Monday, June 13, 2016

Looking At Brunei Through Spanish Eyes



THIS week’s article continues on the narratives of the chapter on Brunei as written in the Boxer Codex. The Boxer Codex is a book written about Philippines and the surrounding region during the Spanish administration around the late 16th century. The Boxer Codex was found in 1947 by a British Historian named Professor Boxer.

The Boxer Codex noted that the current Sultan of Brunei was Sultan Nur Alam, who used a different name when he was a prince, Sultan Rijal. The Codex also noted that Brunei had two different people, one was the Visayans, who were not Muslims and the other people was the people of the Islamic religion and these people were not originally from Brunei.

According to the Boxer Codex, the Muslims in Brunei came originally with another ruler named Sultan Yusuf who originally came from Cavin, a city from the Mekah region around the late 12th century. Sultan Yusuf went to China and married a Chinese noblewoman, a Sangley from Nantay City in China. We continue with the Codex narrative as follows.

“After Sultan Yusuf arrived in Borneo, he settled in with his slaves or vassals and subjugated the natives Visayans of the island, forcing them to pay tribute to him. He bore children on the island by his aforementioned wife. He died a very old man and bequeathed the throne to his eldest son, according to customs.

“At his death he left a golden tablet that was reportedly thin and which measured a fathom square; he ordered that the names of all the kings who descended from him be set down in writing on it. And thus they have been recorded on this tablet, which the king himself kept and on which he wrote his name with his own hand.

“This tablet was lost when Francisco de Sande sacked Brunei while governor of those island. It is surmised that the old king, the father of the present king, who had possession of the tablet, buried it or threw it into the sea.

“And because this king died around the time and left no clues as to the fate of the tablet, the names of past kings of Brunei are not known, save those who have been preserved by memory, which are as follows.

“The great grandfather of the current king was named Sultan Sulaiman, and his grandfather was Sultan Salan. And the father of the present king, the one who lost the plate, was called Sultan Aril Lula. The current king, as I have said, is Sultan Nur Alam, and his son, who has been named his successor is called Raja Berunai.

“The Kings who have reigned in Brunei have always been legitimate heirs to the throne without interruption, but the eldest son have always been the successors and this has been the manner of succession from Sultan Yusuf and his wife.”

When we looked at all the names, we see a number of names which are not listed on the Tarsilah.

Sultan Nur Alam. Sultan Aril Lula. Sultan Salam and of course the name of Sultan Yusuf himself. Of the names which are also listed on the Tarsilah are Sultan Sulaiman and Raja Berunai. Sultan Sulaiman is the fourth Sultan listed in the Tarsilah and it was said that he reigned from 1432 to 1485 and he abdicated to let his son, Sultan Bolkiah ascend the throne as the fifth Sultan.

According to the footnotes in the book, it is possible that Sultan Salan was actuallly Sultan Bolkiah, the son of Sultan Sulaiman, the fifth Sultan of Brunei. Carrol hypothesises that the name Salan could stem from Malay-Arabic Salam, meaning ‘peace’ and we add that he could have been borned this name while prince.

Sultan Aril Lula could refer to the father of Sultan Saiful Rijal who was the sixth ruler of Brunei. He is known as Sultan Abdul Kahar who reigned from 1524 to 1535.

Raja Berunai could refer to Sultan Shah Berunai, the eighth Sultan of Brunei who reigned from 1581 to 1582.

That lost genealogical table is very precious. It could have told us many things about the origin of the kingdom and the origin of the ruling family and could have told us so much about life in those days.

The rest of the Brunei Chapter in the Boxer Codex deals with the country, the laws, its customs and its people. The Boxer Codex described the country as follows:

“The King of Brunei’s palace and seat of government is a league and a half up river from the coast; as I have mentioned, this main river is called the Brunei. This city has about 8,000 households. And because it was built on water, the only way to travel in the city is in small boats called ‘bangkas’ of which they have a great quantity to supply this need.

“Outlying the capital there are many other towns on up the rivers and along the coast; indeed, the island is heavily populated, especially the interior. All the houses are made of timber and are thatched with nipa leaves. They are constructed very close together and hence the people are wary of fires.

“The city’s waterways are all salty, thus the city is more an arm of the sea than a river, though it is true that there is fresh water two leagues upriver. This arm of the city is approximately 250 paces wide. The city is protected on two sides by high mountains ranges.

“The inhabitants go to great lengths to bring the fresh water they consume to their houses at low cost. It flows day and night into a kind of basin, as follows. There is an abundance of very good water in these two mountain ranges. They take big bamboo canes, split them and place supports under them so that they function like troughs that carry the water from the two mountain ranges to their houses.”

