Remembering the First National Day in 1984

written by Rozan Yunos
published in The Brunei Times on 23rd February 2013

AT THE end of the 19th century, Brunei's economic situation can only be described as extremely dire. His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah in his book "Time and the River" (2000) succintly wrote that "by the end of the 19th century, we had hit the lowest dip on the roller coaster."

On September 17, 1888, Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Akmaddin signed an agreement with the British for Brunei to be placed under the protection of the British Government which His Royal Highness described as a "wise move and it saved us (Brunei)".

On December 31, 1905, and January 2, 1906, a supplementary agreement was signed that allowed for a British Resident to be placed in Brunei. These two agreements marked the beginning of Brunei to be placed under British Protection.

It was not until 1959 when His Royal Highness Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien signed another agreement that gave Brunei its internal rule.

This marked the beginning of Brunei on its way towards full independence since 1888. On November 23, 1971, another treaty was signed affirming that the defence and security of Brunei is a joint responsibility but Brunei would have full sovereignty in the internal affairs.

On January 7, 1979, another agreement was signed stipulating that "Brunei had agreed to take over the full international responsibility of an independent and autonomous state" and the agreement was for five years beginning from December 31, 1983.

So by January 1, 1984, Brunei was expected to be completely independent. Preparations were made chaired by the Acting Chief Minister, Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wijaya Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Aziz. It was also decided that the annual Independence Day of Brunei be celebrated on the 23 February of each year.

Brunei Darusalam's independence celebrations began with the official opening ceremony of the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium on September 23, 1983. That date coincided with the 70th birthday of His Majesty's father, His Royal Highness Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien.

On December 31, 1983, the independence celebration continued with the lighting up of coloured light decorations in Bandar Seri Begawan. Lighted and beautifully decorated archways were built all over the country.

Many Bruneians thronged to Sultan Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Mosque in the city centre for the recital of Surah Yassin and Doa Selamat. Despite the heavy rain, the mosque was filled to capacity and many prayed in the open courtyard drenched with rain.

After the ceremony, everyone went to Taman Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien. With everyone coming from all walks of life from the four districts, the place was jammed to the brim. They came with one purpose to witness the Proclamation of Independence for Brunei Darussalam at the stroke of midnight.

At 12.01am, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah read the Proclamation of Independence and His Royal Highness Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien lead the chanting of "Allahu Akbar" three times after the proclamation.

The Taman was immediately lighted up with the words of "Allahu Akbar" and "Merdeka Negara Brunei Darussalam 1984" in Roman and Arabic scripts accompanied with the beatings of the hadrah and the firing of the 21 gun salute.

It was a long journey but now Brunei had resumed its full political independence.

Fifty four days later, in totally contrasting weather, on a hot and sunny day on February 23, 1984, there was another big crowd. This time the crowd was at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium. They came with one purpose to participate in Brunei's first ever National Day celebrations.

The celebrations for the first National Day was participated by everyone in Brunei. Very much like today, prior to the celebrations, many preparations were made. Rehearsals for the field performances and for the march past were held in the weeks prior to the National Day.

In the city centre and along the main roads coloured lights and arches decorate the roads once again. Bandar Seri Begawan lit up brightly and colourfully at night. Everyone looked forward to the first national day especially since the Proclamation of Independence had gone smoothly on the eve of January 1, 1984.

The first National Day started at dawn. Many woke up early and by dawn all kinds of vehicles were heading towards the national stadium. Some came as early as 3.30 in the morning.

There were thousands of participants from every corner of Brunei Darussalam, from the young to the old, parents and their children, teachers and their students as well as teams of various organisations and ministries both private and public.

The first National Day was also attended by foreign representatives including a King, a President, several Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and many other representatives and guests from more than 70 countries around the world. Prominent among those were from ASEAN, the Commonwealth and Islamic countries.

The national anthem "Allah Peliharakan Sultan" was sung by students of colleges and upper secondary schools when His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaullah arrived. The students' singing was accompanied by music played by the combined bands of the Royal Brunei Police Force and the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

A combined school band comprising of various schools' students wearing attractive uniforms performed several displays including the formation of eight cardinal directions with a circle at the centre signifying Brunei's independence; a second pattern representing a ship helm symbolising development in line with Islamic principles; and a third pattern representing a rotating fan signifying the prosperity of the country in line with development in the scientific and technological world.

The march past in front of the crowd was led by 40 youths carrying the giant Brunei Darussalam flag measuring 12 feet by 24 feet. Other participants in the march past were civil servants and personnel from the Brunei Shell companies.

There were also a hadrah performance performed by 1,200 Bruneians all wearing "cara Melayu" while another 10,000 students held coloured umbrellas and flip cards to display the slogan in Jawi. Patriotic songs were sung throughout the performances.

The recital of the first oath of loyalty was led by Haji Abd Rahim Haji Metussin who was a student at the Sixth Form Centre (now Maktab Duli Pengiran Muda Al-Muhtadee Billah).

At the same time, gold coloured confetti showered the crowd from two huge ballons floating in the air above the stadium. Exactly 1,984 balloons were released together with 1,404 pigeons representing the year of 1984 and the year of Hijrah of 1404.

Just as the Proclamation of Independence ceremony had gone so smoothly, so too did the very first National Day ceremony.

Similarly, everyone was involved in the Proclamation, so was the first National Day, it had been participated by everyone in Brunei Darussalam in the spirit of peace and harmony.

That first National Day set the setting and standards for the next twenty eight national day celebrations including the one that we will be seeing on today.

Happy 29th National Day to everyone!


Unknown said…
Why we celebrate the national day on the 23rd Feb. again instead of 1st January? Some suggests it is because of we gained full independence from UK in 1 Jan. 1984 and and released from the UK's protected state in 23rd Feb 1984. Is that true?

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