Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Administration of the Law and Justice in Brunei before the British Part IV

In the Borneo Bulletin 30th November 2013 this 4th article on the Legal History of Brunei written by Professor Hussainmiya.


On the Travails of writing Brunei’s early history and the Boxer Codex
Posted date: November 30, 2013 In: Features
B A Hussainmiya PhD


*Continuation of ‘Significance of ‘Boxer Codex’ for legal history of Brunei’, published on Page 16 of the November 23, 2013 edition of the Weekend Bulletin


AS EXPLAINED last week, the 16th century Spanish manuscript of the Boxer Codex holds great significance for a study of early history of Brunei. But there must be a word of caution here. Historians do not necessarily rely upon a single primary source. They look for corroborative evidence from other sources as well. Unlike the historians of modern times, the historians of ancient and medieval periods face insurmountable challenges. They don’t have the advantages of modern day historians who will have abundant resources at their disposal, and sometimes require selection to control flow of information from an avalanche of documentary evidence.

On the other hand, the historians of the ancient period have to work painstakingly and imaginatively with slender resources. And hence, it would be appropriate to devote some discussion on problems and prospects of writing Brunei history before actually presenting verbatim evidence from the Boxer Codex.

An Ola, Palm Leaf historical manuscript from Sri Lanka
An Indian pillar inscription of the Mauryan Ruler Asoka the Great  in the 3rd century BC
The archaeological remains of the Great Bath in Harappa-Mohenjadaro, circa 2,000 BC
A Stone Inscription from southern India belonging to the 12th century CE
The tomb of Sultan Bolkiah situated at Kota Batu, Brunei  -  PHOTOS:  B A HUSSAINMIYA
To write a history of the ancient past one requires a variety of primary sources ranging from archeology, epigraphy, inscriptions, travellers’ tales, chronicles, numismatics etc. India’s history is a case in point. The sub-continent has long and continuous historical traditions. Thus the archaeological sites of Mohenjadaro, Harappa, Kulli and Chanhu Daro and other places in the then North-West Bharat (now situated in Pakistan near the cities of Lahore and Multan in the banks of the river Sindh) reveal exciting facets of early human civilisation in India dating back to 5000 years or more. For subsequent periods there exist many ineffaceable sources of history such as the rock edicts and inscriptions of Mauryan Emperor Asoka in 4th century BC in India and many more inscriptional sources left behind by his successor emperors. The Kashmir region maintained continuous history writing in the palace chronicles of the poet Kalhana’s Raja Tarangani from the 10th century CE an indication of importance given to history writing in ancient India. Likewise in Sri Lanka, the Maha Vamsa, or the Great Chronicle in the Pali language that speaks of the genealogy of the Sinhalese Rulers was meticulously preserved in the ola (Palm) leaves at least from the 6th century AD dating back to the Anuradhapura period. The Burmese royal court similarly preserved their history in what came to be known as the ‘Glass chronicles’.

The old Brunei Kingdom too had manifested interest in leaving a history for posterity. But the material in which it came to be written was easily lost through ravages of time. Interestingly the Boxer Codex itself refers to the lost historical tablet of the genealogy of Brunei Kings. In fact, the original book of Brunei royal genealogy was inscribed in gold and was allegedly thrown by Sultan Saiful Rijal into the sea for fear of being fallen in the hands of his enemies in the late 16th century.

Brunei’s royal geneology that survived in the chronicle of Silsilah Raja-Raja Berunai had been transmitted orally for many generations until its contents were written down in the early 18th century. The European administrator Hughes-Hallet who had access to the original manuscript translated it and published it in the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in the 1880s. Reference must be made also to a strong oral tradition of folk history as revealed from the Syair Awang Simaun, rhymed poetic tales of local heroes that were transmitted through many generations by the locals, the traditions followed in the neighbouring Sarawak and Sabah as well. On special occasions in the Kampong Ayer bards are known to have been reciting it from their memory. Professor Donald Brown and Dr Linda Cambell were among the early researchers who transcribed portions of the poems in romainised Malay despite resistance from many quarters.

It is well known that the Chinese Emperors had sponsored ‘History Centers’ from ancient period, right through the Song and Ming dynasties, to  meticulously document imperial history of China. As a matter of fact, the Brunei historians are still grappling with Chinese derived information of nomenclature such as P’oni, Puni and B’oli, to identify the location of earliest Brunei kingdom in spite of disagreements among the historians if the terms Boni or Poli actually referred to Brunei of the olden times. Because such terms may be generic to territories lying far way in the Southern Seas or Nanyang from anywhere near Borneo to Sumatra, such controversies remain unresolved. Dr Johannes Kurz of UBD’s Historical Studies Programme recently presented a well-researched paper in the Institute of Asian Studies at UBD questioning the assumptions underlying the identification of the early Brunei Kingdom based on the Chinese imperial records.

Brunei indeed, unlike most other countries in the region, suffers from an acute lack of historicity due to the scanty sources. For that matter even modern period sources are in short supply in Brunei. The archival papers belonging to the Residency period (1906-) were mostly destroyed during the period of the Japanese occupation from 1941-1945. (Surprisingly some sections of the Brooke period documents purported to be lost during the war in Brunei had surfaced in Singapore recently). Apparently the then private secretary to the Sultan and a renowned public servant, Pehin Datu Perdana Menteri Ibrahim Jaafar was credited to have saved some important State files that had been passed on to the Brunei national archives.