The extent of Brunei’s reign in those days was described as follows:

“The jurisdiction of this realm extends to a river that is near the end of this island of Borneo; the river, called the Sambas, runs toward the south-west. It once belonged to this kingdom but is now in the possession of the queen of Java because she seized it.

“There are many other islands besides this one that are subject to the said kingdom, such as the island of Jolo on the opposite coast. All these islands obey and pay tribute to Brunei.”

Brunei around the late 16th century had started to lose some of its territory especially in the southwest of Borneo such as Sambas. However Brunei still retained the north east of Borneo and the islands around the Sulu were still controlled by Brunei.

Perhaps we can look into the other subject matters mentioned in the Boxer Codex for our future articles.

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

The Brunei Times

Monday, June 06, 2016

History of Brunei Through Spanish Eyes Part II



A DOCUMENT found by a historian by the name of CR Boxer in 1947 may have a profound effect on Brunei’s history. The manuscript called the ‘Boxer Codex’ is described as a manuscript dating from the late 16th century and containing about 270 pages of text, written probably by a Spanish and possibly by a Filipino clerk, and drawn from a variety of sources.

The most important is that the text of this single volume manuscript consists of contemporary accounts describing these places, their people and customs, and the European contact with them.

Many other European accounts about Brunei and the surrounding areas in the 15th and 16th centuries have been found and analysed decades if not centuries ago. Robert Nicholl published a book entitled European Sources for the History of the Sultanate of Brunei in the Sixteenth Century through the Brunei Museums which contained all that was known about Brunei that was already written and published.

However the Boxer Codex despite it being written in the 16th century, it was only after 1947 that it was thoroughly researched and the Brunei chapter in the Codex was only translated in 1982 when John S Carroll translated and published it in English in the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Society (JMBRAS).

The entire Boxer Codex including the Brunei chapter has also now been translated and published in a book form entitled The Boxer Codex: Transcription and Translation of an Illustrated Late Sixteenth Century Spanish Manuscript Concerning the Geography, Ethnography and History of the Pacific, South-East Asia and East Asia by Jeffrey S Turley and edited by George Bryan Souza and Jeffrey S Turley and published this year.

Brunei Darussalam had one chapter to itself. The Brunei chapter had no named author unlike the other chapters of the book. So, it is not known who actually wrote the chapter on Brunei and why he remained anonymous.

In the entire codex, Brunei Darussalam were also mentioned in the other chapters. But that one stand alone chapter means that Brunei was important enough to warrant special attention by the Spanish authorities in Manila at that time.

However reading the Brunei chapter can be quite confusing to non-historians.

One can be constantly referring to the names of the current officially used royal genealogy table to find the comparison between who was named in the Codex versus who was listed genealogically and trying to decipher who has the correct name or even list.

The first line of the Brunei chapter read as follows:

“The island of Brunei, which is presently ruled by Sultan Nur Alam, who while prince went by a different name, Sultan Rijal, is 280 leagues to the southwest of Manila.”

In the comments, the editors of the Boxer Codex noted the following with reference to Sultan Nur Alam and Sultan Lijar as follows:

“Nula Alam and Sultan Lixar, respectively. Actually, these names have probably been inverted, since the Sultan in question, Sultan Saiful Rijal, was known to the Spaniards as Sultan Lixar. Indeed, this Saiful Rijal was the Sultan of Brunei during the so-called Castilian War, the 1578 Spanish Invasion of Brunei under the command of Francisco de Sande. Nothing more is known about Saiful Rijal’s princely name. While the chronology regarding the reigns of the Brunei sultans is problematic, it is probable that Saiful Rijal ruled from 1535-1581.”

According to Brunei’s History Centre, Sultan Saiful Rijal ruled from 1533 to 1581 and on his death in 1581, he was replaced by the Crown Prince Pengiran Muda Besar Shah Brunei.

“Sultan Saiful Rizal (TM 1533 - 1581). Baginda naik takhta pada TM 1533. Pada TM 1578, Brunei telah diserang oleh Sepanyol di Manila. Serangan itu termasyhur dengan sebutan ‘Perang Kastila’ tetapi berjaya diundurkan oleh Pengiran Bendahara Sakam bersama Orang Kaya Harimau Padang, 100 orang pahlawan terbilang dan rakyat yang taat kepada Sultan. Pada tahun ini juga Masjid Jame’ Brunei dibakar oleh Sepanyol. Baginda lindung pada TM 1581 dan digantikan oleh putera Baginda, Pengiran Muda Besar Shah Brunei.”

