Brunei's American Hill

I didn't realise just how close our relationship to the Americans were. By the 1860s we had a diplomatic relationship with the USA. In fact in 1865, the United States Consul to Brunei, Claude Lee Moses obtained a 10-year lease for the territory of North Borneo from Brunei in exchange of a yearly tribute of $9,500. He later sold all his rights to a Hong Kong based US trader Joseph W. Torrey. Torrey with some associates formed the American Trading Company of Borneo and establised a planting and trading settlement on the mouth of the Kimanis river. Torrey was granted the title of Rajah of Ambong and Marudu and Supreme Ruler of the whole of North Borneo. The colonization attempt failed however and Torrey and others soon left. By the end of 1866 the settlement was completely abandoned before more attempts to renew the cessation in the later part of the 19th century.

Anyway, when the Americans were in Brunei, they stayed at a place near the Sungai Kebun area and that area is now known as Kampung Bukit Merikan. Get it? American in the local parlance became Merikan. That's the origin of the name for Kampung Bukit Merikan. Some elderly Bruneians used to call American as Merikans. A story told by an elderly friend when he was younger was a time when he wanted to purchase a pen and his father said 'jangantah bali pen pilot, ani buatan jepun, bali shafer, atu merikan..' loosely translated as 'don't buy the Pilot pen, that's Japanese made, buy the Scheaffer, that's American..'

A commentator to my earlier blog on the origins of the name has already noted that round the Lumapas area is a whole collection of village names which are fairly unusual such as Kampung Tarap Bau (presumably the smell of the Tarap fruits), Kampung Buang Tengkorok (tengkorok means skull and buang means to throw, presumably someone dumped some skulls there), Kampung Sungai Asam (sour river), Kampung Sengkirap, Kampung Buang Sakar, Kampung Pengkalan Batang and Kampung Lupak Luas. If you are expecting I am going to talk about the origins of those kampung names, you have to wait. I haven't gotten my sources on those names yet.

Another commentator talked about Kampung Masjid Lama which he presumes to be the site of an old mosque. He was right but he didn't know how old the mosque was. The kampung was named after an old mosque built by an Imam Haji Yaakub in 1920 on his own land. He was from Kelantan and married locally. The original name of the kampung was obviously not Masjid Lama as that could only have been named once the mosque was no longer used. The original settlers came from Kampung Tanjung Pelompong and a numberof them actually worked for the Brooketon Colliery which I blogged earlier. The Kampung has virtually vanished now to make way for the port and other infrastructure projects in that area.

Another name with 'lama' or 'old' in the name is Kampung Pekan Lama in the Kampung Ayer which I already alluded to on my blog on Kampung Ayer. Kampung Pekan Lama is built on a sandbank on the Brunei river. In the older days, it used to be the central market for the Kampung Ayer people and businesses used to be conducted in the area. It became a small business centre or a small town and in Brunei language, pekan means town. So, the name of the village remained as Kampung Pekan Lama (old town) even when the market and the businesses are no longer conducted in that village. And before it became Kampung Pekan Lama, it was known as Kampung Bakut China. Bakut meaning sandbank and China refers to the Chinese businessmen who used to predominate the businesses in that area. There is a nice article about the village on

More blogs on Brunei names in the future.


Anonymous said…

I should say that i really enjoy reading your posts...not only are they cleverly written but they also show so much about the culture in Brunei. It's also nice to read up on the experiences of civil servants in another country - gives me a whole new perspective towards my work. I am, by the way, from the Philippines and a gov't employee, too.

I do hope you can keep up your writing. And i do hope i'd get to visit your country one day - either officially or otherwise. For now though, thanks.

All the best.

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