The old Brunei’s historical documents, if written down in paper, must have suffered inevitable fate of destruction due to tropical weather and humid conditions. As for permanent material like stone inscriptions, unlike Vietnam and former Champa (Cambodia) and other Southeast Asian territories, Brunei lacked granite stones for inscriptional activities, and the lime stones of Brunei were not suitable material to inscribe indelible historical details.

Due to problems in documentation thus, some pioneer Western historians like Father Robert Nicholl, a former editor of the Brunei Museum Journal, refused to endorse the notion that the Brunei State came into existence any time before the sixteenth century. More significantly he argued that Brunei embraced Islam as a State religion only during the sixteenth century, something that runs counter to the views promoted by national historians who insist that the Islamisation of Brunei began since the 14th century onwards no sooner the founder of the present kingdom of Brunei namely Alak Betatar became a Muslim by adopting the name of Sultan Muhammad. Interestingly, many speakers in local MIB forums relish repeating the notion as if it was Alak Betatar, the first Muslim Sultan, as the pioneering architect of the Malay Islamic Monarchy ideology! In effect, it is a misguided effort to transpose modern realities into an uncertain past. It is in this context of non-existing historical documentation that the discovery of the Boxer Codex of 1590 CE assumes special significance for Brunei’s early history.

The importance of the Codex lies in its clear description of Brunei as a mature and a strong State besides corroborating the fact that Islam was vibrant in many aspects of life in the Sultanate. Historians agree that the infamous invasion of the Governor Captain Fransesco de Sande from Manila took place in 1578 because of the strong Islamic standing of the Brunei rulers. Not only in practising Islam, but Brunei had become an important Centre of Islamic propagation in the region. The kingdom sent out Islamic preachers to Borneo and the Philippines where Islam as an official religion had come to an end with the defeat of Raja Sulaiman under the Spanish onslaught. Governor de Sande was concerned that Brunei may again re-emerge as a powerful Islamic State and hence sent several warnings to Sultan Abdul Kahar to stop all Islamic propagation activities. When the Brunei King did not comply, de Sande brought a heavy fleet to defeat Brunei. Although initially a success, de Sande’s invasion could not be sustained, and within two years he pulled back his troops to the Philippines. Brunei escaped the fate of the Philippines which became a Catholic state.

And it is through the Boxer Codex that we understand that the Brunei kingdom has sprung back to thrive as an Islamic state to introduce at least some sections of Islamic penal code within a tradition bound legal system of the period.

(To be continued)


Thursday, November 28, 2013

The World Culture Forum, Bali 24 - 27th November 2013

I was a participant of the inaugural World Culture Forum in Indonesia recently. The WCF's main aim was to be like the Davos World Economic Forum and the RIO International Environment Forum but in culture. It ended on 27th November 2013. The World Culture Forum in Indonesia reported the following news:


World Culture Forum closes in Indonesia

BALI, Indonesia, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- The World Culture Forum ( WCF) was closed on Tuesday afternoon with a joint commitment document that calls for measurable, effective role and integration of culture at all levels in the post-2015 development agenda.

The conclusion of the inaugural WCF event was conducted by Indonesian National Education and Culture Minister Muhammad Nuh at Bali International Convention Center (BICC).

According to the document of Bali Promise, participants promised to seek new modality for the valuing and measuring of culture in sustainable developments, developing accountable ethical framework for evidence-based measures of community engagement and stakeholders benefits, fostering new participatory models promoting cultural democracy and social inclusion and fostering the stability in social, political and economic development for nurturing the culture of peace at both local and international levels.

Supporting the leadership of young people in cultural endeavors, promoting local knowledge system in guiding environmental conservation and heritage protection and developing and strengthening productive partnerships among public and private sectors are also included in the Bali Promise.

"We are grateful that we have conducted this inaugural event successfully. The event was featured with high dynamic thought changing among prominent cultural experts. And because this was the first to have been convened, we use promise as the outcome of the event," Muhammad Nuh told a press conference.

The minister said that Indonesia intends to become the eternal host of the WCF event in the future. "Indonesia would be the eternal home to WCF. So the host would still be Indonesia, other countries may act as the co-host. We would convene it once in two years," the minister said.

The idea to use the power of culture in sustainable development was originally conceived by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2005. The inaugural WCF event materialized the president's idea, attended by ministerial officials of 16 countries and a total of 800 participants from 65 countries.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Brunei's Sustainable Development Through Culture

The Borneo Bulletin on 27th November 2013 reported on the following news about Culture being an important agenda in a nation's sustainable development which was stated by the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports at the inaugural World Culture Forum in Bali.


Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Laila Diraja Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Hazair bin Haji Abdullah, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports and Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohd Yunos, Permanent Secre-tary at the ministry at the event. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MINISTRY OF CULTURE, YOUTH AND SPORTS
Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Laila Diraja Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Hazair bin Haji Abdullah, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports and Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohd Yunos, Permanent Secre-tary at the ministry at the event. – PHOTO COURTESY OF MINISTRY OF CULTURE, YOUTH AND SPORTS
CULTURE is an important agenda in a nation’s sustainable development as it can address poverty, unemployment and sustainable development.

At the regional and international levels, diverse cultural linkages, understanding and appreciation as well as exchanges can further foster cooperation thus contributing to regional and global peace, stability and sustainable development.

This was highlighted by the Minister Of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS), Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Laila Diraja Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Hazair bin Haji Abdullah, at the inaugural World Culture Forum, in Bali, a press release stated.

Pehin Dato Seri Setia Awang Hj Hazair stressed the importance of both hard and soft culture in gearing towards sustainable development.

For hard culture to contribute towards sustainable development and addressing issues such as poverty eradication, rural development and tourism, it requires access to market and resources including capital as well as technology.

