughout the country telling the public that from 26TH MARCH 2011, MAJOR SUPERMARKETS WILL NOT ISSUE PLASTIC BAGS DURING WEEKENDS.

You don't have to wait until 26th March 2011. You can do it now. From now on, remember to bring and use your reusable bags whenever you go to supermarkets. Spread the word. NO PLASTIC BAGS.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Gunboat Diplomacy

[My article below was published on Brunei Times on 7th March 2011. The interesting legal question would be are the agreements signed between the two countries valid as clearly Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II was forced at gun point into signing the agreements?]


The Golden Legacy

Gunboat Diplomacy
by Rozan Yunos

Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during the Second World War said that “History is written by the Victors”; while Napoleon Bonaparte, the French General and Emperor during the 18th century cynically said that “History is a set of lies agreed upon”.

George Orwell, the author of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ wrote that “… He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future ...” From here we can see that in the study of history, managing the historical records is of crucial importance. The creation of any histories can in many ways be manipulated by the management of the historical records.

Given this background, how then can one ensure that what one reads is the truthful accounts of events? The answer to that probably is that one cannot just read from one source but have to read about an event from many other sources and compare between the various accounts, if they can be found.

In this context, this writer admittedly has often been fascinated by the Brunei history during the Rajah Brooke’s era. James Brooke came to Sarawak and enlarged Sarawak by taking over territories of Brunei until it is the size of today’s Sarawak. In the event, the Rajahs also managed to split Brunei into two by the seizure of the Limbang District in 1890. The actions of the Rajahs of the Brooke Dynasty certainly have lasting effect until today.

Yet, most Bruneians do not know about the origins of the onslaught of the Brookes on Brunei. The earlier history books of Sarawak written by British authors tended to gloss over some of the facts, no doubt reinforcing the notion that history is certainly written by the victors.

One such account is of crucial importance to understanding how the Brookes were able to control and eventual take over large territories of Brunei.

It was in 1844 that Pengiran Muda Hashim returned from Sarawak to Brunei, accompanied by James Brooke, then the Governor of Sarawak and a British naval captain, Sir Edward Blecher. While in Sarawak, Pengiran Muda Hashim had lost his high status at home due to a palace coup in Brunei. His opponent Pengiran Usop has become Bendahara in his absence.

In that visit, Brooke and the British Naval Forces were able to re-install Pengiran Muda Hashim as the new Bendahara. Pengiran Muda Hashim also secured official recognition to become the next Sultan of Brunei. This upset the chances of Pengiran Temenggong Pengiran Anak Hashim, the son of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II, who plotted to kill Pengiran Muda Hashim. James Brooke needed someone in Brunei that he can rely on and Pengiran Muda Hashim was the one. The British also managed to get Brunei to destroy the defensive forts on Pulau Cermin and along the Brunei River as well as an agreement to give Labuan to the British.

When Pengiran Muda Hashim was eventually murdered a few years later, the British came back and occupied Brunei with Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II forced to flee to Damuan. To end the occupation, Brunei had to recognize James Brooke as the Rajah of Sarawak and ruled without interference, free to appoint his own successor and he was no longer the Sultan’s representative in Sarawak. The Island of Labuan was also surrendered. From here on, the Brookes continued to seize more territories from Brunei and used various means to achieve his expansionist aim including overthrowing the Sultan’s authority and even open aggression.

Yet, if one was to read the many accounts written by the ‘official historians’ of Sarawak such as Steven Runciman’s “The White Rajahs” (1960) or S. Baring Gould and C.A. Bampfylde “History of Sarawak under its Two White Rajahs” (1909) or Spenser St. John’s “The Life of Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak” (1879) and later “Rajah Brooke: An Englishman as a Ruler of an Eastern State” (1899); or Robert Payne’s “The White Rajahs of Sarawak” (1960) during that first meeting; one would be under the impression that Brunei was amiable to Rajah Brooke and gave in to all his demands. Yet the only people who could have written a truer account of what happened would be the people who were there.

Unfortunately, even though there were many witnesses, only a few of them wrote. Two of them were James Brooke and Edward Belcher, the British Navy Captain who accompanied him. Their writings however were written from their perspectives and most Sarawak historians followed those perspectives.

There was not one account from the Brunei’s perspectives. However history has been kind. A third eye witness in the form of young naval officer also wrote and published his accounts. Frank Maryatt writing in “Borneo and the Eastern Achipelago” published in 1848 gave a very vivid account of what actually happened during the tense moments of the negotiations between the British and Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II.

Frank Maryatt wrote that in that tense moment, the British had their guns and cannons trained at the Sultan and the crowds in the court of the Sultan. Frank Maryatt wrote “… Lieutenant Baugh (since dead) and myself, was ordered to lie to her oars abreast of the audience chamber, and to keep her 6-pounder, in which there was a fearful does of grape and canister, pointed at the sultan himself during the whole interview …”

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

In other words, the British came well armed, ready to kill if they did not get what they wanted. Yet this account can only be found in Maryatt’s book and not in any other history of Sarawak books.

Graham Saunders in an entry in the Sarawak Museum Journal (Vol. XVII, Nos. 34 - 35, July - December 1969) wrote an interesting article entitled “James Brooke’s Visit to Brunei in 1844: Reappraisal”. He considered why Brooke and Belcher wrote fleetingly about the confrontation and the coercion and why Maryatt writings were not considered by other historians.

