Bears and Humans at Bukit Beruang

Bandar Seri Begawan
Sunday, January 24, 2016

IF A stranger to Brunei drives through from Tutong to Kuala Belait, he will come across a lot of place name signages along the highway and will, indeed, be surprised to find one that reads Perumahan Kampung Bukit Beruang, or “Bukit Beruang Village Housing Estate” if translated to English. If that special name of Bukit Beruang was to be translated further, it becomes “Bear Hill”.

Bear Hill or Bear’s Hill is, not surprisingly, quite a common name for places around the world. There is a Bear Mountain in California and in Brunei itself, there is a Sungai Beruang or “Bear River” not far from where Bukit Beruang is located.

In Canada, there used to be a place called Bear Hill in the early 19th century but since 2014, it had been changed to Maskwacis which still means Bear Hill in the Cree language.

South Dakota, USA, has a geological feature which is named Bear Butte. Bear Butte is called MathóPahá, or “Bear Mountain” by the Lakota Red Indians, or Sioux Red Indians. To the Cheyenne, it is known as Noahȧ-vose (“giving hill”) or Náhkȯhe-vose (“bear hill”),

According to John Knight in his book “Waiting for Wolves in Japan” (2003), in Japan, bears have an important place in Japanese culture. Japanese family names which bear the bear character would be Kumamura (“Bear Village”), Kumada (“Bear Field”), Kumazawa (“Bear Marsh”), Kumagai (“Bear Valley”) and Kumamoto (“Bear Origin”). While place names which also uses the bear character would be Kumayama (“Bear Mountain”), Kumaoka (“Bear Hill”), Kumagawa (“Bear River”) and Kumano (“Bear Plain”).

All these place names are associated with any of the eight species of bears in the world. Some may be where bears used to be found or located and hence that place carries the name of the bears. It is therefore not surprising that where the name of Bukit Beruang in Tutong would also be in reference to bears found in that area.

According to the elders of the Bukit Beruang area, Kampung Bukit Beruang was originally named Tepangan Beruang, which means “the tree where the bear lived”. Bears in that area are believed to nest or live on top of a certain tree and that is called ‘tepangan’.

It was said that in the old days, there were too many bears in the village. Every time a villager entered the forest, he would definitely meet a bear, especially villagers from Kampung Penyatang and Kampung Danau who were using perahus or small boats plying through the Rivers of Penyatang and Uropyang. These rivers were used as the route for their farming activities and to sell those agricultural products “bertamu” (“buying and selling”).

Most likely, the bears mentioned by those villagers are “Sun Bears”, a species of bears found typically in Southeast Asia and on the Borneo Island. According to studies on the sun bears, they are not very big. Sun bears usually grow to only about half the size of an American black bear. Males, slightly larger than females, are about five feet (1.5 metres) in length and weigh up to 150 pounds (70kg), a stature which suits their arboreal lifestyle and allows them to move easily through the trees.

What is interesting is that these bears have even been observed making sleeping platforms high above the ground out of branches and leaves. This means that the elderly villagers in Bukit Beruang were correct to describe that the bears in Bukit Beruang were found on top of trees and nested or lived on top of a certain tree.

The bears giving the name to Bukit Beruang are unique. There are eight living bear species in the world and the Malayan Sun Bears are the smallest of those eight species. The Malayan sun bear has short, sleek fur which is usually black but can range from reddish-brown to grey. Almost every sun bear has an individually distinct chest patch that is typically yellow, orange, or white, and may sometimes be speckled or spotted.

The Bukit Beruang bears or the Malayan Sun Bears have broad muzzles that are relatively short and a large head, giving the bears a dog-like appearance. They have small, rounded ears, a fleshy forehead that occasionally looks wrinkled, and an extremely long tongue which apparently is longest of all the bear species.

With feet turned slightly inward, large naked paws and long curved claws, thus making the sun bears well adapted for climbing trees. Their feet are extraordinarily large compared with its body size, potentially assisting in digging and breaking into dead wood in search of insects. The Malayan sun bears on Borneo are the smallest of this species and are considered by many to warrant subspeciesstatus (Helarctosmalayanuseurispylus).

The Malayan Sun Bears even though relatively known but scientifically it is considered as the least studied bear species, and comparatively to other bear species, little is known about the Malayan sun bear. It is known to be an opportunistic omnivore, using its long tongue to eat termites and ants, beetle larvae, bee larvae, honey and a large variety of fruit species, especially figs. Occasionally, it will also eat small rodents, birds and lizards.

During periodic mass-fruiting events, fruit makes up most of the diet, providing the opportunity for sun bears to build up, or recover, fat and energy reserves for the prolonged period of low fruit availability following these events. The sun bear spent most of its day hours foraging, although in human-disturbed areas it becomes more nocturnal. Unlike other bears in other parts of the world, it does not hibernate, as food is available year round.

What is interesting from the history of Kampung Bukit Beruang is not just where the unique bears meet and from which the place is named but there is also the history of the village itself. Bukit Beruang is also the place for the meeting of the people from the west, namely Kampung Bukit Udal and its surroundings with the people from areas next to the sea namely Kampung Penyatang, Kampung Danau and Kampung Telisai.

Using the river route while trading and “bertamu” on the river at a place called called Tamuan Lawai, residents from the villages next to the sea would be bringing merchandise such as dried fish, shrimp and so on while the people from the interior would be bringing their farming produce such as rice, cassava, sugar cane and others. Their recorded history began around the 1940s and 1950s.

Bukit Beruang area has two distinctive places, the original village of Bukit Beruang Village as well as the National Housing Estate Bukit Beruang. There are about 4,000 inhabitants in these two places.

It also has good infrastructure such as two secondary schools, the Sayyidina Othman Secondary School and the Tutong Sixth Form Centre. It also has a mosque as well as a community hall for the use of the inhabitants. There is also a Fire and Rescue Station in the area. There is also a number recreational places for exercises and sports, children playground area, a futsal arena and a basketball court.

Readers will hope and pray that Bukit Beruang will continue to prosper for both its human and bear residents.

The writer of The Golden Legacy – the longest running column in The Brunei Times – also runs a website at

The Brunei Times


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