Soft culture, on the other hand, also has a strong impact on the sustainable development as it promotes cohesiveness and trust that bind members of the society together through values such as the spirit of giving, loyalty, pride and respect.

Pehin Dato Seri Setia Awang Hj Hazair also shared Brunei Darussalam’s efforts through programmes and activities ensuring sustainable development through culture.

Such programmes include the three-month National Service Programme whose main components are self-esteem, religion and nationalism; discipline and physical training; entrepreneurship; and community service and volunteerism.

The programme encourages youths to acquire knowledge from various sources, to develop empathy with the society at large while maintaining their identity and roots.

Pehin Dato Seri Setia Awang Hj Hazair concluded that this forum is very crucial in empowering the role of culture towards sustainable development as it encourages learning from each other, exchange of ideas and acquiring the best practice that can be applied in each nation’s different cultural settings.

The forum was inaugurated by Dato Laila Utama Dr Hj Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the President of the Republic of Indonesia. Twelve ministers of culture and their representatives attended the forum together with more than 800 registered participants from around the world.

It was held at the Bali International Convention Centre from the November 24 to 27.

During the forum, the ministers shared their respective countries’ experiences and their thoughts on the theme of the forum which is “The Power of Culture in Sustainable Development”. Seminars and roundtable discussions were also held for the participants.

Pehin Dato Seri Setia Awang Hj Hazair also attended the opening ceremony dinner hosted by Professor Dr Muhammad Nuh, the Minister of Education and Culture of the Republic of Indonesia and was also attended by the President of the Republic of Indonesia at Garuda Wisnu Kencana, Bali.

Also attending the World Cultural Forum was Brig Gen (Rtd) Dato Paduka Mahmud Haji Saidin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Brunei Darussalam to Indonesia; Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohd Yunos, Permanent Secretary at the MCYS; and senior officers from the MCYS.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Historic Kampong Penchalap

My friend, Haji Mohd Daud Abdul Rahman, a prolific writer about Brunei on Borneo Bulletin wrote this recently about Kampong Penchalap and their renown Tudung Dulang. I did not about Kampong Penchalap until he wrote this article and published it in Borneo Bulletin on 23 November 2013 as follows:


Historic Kampong Penchalap Renown For Tudung Dulang

Kampong Penchalap, a village comprising seven houses circa 1930
by Haji Mohd Daud Abdul Rahman

 A ‘TUDUNG dulang’ is a traditional food covering weaved from Nipah leaves. Kampong Penchalap was a village renowned for making tudung dulang. This kampong was located opposite Kg Tamoi and Kg Pengiran Tajuddin Hitam at the site of where Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah Mosque stands today.

According to old stories, residents of Kampong Penchalap were very skilled in weaving Nipah leaves to produce a variety of household items including ‘tudung dulang’ (tudung segi), ‘takong’, ‘telaya’, ‘lakar’ and ‘bayong’. These items were used for daily activities such as making salted fish, storing powder as well as keeping rice. The name ‘penchalap’ comes from a type of colourful fine flour originating from India used for dyeing. Villagers would dye the Nipah leaves using the flour. The process involves boiling the leaves in the dye water for 30 minutes before hanging the leaves to dry.

A variety of tudung dulangs – a renowned product of Kampong Penchalap

Takong (basket) weaved from Nipah leaves used for washing fish prior to cooking

Young Nipah leaves used in the making of weaved handicrafts  -  PHOTOS: HAJI MOHD DAUD ABDUL RAHMAN
 The colourful leaves will then be used to make traditional handicrafts.

Besides being renowned for their weaving skills, the women of the kampong were also known for making traditional Malay kuehs such as ‘cincin’,  ‘penyaram’, ‘ardam’, ‘sapit’, ‘koya papan’ and ‘langa’.

The latter two are no longer found today as the utensils and expertise to cook them have gone extinct.

Luckily today, this craft still survives as there are still people producing items from weaved Nipah leaves thus preserving the heritage of Kampong Penchalap, a village that once produced beautiful traditional weaved handicrafts that were used both in daily life as well as ceremonies such as weddings and royal events.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Administration of the Law and Justice in Brunei before the British Part III

The opening folio No 73 in the Boxer Codex describing Brunei
Colour painting of a Tagalog couple featured in the Boxer Codex – 1590 CE
Facsimile of the front page of the Boxer Codex 
A Manila Galleon – foldout painting in the Boxer Codex  -  Photos courtesy of Indiana University, USA, the Digitisation Project


Significance of 'Boxer Codex' for Legal History of Brunei
by BA Hussainmiya, PhD

THE 19th century Brunei may have given the impression to the visiting Westerners as a weak state with a fledgling legal system. But it was not so during Brunei’s halcyon days in the 16th century; the vibrant Sultanate practised a rather sophisticated and model system of justice.

The definitive proof comes from an authentic Spanish manuscript dated 1588 CE  referred to nowadays as the ‘Boxer Codex’ which is by far the best source that portray the workings of Brunei penal system, the courts, the forms of law, and the punishments meted out to various offences including theft, murder, adultery and so on.

The description of the legal situation indicates that the Brunei’s justice system was home grown probably through a multitude of influences.

Firstly, it derived from Hindu-Buddhist, a legacy of its original Majapahit connections having used the Laws of Manu from India, a feature common in most contemporary Southeast Asian states.

Secondly, the practice of indigenous customary laws was superimposed on a Melakan mode.

