The Boats of Brunei

When I was a young boy in the 1970s, my father was the District Officer in Temburong. Unlike today where you can drive easily to Bangar through Limbang, in those days, the road was not as accessible and there are two rivers that one has to cross using ferries. Today you still have to cross one of the river using a ferry but it is not as bad as the road has improved tremendously. We went back by boat once every week or every two weeks back to Bandar.

Being on the water at least twice a week on the journey to and fro Bangar, the boatmen always talked about boats etc. It was a fascinating insight into another aspect of Brunei which we don't normally get to hear. In those days, boats were using 'injin sigal'. It took me quite sometime to figure out that the early boat engines were made by a company called Seagull and hence 'injin sigal' (seagull engines). So much so that by the early 1980s, the then Director of Marine Department was nicknamed Dato Ahmad Sigal to differentiate him from the other 5 Dato Ahmads in the government service.

'Injin sigal' was used from the early 1950s in the water village. Before the boats used engines, they were using sails (layar) and/or huge oars (known as Awat in Brunei). The boats were known as perahu pedayung and perahu pengabat. The sailing boats were normally made up of either layar tambang (using triangular sails) or layar turun (using square sails). But with the advent of the modern engine, other boats became more prominent such as perahu kumpit and perahu pelauk.

The traditional boats are still being used today usually due to the location or condition of the river. The most famous being the 'temuai' used in Temburong to bring visitors to Belalong. Another one though dying is the 'gaman' which are rafts used by villagers who lived along the beaches. Another one which is used in Tutong is called the 'bangkar' which is used to ferry the newly weds among the Tutong people. Another boat type or boat look alike is called the 'kuntul'. However the 'kuntul' (attached photo) is used for carrying things on land rather than in water and would probably sink if taken to the water. It is dragged by a bull and used to carry agricultural produce such as fruits or rice.


Anonymous said…
nice story on the "Sigal" it was not only in his departmental circle and former officers that the name Dato Ahmad Sigal was known as...there was another continuation to that. Dato Ahmad Sigal served a well known department. He was known by that name as well. I am not sure whether it was his successor or predecessor in the same departement who was then called Dato Ismail Johnson, just to make the difference in their way they worked. All in all, basically both are not "love boats" [labut nya orang Brunei] but had ways of doing their work.
Anonymous said…
my uncle still keeps the sigal engine if i am not mistaken. He keeps it in his house beside his grammophone which we all don't seem to bother. truly a classic. hehehe

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