However the editors of the Boxer Codex further noted that:

“Below, the author of this section of the MS states that he saw this Sultan in 1589; the problem is that the MS refers to him as rey, meaning ‘king’. Unless we are to ascribe gross error to the MS, it must be assumed that Sultan Saiful Rijal was co-regent with his grandson, Mohammed Hassan just as his father Sultan Abdul Kahar had been co-regent with him.”

However the Brunei History Centre clearly stated that Sultan Saiful Rizal died in 1581. It cannot be that he was still alive in 1589 to be co-regent with his grandson, Sultan Mohammed Hassan. Who was then that Sultan?

As we go deeper into the Brunei Chapter, the chapter had a description and origin of the Malays and Islam in Brunei. On the origin of the Malays and Muslims in Brunei, the author of the Brunei Chapter wrote that the ‘Islams’ mean people who do not eat pork are called Bruneians. Their origins and lineage is as follows:

“They say that 300 years ago – a little more or less – there arrived the lord of city called Cavin, located in those regions and provinces where the Malay Language is spoken, on the Mekah side. This man’s name was Sultan Yusuf, who was reportedly king of the city of Gavin. He left his kingdom bringing a multitude of people with him in many ships. And after coming here, he discovered many lands, always retaining his title of king and lord over all the people, calling them his slaves.”

“And continuing his voyage, he reached the island of Borneo, where he fought several battles with the native Visayans who inhabited them. And because their endeavour had a favourable outcome, they remained a few days, making enquiries concerning the land and fruits they found there, including camphor, which in our day is not known to exist anywhere else but in this kingdom and is highly prized among the Visayans, as it is among many nations. They also found goldmines and placers above the southern boundary, as well as several pearl fisheries.”

“Not content with this, and being youthful and given to exploration, he determined to push ahead in search of more lands, and taking his ships again with all his people, he sailed north by north-east.”

“And after a few days, he made port in the land of China and requesting permission to go ashore, he disembarked and went to see the Chinese Emperor, whom he recognised as the supreme king. The Chinese Emperor conferred him the title of king and authorised his use of his royal insignias and coat of arms, which the king of Brunei possesses to this day. And seeing that this Sultan Yusuf was a bachelor, he gave him a Sangley woman to wife, who, as is told to this day in this realm, was a relative of the Chinese Emperor. This Sangley woman was the ruler of a city called Nantay in the kingdom of China.”

“After the wedding, Sultan Yusuf bade farewell to the Chinese Emperor, and taking his wife and entourage with him, returned to Borneo, leaving someone behind in the city of Nantay to keep accounts of the revenues and estates belonging to his wife. And so today, even though the kings of Brunei have no dealings with the residents of Nantay, they still consider themselves lords of the city of Nantay, and they say that they have treasured up the revenues over all these years in the event that some king of Brunei comes asking for them.”

If that description is true (the Codex was written in 1589, and Sultan Yusuf came 300 years earlier from the Mekah region), the first Muslim Sultan of Brunei was established by the end of the 13th century, which is much earlier than current history which is at the end of the 14th century.

We will explore other aspects of the codex related to Brunei in the next few articles.

This is the end of part two. The next article on the Boxer Codex will appear next Sunday.

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

The Brunei Times

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Brunei History Through Spanish Eyes

Illustrations of the ethnic group in the Phiilippines in The Boxer Codex.
A Spanish galleon from the Boxer Codex. The manuscript now known as the Boxer Codex contains vivid historical descriptions of many parts of Asia including Brunei. Picture: Agencies

Rozan Yunos
Bandar Seri Begawan
Sunday, May 29, 2016

TO students studying history in primary and secondary schools, history can be a very dry subject. To them every fact, every date, and every opinion have already been locked in place. Their task seemed to be to memorise and regurgitate them during examinations.

But history is not like that. Even though it gives the appearance and the impression that everything is already known, it is not so. Below the surface, everything is still moving and in some cases fast flowing. The facts of history can change anytime. Some facts changed through some documents which have only been unearthed recently, or through some artifacts which have just been discovered. There is constant movement in establishing historical facts.

This is so much so that even historical ‘facts’ such as the Brunei Royal Genealogy Table which more or less was settled by the 18th century through the written ‘Salasilah Brunei’ faced changes when an unlisted Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan’s tomb was discovered in Nanjing, China in 1958. Brunei is such an old kingdom that there are probably more facts that needed to be discovered before the history of Brunei can actually be finalised.