Thirdly, under the spate of Islamisation dating back to the 14th century, the Syariah-compliant laws had been incorporated gradually.  Only a well-trained legal historian can distinguish such varied input in Brunei’s ancient legal system.  This is the picture one gets from reading the Boxer Codex, and before I highlight the actual meaty description on Brunei laws and practice at that period, it is necessary to enlighten the reader on the significance of the Boxer Codex.

The Codex and its importance

So what is the Boxer Codex? The existence of the Boxer Codex manuscript had been known since the middle of the last century.

The manuscript is called after the late Professor C R Boxer, who purchased it from Lord Ilchester’s library at Holland House. Professor Boxer was the renowned historian of Portuguese period at the Kings College, University of London.

The manuscript is in Spanish language containing vivid historical descriptions of many parts of Asia including Japan, China, Formosa, Luzon, Panay, Cebu, Mindanao, Sulu, New Guinea, Java, Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, and other places and not the least on Brunei.  Boxer translated part of it about China in 1953.

Tom Harrisson, the former Curator of the Brunei and later Sarawak Museum in 1960 took a special interest on the Brunei section in the folios from 71-86  of the manuscript and asked John Carroll to translate and publish it in English which was done in 1982.

As Carroll has admitted that, ‘To my knowledge, no other extant document tells so much about Berunai in the late 16th century’. (John Carroll, 1982:1)

The Brunei chapter was translated into English by John S Carroll and published in the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Society in 1982.

Surprisingly there has not been much attention given by local scholarship to the contents of this published manuscript despite its invaluable insights into the old Brunei kingdom.

The Codex highlights among other things geography, history, law, religion, government, protocol, commerce, weapons and calendar of Brunei. Its description amplifies in many ways the oft-quoted Italian Pigafetta’s description of Brunei and Kampung Ayer in 1521.

Unlike Pigafetta’s account, the former’s description hardly has entered into Brunei school textbooks, nor has this crucial information forms part of other local historical narratives.

Much attention is paid in contrast to the local chronicle Silsilah Raja-Raja Berunai or the historical chronicle of Brunei Kings edited and published by late Amin Sweeney.

However, it is only helpful to highlight the dynastic succession the past rulers starting from the founder Alak Betatar onwards.

It is not a testament on the social history of Brunei when it is also important for the historians to comment on people’s history of those indigenous communities and the immigrant communities who lived under the guidance of monarchic rule.

The Universiti Brunei Darussalam’s (UBD)  historical studies programme has initiated a special study of this Boxer Codex in a module taught on Brunei’s historical sources.

The next step perhaps is for serious Bruneian scholars to learn European languages like Spanish and Portuguese in which much of early Brunei history is hidden.

I myself had occasion to visit the Spanish Archives in Seville along with the Brunei History Centre officials and collected some records for preservation at the centre. The records need translation and further analysis.

With those slight diversionary comments let me return to the description of the Codex properly for the benefit of the readers.

The authorship of the Codex

The author of this Codex still remains anonymous. It is attributed to various persons including Gomez Perez Dasmarinas, Governor of the Spanish colony in the Philippines 1590-1593, or his son Luis.

Both of them sailed from Acapulco in Maxico on a Manila Galleon in 1590.

Since the manuscript explains Islam without condemning it, the author perhaps was a high-ranking Spanish secular official who had no apprehension about the Holy Inquisition.

According to Carlos Quirino and Mauro Garcia (1958) who translated the parts about the Philippines, the Ms was the work of Antonio de Padua, a soldier-turned priest, but the calligraphy seems to match that of Juan de Cuellar, a soldier who became the secretary to Perez Dasmarinas.

The termino ad quem of the Ms is 1590, but the Brunei sections carry the dates of 1588 and 1589.

Thus it was composed some 10 years after the infamous invasion of Brunei in 1578 by the Spanish forces from Manila led by its Governor, Fransisco de Sande who destroyed Brunei’s magnificent five-storey mosque situated close to Kota Batu, famous even among the Madrid royal circles.

Apparently some veterans who participated in the attack were still residents in Manila.

But they probably would not have been able to witness the things so realistically described in the Codex.  It is likely, therefore, that the Brunei part was written by someone who had actually lived in Brunei for a longer period of time.

The informant used both Malay and Tagalog words and was in Manila, and he substituted the Tagalog ‘l’ for Malay ‘r’ and the Tagalog ‘r’ for the Malay ‘d’.

The Codex account is therefore as valid as the Pigafetta description and an authentic description of Brunei legal system in the 16th century.

John Carroll, its translator, believes that it is the work of a Malay-speaking Tagalog residing in Manila, a trader who had visited Brunei as recently as 1589.

As early as 1578, Governor de Sande interrogated Muslim Tagalogs from Balayan to Luzon who had been in Brunei.

Like the imperialist Sande, Governor ‘Dasmarinas also would have wanted current information about trade and the potential enemies and allies of Spain, and perhaps the Boxer Codex was a notebook compiled for him by Cuellar for that purpose’.(Carroll 1980:1)

Like some other medieval manuscripts, Boxer Codex is also difficult to decipher as it is unparagraphed and malpunctuated while the calligraphy itself is unreadable in places.

Words often are not separated and spaces come in the middle of words and so on.

This is a challenge for Brunei researchers, state-sponsored or otherwise for they must be prepared to do painstaking research texts written in a foreign language if any meaningful history has to be written on Brunei long before the advent of the British at the end of the 18th century.

In fact, Professor Donald E Brown, a familiar name for Brunei scholars who pioneered many important research topics from anthropology to history since 1970s himself was sceptical to accept any historical truth about Brunei’s past well before the 19th century due to the paucity of critical sources.