Brooke and Belcher did not want to blatantly display force and even though it was done, it should not be recorded. Belcher was not supposed to be in Brunei at all but he was there because he wanted to help Brooke. Brooke himself realised that there are “men in England ready to take up the cudgels on behalf of the victims of British expansion” which actually happened a few years later. Unfortunately, many historians used the versions of Brooke and the forceful ‘gunboat diplomacy’ was not highlighted.

This episode certainly highlighted that one must be very careful with what one reads in the historical texts.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Brunei in the 1850s

[My article below was published in Brunei Times on Monday, 28th February 2011.]


The Golden Legacy

Brunei in the mid 19th Century
by Rozan Yunos

One of the best descriptions about life in Brunei in the mid 19th century was written by Sir Spenser St John. Sir Spenser St John was the British Consul in Brunei in 1856 when he was 31 years old. His diplomatic career began when his father introduced him to James Brooke who then was the first White Rajah of Sarawak. St John was appointed as the Private Secretary to James Brooke before being appointed as the British Consul to Brunei.

In 1863, he was appointed as the charge d’affaires to Haiti. From his stint in Borneo he wrote three books, the first, “Life in the Forests of the Far East” (in two volumes) were written in 1862 and two biographies of James Brooke which were produced in 1879 and 1899. He died in 1910 at the age of 85.

St John wrote extensively on Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo and travelled extensively in the region. It is in his honour that the lower of the two peaks of Mount Kinabalu was named after him, St John’s Peak. St John’s peak is about 4 metres short of the Low’s Peak.

St John wrote about Brunei and her conditions as well as the lives of the Brunei people.

St John noted that Brunei’s population estimated to be around 25,000 inhabitants maybe an under estimate. According to him, the under estimates occurred because of the assumption that each household in Brunei then only averaged around five people. He had made more than a hundred inquires of different men as to the amount of inhabitants in each of their houses, and the highest was the Sultan with seventy in his palace and the lowest was seven in a small fisherman’s hut. He placed the average at fifteen and he estimated that the Brunei population to exceed forty thousand.

Even though the central authority at that time was relatively weak, St John noted that the country was ‘only kept together by the sort of local self-government which obtains in all the kampongs of the city, and by the strong feelings which unites all the branches of a family.’

St John was the first person to ever describe the names of the water villages. It is from his description that studies of the water village today can be compared with what it looked like more than 160 years ago.

The first village he described was reached by ascending the river and entering the city, was known as Pablat or Pabalat. This name is no longer in use to day and the village according to those who studied Kampong Ayer history is now known as Kampong Saba.

However then, it was a village, as described by St John, residence of some of the most sturdy of inhabitants. They were mostly fishermen, who have their fixed nets on the banks of the rivers and on the extensive sandbanks which stretched across the bay, inside Muara Island. Pabalat refers to the instruments which the fishermen actually used to catch their fish. Their nets were made of split bamboo, and were of various heights. The lower ones were fixed near the bank. The longer ones were added on as they enter into deeper water so that the summits were of uniform heights. The fish swimming upstream or downstream the river, on meeting this obstruction, simply follow it to the end and enter a very simple trap. The fish were then placed into baskets by the fishermen.

The next village was known is Perambat. The name Perambat was again derived from another method to catch fish which was using a rambat or a casting net. According to St John, the fishermen using the net can cast a thirty feet spread net and would be able to catch a large amount of fish and prawns.

One village was known as Membakut Pangeran Mahomed which then contained the houses of many of the principal nobles as well as the residence of the late sultan’s widow. At their back is another village called Pem-proanan, which was a village of blacksmiths and kris makers.

Membakut was another village which had a few Chinese and Indian houses. Kampong Saudagar was where the merchants used to stay. It was said that a Portuguese trader from Makau used to reside there. The village had the residence of Mahajarah Lela and Sura.

Other villages include Kampong Padaun, derived from ‘daun’, a leaf used in converting the leaf of the nipah palm into roofing mats; Kampong Pasir made of rice cleaners and makers of rice mortars; Kampong Sungai Kuyuk made up of wood workers and prawn fishers; and Kampong Pemriuk were for workers in brass and the name came from periuk or a brass cooking pot.

Two more villages again refered to the method of catching fish are called Menjaling and Pemukat. Burong Pinge, today’s Burong Pingai was inhabited by the principal traders and the wealthiest men in town.

In ascending the river, St John described the first village as Kampong Terkoyong which was derived from the word koyong or shell. The villagers collected pearl oysters as well as collected the contents of the oyster for food.

The next village was the Labuan Kapal, or the ships’ anchorage. The water up to the wharves was deep so that ships could load without using boats. The villagers themselves made kajangs or mats used to cover boats and walls of houses.

Other kampongs were known as Kampong Jawatan Jeludin and Khatib Bakir made up of traders and blacksmiths; Peminiak, from minyak or oil; Kampong Pengiran Ajak and Kampong Ujong Tanjong were made up of general traders. Sungai Kedayan was the resident of the Temenggong and Pemancha and various other government officers and the villagers themselves cast brass guns, goldsmiths and the women made gold brocades (jong sarat). Two mosques were built here.

The palace was next to the village together with houses for the attendants, the Bendahara and his people and another village just after this, called Pasar.

Other kampongs were small then namely Tamui, Panchur Brasur, Kandang Batu or Prandang, Alaugan, Blanak and Tamasik made up of traders, gardeners and a few blacksmiths with the exception of Kampong Pangeran Daud which was made up of villagers engaged in making mats.

St John described other aspects of Brunei lives including the lives of the wives, concubines and women of the old Brunei world. With his description, we were able to peek a glimpse into the past.


Inspirational Quotes