Professor BA Hussainmiya, a former historian at UBD once wrote that “to write a history of the ancient past one requires a variety of primary sources ranging from archaeology, epigraphy, inscriptions, travellers’ tales, chronicles, numismatic etc”.

Unfortunately for Brunei, most of our documentations are lacking as we lack the suitable materials to keep long lasting records. We are very much relying on archaeology and tales such as Syair Awang Semaun but for documentation, we are relying on documents generally written by non-Bruneians thus far. So these documents are the only ones through which we have been establishing our Brunei ‘history’.

While many documents have been found but many more could lie lurking in libraries around the world which may have a profound effect on our history. One such document discovered in 1947 is only beginning to make its impact.

A historian by the name of CR Boxer came across an anonymous, undated manuscript with a missing title page that an auction catalogue has described as a curious 18th century work on Asia. The manuscript belong to Lord Ilchester. The manuscript was among what remained in his collection when his estate, Holland House in London was bombed by direct German shelling on September 27, 1940 during the Blitz at the height of the Second World War.

Professor Charles Ralph Boxer, a historian and an authority on the Far East, thought the document looked interesting and placed a nominal bid for the document. He actually won the auction with that nominal bid. It was several weeks later before that document arrived at his house.

When Professor Boxer received and opened the mail, he realised that he had a late 16th century work which was so beautiful that it could easily have been owned by someone who are important enough to receive such beautiful and colourful work. In 1965, the Professor sold this manuscript to Indiana University's Lilly Library.

Rebecca Cape and Stephen Cape writing in ‘The Friends of the Lilly Library Newsletter 23’ (Fall 1994) described the manuscript dating from the late 16th century and containing about 270 pages of text, written probably by a Spanish and possibly by a Filipino clerk, and drawn from a variety of sources.

There are also seventy-five coloured drawings of the inhabitants of China, the Philippines, Java, the Moluccas, the Ladrones, and Siam; eighty-eight smaller drawings of birds and fantastic animals; and a double-fold drawing depicting a Spanish ship off one of the Ladrone islands surrounded by the small canoes of the natives of the island. The text of the volume consists of contemporary accounts describing these places, their people and customs, and the European contact with them.

What is interesting to us Bruneians, is that, there is one standalone chapter on Brunei. According to Alfredo R Roces writing in the ‘Boxer Codex’ (1977), it is believed that the original owner of the manuscript was Luis Pérez Dasmariñas, son of Governor General Gomez Perez Dasmarinas, who was killed in 1593 by Sangleys or Chinese living in the Philippines. Luis succeeded his father in office as Governor-General of the Philippines. Since Spanish colonial governors were required to submit written reports on the territories they governed, it is likely that the manuscript was written under the orders of the governor.

Professor Hussainmiya (2013) wrote that the authors of the Codex have not been identified. 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, Professor Hussainmiya theorised that 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 manuscript 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 Brunei sections were written around 1588 and 1589. This is about 10 years after the Castille War in Brunei when the Spanish Forces came to Brunei and burnt down Brunei’s magnificent five-storey mosque situated close to Kota Batu.

The manuscript now known as the Boxer Codex was in fact a Spanish language manuscript 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. But the writers probably would not have been able to witness all 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.

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 S Carroll to translate and publish it in English which was done in 1982 when it was published in the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Society (JMBRAS).

John S Carroll noted that to his knowledge, no other extant document tells so much about Berunai (sic) in the late 16th century. He theorised that the Brunei component is the work of a Malay-speaking Tagalog residing in Manila, a trader who had visited Brunei as recently as 1589. It was known that 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.

The entire Boxer Codex including the Brunei chapter has also now been translated and published in a book form entitled ‘The Boxer Codex: Transcription and Translation of an Illustrated Late Sixteenth Century Spanish Manuscript Concerning the Geography, Ethnography and History of the Pacific, South-East Asia and East Asia’ by Jeffrey S Turley and edited by George Bryan Souza and Jeffrey S Turley and published this year (2016).

Professor Hussainmiya (2013) noted that despite the English translation being available, not much attention has been given by local scholars to the contents of this published manuscript despite its invaluable insights into the old Brunei kingdom. The codex highlighted among other things geography, history, law, religion, government, protocol, commerce, weapons and calendar of Brunei.

This is the first of a two-part article. Part two will be published next Sunday.

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

The Brunei Times


Friday, June 03, 2016

New Babu Raja Flyover

The new flyover at Jalan Babu Raja-Jalan Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha junction. BT/Fazizul Haqimie

 Abdul Aziz Ismail
Friday, June 3, 2016

A NEW flyover at Jalan Babu Raja and Jalan Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha is now open for motorists.