The Boxer Codex therefore would change the perceptions of weaknesses in early Brunei History written uncritically mainly on the basis of legends and myths.

At least now we have something solid by way of an authentic source on Brunei rendered as BURNEY in the Boxer Codex to elucidate the actual situation in the 16th century especially in the field of law making and practice which we will highlight next week.

(To be continued)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Building an Asean identity

Borneo Bulletin on 21st November 2013 reported the following:


“THE culture and information sectors in Southeast Asia need to do more to build an Asean identity.”

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yunos said at the 48th Meeting of the Asean Committee on Culture and Information (COCI), one of the oldest institutions of Asean. The event took place at the International Convention Centre (ICC), Berakas.

“The goal here is to connect our people beyond borders, bridge cultural gaps and articulate the benefits of regional integration as we move towards the establishment of the Asean Community in 2015. Leaders accordingly have tasked all three Asean Community Councils to emphasise their efforts to relevant sectors, people and stakeholders – including through traditional, mainstream and new media. In this respect, they look forward to the early finalisation of the Asean Communication Master Plan,” he said.

The permanent secretary also recalled that the strategic objectives of the Asean Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Blueprint adopted by leaders in 2009 included creating a sense of belonging, consolidating unity and diversity as well as deepening mutual understandings of cultures, histories, religions and civilisations.

Other objectives included conserving and preserving cultural heritage, promoting cultural creativity as well as industries and engaging with the community as part of the broader goal of building an Asean identity.

Based on the Mid-Term Review of the Implementation of the ASCC Blueprint which was approved by leaders at the 23rd Asean Summit last month, more improvements are needed in the dissemination of information and reporting mechanisms.

The review also called for further development of websites and multimedia promotions through commercial mainstream media and greater publicity for core development issues. It urged sectoral bodies under the ASCC to integrate their programmes and activities with existing promotional material.

Presentation of Asean Television News Award 2013 to Channel News Asia by the permanent secretary. - PHOTOS: AZARAIMY HH
Presentation of Asean Television News Award 2013 to Channel News Asia by the permanent secretary. – PHOTOS: AZARAIMY HH

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yunos in a group photo with the committee of 48th Meeting of the Asean Committee on Culture and Information (COCI)
Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yunos in a group photo with the committee of 48th Meeting of the Asean Committee on Culture and Information (COCI)

In separate remarks, Datin Shireen Mustapha, the Special Duties Officer at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports who currently chairs the COCI, highlighted that the finding of the Mid-Term Review on Asean was unbalanced especially in terms of socio-cultural issues. The report, to a large extent, emphasised official events and processes at the expense of other activities.

“To create a deeper understanding and more holistic view of Asean, the review recommended that we should address this imbalance. I am confident that our meeting today will be able to make a meaningful contribution to the culture and information sectors that we represent,” she said.

The event yesterday also saw the presentation of the Asean Television News Award 2013 to Channel News Asia from Singapore for best contribution to the Asean Television News.

The award was presented by the permanent secretary.

Cambodia will succeed Brunei as chair of the committee, which includes representatives of various government ministries in Asean as well as radio and television broadcasters, museums, libraries and national archives.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Administration of Law and Justice in Brunei before the British Part II

Why did Westerners look down upon Brunei's judiciary during 19th century?

BA Hussainmiya, Borneo Bulletin 16 November 2013


Continuation of ‘Administration of law, justice in Brunei before coming of the British’, published on Page 18 of the November 9, 2013 edition of the Weekend Bulletin


ANY historical analysis of pre-colonial Brunei laws of must refer to two opposing points of view- the first is an idealistic one favoured by the local experts while the other is a negative one expressed by colonialist administrators.

Several local scholars paint a romanticist yet an uncritical view of Brunei’s laws as being in force in the old Sultanate. Thus there is much emphasis laid on the significance of a legal compendium such as Hukum Kanun Brunei and Syariah laws in addition to Adat laws (customary laws) as sources for resolving disputes of various offences involving civil and criminal cases.

Although, these studies are valuable, needless to say that the idealistic presentation of the pre-colonial legal history would bear more validity  if it could be supported by painstaking research which can supply solid evidence or proof of actual case studies from the past. Instead the local scholarship in most parts is content to provide references to a few incidental examples, and that too culled from some early British reports.

For example, there are repeated citations in local scholarship of Sultan Abdul Mumin who sentenced to death a certain Pengiran Mohamed for a murder offence but was protected by the inhabitants of the Kampung Ayer ward of Brunei Pingai. (Spenser St John Cited in Asbol Mail: 150). Also a former British Consul, W H Treacher, mentioned in 1876 of a death by hanging of another murderer, one Pengiran Maidin by the orders of Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam.

Similarly, W H Treacher, a British Consul, also mentioned the cutting of hands on the Sultan’s orders of three thieves alleged to have broken into a British ship anchored in the Brunei harbour.

It needs to be reiterated here that the Brunei law codes such as Hukum Kanun Brunei, like its equivalent canon laws in Malaya, were the work of learned scribes at the court of the Sultans. One doubts if they actually served as guidance in settling disputes. Referring to the Malayan example, a leading European authority on Malay law, R J Wilkinson (1908) has therefore warned against taking ‘the so-called codes too seriously’.

Similarly Hugh Clifford, the first British administrator sent to Pahang confirmed that ‘hardly anyone except a few Malay scholars know the contents of the ‘Kanun, and that it is never followed in dealing with offences…’. I will follow up this aspect more in the coming weeks.

Western critics of Brunei laws

In the 19th century the European observers generally held negative views about Brunei’s judicial system besides being quick to condemn the Brunei legal practices (Peter Leys) at a time of the diminishing sovereign powers of Sultan Abdul Mumin and Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam.

The White Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Brooke was hell bent to annex the entire Brunei kingdom. Moreover, self-seeking Brooke, behaved as the paragon of justice, ruling over a people who were peace loving and happily living with least governmental interference as opposed to Brunei which he caricatured as ‘a blot on civilisation’.

It was during this phase in particular that the visiting foreign observers accused that law and order in Brunei had broken down to the point that the Sultan and rudimentary court systems, if any, hardly or effectively exercised their jurisdiction over much of their subjects.

The most blatant criticism of the Brunei justice system came from M S H McArthur sent to report on Brunei in 1904 (Hussainmiya 2006) and was expected to recommend the dissolution of Brunei.
MSH McArthur as a student in Oxford University, 1890

What irked McArthur most was the fact that the Sultan would not punish culprits – from murderers (if only a handful of cases) to petty thieves – in his kingdom. He faulted the Sultan for being too ‘weak and too prone to treat offenders, even against his own laws, leniently.’

The Sultan, however, was not totally to blame.

If he overdid his role, the chiefs as powerful as him would be alienated from him. In other instances when he made his best effort to perform his duty, he was held back ironically by the British over lordship that restrained him from pursuing miscreants in his kingdom. (For details, see Hussainmiya, ‘Brunei: Revival of 1906’, Brunei Press, 2006).

The visiting Consul McArthur, however, did admit the dilemma faced by a hapless Sultan Hashim.

McArthur realised that the Sultan scarcely wished to cross swords or sit on judgment with his own kin and the privileged pengirans or the nobles for their wrong doings lest being politically isolated.

Moreover, by ‘the constitution and custom of Brunei’, the Sultan could not interfere in other peoples domains, as underscored in the McArthur’s Report (Hussainmiya 2006).

It will also be of interest to note that McArthur was surprised to find much less crime in Brunei during his brief visit and, impressed by the fact that ‘… (T)he offence against person and property are not more frequent, when it is remembered that there is no police system, and that the public peace is allowed to look after itself.’ This was the crux of the Brunei justice system, attributable to the checks and balances that prevented people from committing blatant crimes. Brunei people by nature were law abiding.

Returning to contemporary British reports about the failing justice system, they were not just confined to Brunei. Similar strident criticisms had been leveled by the Europeans about the judicature in the Malay sultanates in the Peninsula as well.

In general they were comparing the justice system in their own developed countries with that of fledgling Brunei Sultanate in its weakest stage.

But were they correct? Why did they run down the legal standing of the Malay indigenous societies? How could they compare the ‘human rights’ record of mature bureaucratised governments of Europe as against personalised governments in the Malay Sultanates?

In order to answer these questions some explanation is needed on the evolution of the Western legal system or more specifically the English Legal system upon which much of Brunei’s legal principles were based ever since the British Residency system was introduced in 1906.

The concepts of justice in the European societies had evolved out of long historical experience and experiments. Their societies have moved from feudalism to national States after lengthy periods of struggle in which hundreds had perished due to actions of megalomaniac rulers and religious wars, etc. The French revolution of 1789 was a clear turning point that wiped out royal despotism, and Napoleonic wars that followed helped to nurture new nation States away from arbitrary rules of despotic regimes.

England’s case was still more exemplary. Since the declaration of the charter of rights of common people in Magna Carta of 1215, the English Parliament, despite the continuation of monarchic rule, albeit constitutional, evolved with its own traditions and unwritten laws. More importantly the institutions of law giving thrived in a healthy environment under a system of separation of powers and passing of much reformist legislation, not solely on the directives of the British crown.

What is important for this discussion is the fact that the strength of the English mechanism of justice lies in the application of a fixed code of law in accordance with the laws of precedence and without fear or favour to any whom an independent judiciary have to adjudicate upon. Experience has shown that this mechanism was the most effective way to mete out justice impartially.

However it is a product of an unusual sequence of conditions and events. However, European or more specifically the British exportation of their justice system to their colonial territories did not always work well. Nevertheless, the post-colonial innovations in criminal justice system brought revolutionary improvements to indigenous judicial practices.

A classic summary of this development can be found in K M Panikkar’s ‘Asia and Western Dominance’ (1953: 497) who was a foremost critic of European influence in Asia. “The establishment of the great principle of equality of all before law in a country where under Hindu doctrines a Brahmin could not be punished on the evidence of a Sudra (low caste), or even punishments varied according to caste, and where, according to Muslim law, testimony could not be accepted against a Muslim was itself a legal revolution of the first importance … the Indian penal code (under British impetus) was a great improvement on the previous systems.”

Despite the merits of the English common law introduced in Brunei, the foreign derived laws based on equity, equality and magnanimity would not have been able to comprehensively address the needs of an Islamic Sultanate.

Historically an essential function of law and order in Malay societies is not just to safeguard individual’s rights but more importantly as a means to preserve social cohesion.

An attempt to elevate justice into something absolute and not something relative to the society in which it exists crates its own problems. Let us see how Brunei’s indigenous legal framework then functioned in rudimentary ways before the coming of the British.

(To be continued)


(Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tasek Lama 1960s

My friend, Haji Mohd Daud Abdul Rahman was remiscing about the Tasek Lama in the 1950s in The Borneo Bulletin 17 November 2013.