According to the Public Works Department (JKR) at the Ministry of Development (MoD), the flyover is one of the projects under the 10th National Development Plan (RKN 10).

The $20.2 million flyover, which began construction on June 20, 2012, was contracted to Tobishima.

According to JKR, the project is aimed at accommodating the increase in traffic, and at the same time, ensure safety of road users.

The new road development is also aimed to enhance the road networks where motorists are able to have more access. Traffic light systems have also been installed to ensure road safety.

JKR said the flyover could also reduce traffic congestion at Jalan Raja Isteri Pg Anak Saleha.

Present at the launching yesterday was the Acting Minister of Development Dato Paduka Hj Suhaimi Hj Gapar.

In an interview, he said that the project is aimed to ensure the traffic at the area runs smoothly.

“Before there were problems because there was a lot of traffic here. So this is to ease the traffic for motorists,” said the acting minister.

Dato Hj Suhaimi went on to say that more projects are in the pipelines, adding that the ministry will continue its efforts to make Brunei roads safer and more convenient.

JKR also reminded motorists to drive with caution and follow the provided road signs to ensure all road users’ safety.

Also present during the launching yesterday was the Permanent Secretary (Administration and Finance) of MoD Hj Md Lutfi Abdullah, along with the deputy permanent secretary, head of departments and senior officers.

The Brunei Times

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Very Rare 'Stink Lily' Found Growing in Brunei

The stink lily or ‘Amorphpophallus paeoniifoluis’ on the Murah Namit's lawn. Picture: BT/Khai Zem Mat Sani

Khai Zem Mat Sani
Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A PECULIAR-LOOKING plant growing naturally on the lawn of a 66-year-old woman in Kg Lumapas was identified by Heart of Borneo Centre Chief Executive as the ‘Amorphpophallus paeoniifoluis’ or stink lily.

“If it grows naturally the plant’s recent discovery would be the first recorded case of it ever growing in the sultanate,” said the chief executive of Brunei HoB Centre Mahmud Hj Mohd Yussof.

The plant, according to information on the ASEAN centre of Biodiversity’s website, is one of two of the largest flowers in the world found native to Borneo Island.

The 66-year-old senior citizen who made the discovery, Murah Namit, initially described her find as “A leafless flower stalk growing directly from the ground” which has started growing progressively since Thursday.

“At first, I thought it was just a wild plant but it started to grow differently after few days. The ‘leaf’ seems leathery and varies in colour. There were times I saw flies around the flower,” she said.

She added that residents from the village who flocked to her place to witness the unusual plant growth kept on saying the flower might be a ‘corpse flower’ or ‘Bunga Bangkai’ and it supposedly has rotting smell. But for the past few days I didn’t smell anything rotten coming from the flower,” she said. The plant was described to be measuring approximately 70cm wide and 50cm tall with maroon and purple coloured flowers.

The Brunei Times

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

HM Sultan Brunei: Greater Synergy Vital To Transnational Threats

Greater Synergy Vital To Transnational Threats

Rabiatul Kamit
Wednesday, June 1, 2016

HIS Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, has called for greater multi-agency cooperation in tackling the emergence of transnational security threats.

The Defence Minister and Supreme Commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) yesterday said the world is facing a multitude of security challenges across international boundaries.

In a titah at the 55th RBAF anniversary celebration, the monarch said the sultanate is “not exempted from the possibility of encountering” traditional and non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, maritime and cyber security as well as natural disasters.

His Majesty further underscored the need for cooperation not only among security agencies in the country, but also at the international level.

“It is, therefore, imperative to review the procedures and best practices as well as sharing of knowledge and skills through bilateral and multilateral exercises to ensure its relevance at all times,” said the Sultan during the event at the Defence Academy in Tanah Jambu.

As one of the hallmarks of the RBAF, His Majesty explained the new infrastructure is tasked with producing young officers equipped with fundamental leadership and military knowledge.

“The academy must continue to plan and broaden the scope of its teaching towards developing quality military officers at tactical, operational and strategic levels. All these are vital in facing the challenging and uncertain contemporary operating environment,” said the monarch.

His Majesty also cautioned against complacency following RBAF’s procurement of “sophisticated and state-of-the-art” military equipment.

“This should not stop us from making further improvements... The Ministry of Defence will need to continue to adjust the direction of development planning and research according to requirements and priorities,” added the Sultan.

The Brunei Times

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