Once serene Tasek Lama now a recreational spot

by Haji Mohd Daud Abdul Rahman

TASEK Lama is located about two kilometres from Bandar Seri Begawan’s city centre. Back then, Tasek Lama was not as easily accessible as it is today. People would have to brave the dense jungle to make their way to Tasek Lama. In 1957, people especially youths would go to Tasek Lama in groups.

The trek to Tasek Lama would take 30 minutes and along the way, visitors would face various obstacles such as muddy pathways, thick vegetation and fallen branches. However, once they reach their destination, visitors were rewarded for their efforts with the natural beauty of the surroundings accentuated by the cascading waterfall.

Staff of the PWD Workshop in Tasek Lama, 1957

A photo of the Tasek Lama waterfall in 1960
The water was a striking green colour and fell off the top of the waterfall at an impressive rate. Visitors would relax and admire nature’s beauty. The familiar sounds of birds and monkeys would fill the air. Fast forward to the present and Tasek Lama is a stark contrast from what it was in the 1950s.

Today, Tasek Lama is a popular destination for recreation and is equipped with modern amenities such as jogging tracks and hiking trails as well as playground for those with families.

Government houses located along the road to Tasek Lama in 1962 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Administration of Law and Justice in Brunei before the British Part I

Administration of Law, Justice in Brunei Darussalam before coming of the Britsh

B A Hussainmiya, Borneo Bulletin 9 November 2013


IN VIEW of my involvement with Brunei historical topics, many people have been asking me to furnish some ideas about the historical antecedents of legal system and practice in Brunei in the ancient and medieval periods. With some trepidation, I have taken courage in this series to fulfil my obligation as a historian to delve into a grey area with the hope that other scholars will be able to add or amend my observations on the implementation of Adat (Customary), Kanun and Syariah laws in Brunei in the olden times. At the outset I must reiterate that fact that I claim no expertise in any aspect of Syariah Law whatsoever, and this paper is not going to focus on the intricacies of Islamic Laws as such. This is going to be an exercise in historical outline to what went on in the area of legal practice in the old kingdom of Brunei since its legendary founding in the 14th Century CE.

In fact, I am not a historian of ancient Brunei which is another problematic subject in view of paucity of critical source materials. Brunei’s History Centre has produced several books dealing with this period and a few foreign scholars, especially late Robert Nicholl have also conducted research and written works to explain many salient facts about pre-colonial Brunei History. This series of articles is a reproduction of a paper I read at a Seminar on Social and Economic History of Brunei, organised by the Department of History, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Nov 14-15, 2006, which was later published in the ‘Journal of Southeast Asian Studies’ in UBD.

My specialisation is in modern Brunei history, especially the period after the accession to the throne of Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien III (r1950-1967) whose political biography I dealt with in my 1995 book published by the Oxford University Press. As the readers of this newspaper may be aware that I have written extensively on the background politics and circumstances leading to the making of the 1959 Brunei Constitution, first in a series of weekly articles published in the Weekend Borneo Bulletin a decade ago which were later compiled and published as a separate book in two editions by the Brunei Press (Sdn) Bhd in 2000.

Like many other aspects of Brunei’s past, a comprehensive study of the Sultanate’s legal history is yet to be undertaken. Given the importance of the Brunei kingdom as the foremost sultanate in the Borneo Island, it is to be anticipated that a firm foundation for a legal system had had been laid reinforcing other characteristics of a strong state. In fact, few incidental references to Brunei in the medieval Portuguese and Spanish records point in that direction because the kingdom seemed to have practised a reasonably well-entrenched legal system. For instance, Ludovico Varthema of Bologna, one of the early visitors to Brunei in about the year 1505 mentioned that justice was well administered in the island of Borneo/Brunei (cited in Robert Nicholl 1975: 3). Similarly Tome Pires, a resident in Melaka from 1512 until 1515 and a supervisor of spice trade referred to the Borneans as seemed to be peaceable men. Antonio Pigafetta who visited Brunei in 1521 and wrote a comprehensive and authentic account of Brunei, although did not go into details of legal matters, yet referred to adherence of Islamic practices including not eating pork, ritual killing of animals, aspects of personal cleanliness, circumcision etc., (Robert Nicholl 1975: 8-13). Apparently Brunei’s emergence as an Islamic power in South China Sea in the medieval period was an important factor that transformed a minor port polity into a strong state. The ascendancy of the state as an economic power as well as an Islamic missionary state required a good legal foundation. The official history of Brunei generally traces the foundations of Islam from the middle of the 14th century when a local tribal leader known as Alak Betatar became a Muslim and assumed the name of Sultan Muhammad (Pehin Mohd Jamil al Sufri 2000: 72-74) . The third Sultan in the official Brunei genealogy was a foreigner Syarif Ali presumed to have hailed from Taif in Arabia and was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad’s  (pbuh) nephew and son-in-law, Ali, the fourth Caliph in the Islamic history. The Brunei chronicles ie (Silsilah Raja-raja Berunai) refers to the introduction of Islamic Syariah law during his period. The 9th Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Hassan is credited with other achievements in writing down the legal texts in Brunei such as the Hukum Kanun.

Without getting into controversies about the dates or the names of the early rulers of Brunei, it is safe to conclude that by the early 16th century, Brunei emerged as a rich, prosperous and stable Sultanate in the region, a fact well illustrated by the writings of Antonio Pigafetta in 1521. Another Spanish document, referred to as the Boxer Codex, written in 1599 by a Spanish official who had been resident in Brunei highlights an elaborate and organised form of a state and government of Brunei (John S Carroll 1982) Apart from many authentic observations by the writer of the Boxer codex, his description of the legal system in Brunei is quite stunning. It indicated above all a very systematic administration of justice in the kingdom. The document also delineates details of court proceedings, law of evidence, and various forms of punishments including the capital punishment meted out for wrong doers. The 19th century foreign references, particularly by the British observers, also help in understanding the practice of law in Brunei. However, it appears the system was not as ideal as it was during the 17th century, the glorious days of Brunei.

The 19th century witnessed a decline in Brunei’s power and status. This seemed to have resulted in a corresponding laxity in the way justice was administered. At any rate, law is not a static subject; it mutes into various forms in keeping with the needs of the time and exigencies. As might be expected the Brunei laws must have undergone changes throughout the period of under study until the arrival of the British in the scene. By that time Brunei was on the verge of extinction. M S H McArthur, a British official who was sent to Brunei in 1904 to report on the conditions of state and government in Brunei, for instance, highlighted the impotence of the Brunei legal system when the authorities were dilatory in punishing the wrong doers. McArthur concluded that (in Brunei) there is the semblance of a judicature, but little justice. (McArthur’s Report of 1904, A V M Horton Ed; 1987: 128).

This article intends to highlight features of the pre-colonial legal system and practice in Brunei based on references from foreign sources. Original Brunei was comprised a much larger territory including most parts of the present day Sarawak, and Sabah which are now Malaysian territories. After 1890, when Charles Brooke annexed the Limbang territory, the Brunei kingdom was reduced to the present borders of two separated enclaves of Brunei, Muara and Tutong on the one end, and Temburong on the other end covering about 5,000km in extent. Much of the discussion in this article is relevant to the practice of law close to the centre of power in Brunei, ie; Brunei (city) proper where the Sultan held court. It is obvious that in the outlying provinces courts, if any were, held under his authority by especially nominated officials. In fact, as the Boxer Codex mentions that the indigenous tribes such as Visayas who lived inland submitted themselves to the law of the Sultan, though not always voluntarily.

(To be continued)


(ourtesy of Borneo Bulletin)

Monday, November 04, 2013

Renewable Energy in Brunei

On 3rd November 2013, the Oxford Business Group reported the following news for Brunei:


Economic Update
Brunei Darussalam sharpens focus on renewable energy
Brunei Darussalam | 3 Nov 2013

While abroad Brunei Darussalam might be best known for its substantial hydrocarbons reserves, at home authorities are turning their attention to more “green” forms of energy, including solar. However, compared to some of its South-east Asian neighbours, the Sultanate has set more modest goals and has been slower to develop alternatives to oil and gas.

Selling power to the national grid

In September, the minister of energy, Pehin Dato Yasmin Umar, announced a plan to introduce a feed-in tariff scheme to promote the use of solar power, which will allow individuals and businesses to sell the electricity they generate back to the national energy firm.

Speaking at the opening of a workshop on policies, feed-in tariff frameworks and best practices for grid-connected solar photovoltaic projects on September 9, the minister said such a system would help reduce consumers’ power bills, encourage the use of renewable energy and promote a wider acceptance of efficient energy use.

Later, on the sidelines of the conference, the minister said that while many things needed to be done before the scheme could be implemented over the next 18 month to two years, the programme had much to offer both consumers and the national economy.

The government flagged the possibility of developing a feed-in tariff system at the beginning of the year, with officials suggesting Brunei Darussalam could adopt the scheme as a means to improve energy efficiency. However, it was not until the September workshop that a proposal was fleshed out and a time frame presented.

To support take up of the programme, the government is considering a number of incentives, including low-cost loans to consumers to fund solar panel installation, which could then be paid back using earnings from electricity generation.

According to the minister, the feed-in scheme would be complemented by the development of smart-grid infrastructure, which uses digital technology to help balance supply and demand using two-way communication, improving efficiency and reducing energy consumption. A smart-grid system can, for example, advise consumers to lower their consumption at peak-demand times. The minister added that since this would be a major investment, private sector participation was a possibility.

Greater use of renewables could cut carbon footprint

A study conducted by the World Bank shows that, on a per capita basis, Brunei Darussalam is one of the top electricity consumers globally, ranked seventh behind Iceland, Trinidad and Tobago, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The Sultanate also has one of the broadest per capita carbon footprints outside the Gulf region, with emissions per person amounting to almost 21 tonnes, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Most of Brunei Darussalam’s electricity is produced by gas-fired power stations, though there is some use of diesel generators in rural regions, mainly as a back up to the central grid. The only renewable facility is the 1.2-MW Tenaga Suria Brunei solar plant in Seria, commissioned in May 2011, representing around 1% of installed capacity. The minister of energy told local press in August 2012 that the plant is “a small but important first step in the development of renewable energy sources”.

The Sultanate has set a target of 10% of electricity production from renewable sources by 2035. Other countries in the region, however, are aiming much higher. Thailand’s Alternative Energy Development Plan 2011-21 targets 25% renewable energy and 2000 MW of solar power capacity. A number of projects have already come on-line in Thailand, bringing its installed solar capacity to well over 100 MW.

In Malaysia, a US-based firm, SunEdison, announced in July that it is investing RM170m ($39m) to build two solar plants, with a combined capacity of 15 MW, while the government there is aiming for 1250 MW of renewable power capacity by 2020. Meanwhile, ASEAN, of which Brunei Darussalam is a member, has committed to 15% renewable energy by 2015, a deadline that is fast approaching.

While it seems unlikely that the Sultanate could meet the overall ASEAN target, movement forward on both a feed-in tariff scheme and smart-grid infrastructure suggests that Brunei Darussalam is well-positioned to achieve its more modest goals.


Inspirational Quotes