Rural Tutong, Brunei's Different Side

[Note: I published the following article for my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times 10th February 2008.]

TUTONG District with its capital Pekan Tutong or Tutong Town is sparsely populated compared to either Brunei/Muara or Belait Districts. Despite that, it is a unique district, so ethnically diverse that it presents, in fact, a completely different side of Brunei.

Even though only a half hour's drive from the hustle and bustle of Bandar Seri Begawan, it has a diverse culture and retained the unique lifestyle of rural Brunei.

It has an abundance of natural beauty ranging from the white sands of Pasir Puteh to the rocky outcroppings of the beautiful seaside beach of Pantai Seri Kenangan and all the way inland to the scenic and mysterious Tasek Merimbun, a serpentine lake surrounded by swamps and hundred years old burial grounds.

The natives or the locals of Tutong speak the Tutong language, a language which is completely different compared to the other native languages in Brunei which maintained their similarity in words.

Tutong has an interesting history. As late as the 1910, there were factions in Tutong that did not want to remain within the Brunei Sultanate. Tutong is certainly an enigma within Brunei.

According to historians, we do not know the origin of the true Tutong natives. Based on the oral traditions of the Melanau in Mukah, the Tutong natives were under the control of the Melanau Government then based in Mukah even before the establishment of the Brunei Sultanate which existed from the 14th century.

In fact Tutong was one of Brunei's early conquests in the expansion of its territory when the Brunei Sultanate expanded from the 14th century onwards according to Lawrence in his article entitled "The First Brunei Conquests on the Sarawak Coast" published in 1911.

According to Brunei's own epic poems, Syair Awang Semaun, this happened during the rule of Brunei's first ruler, Awang Alak Betatar, later renamed as Sultan Muhammad Shah when Brunei battled against the Melanau Government. When Melanau lost, Brunei conquered all its territories stretching from Mukah to Tutong.

This means that Tutong has been occupied by the native Tutong people living near Tutong River much earlier than the natives of Brunei River.

By the time of Sultan Hassan, Brunei's ninth Sultan, Tutong has its own Minister — Manteri Tutong who has the responsibility of preparing the royal barge for the Sultan.

There are several stories with regard to the origin of the name Tutong. One story was about a warrior from the Murut tribe who had given a lot of help to people who lived in Kampong Lurah Saban from the Kayan headhunters. The warrior was named Tutong and the place or the river where he lived was honoured as Sungai Tutong. Ever since then, many people came to Kampong Lurah Saban to stay near the river and established Tutong.

According to historical records, it was indeed the Murut people which came to Tutong much earlier than the Dusun people. A number of Murut burial pots have been found in Tutong as proof of their existence there.

Another story about the origin of the Tutong name was that it was someone named Si Letong who supposedly came from the Celebes Islands, now belonging to Indonesia. According to the story tellers, he stayed in Sungai Papakan in Kampong Telisai and married a Dusun girl, a descendant of the Chief of the Dusun people. He moved later to Kampong Suran and that later the name of the River, Sungai Tutong was said to have come from his name, Letong.

Another, even stranger tale tells the story of someone named Tutong which married a shark which can transform into a human — a were-Shark. As a result of the marriage, both humans and sharks looked after the safety of both in the rivers and in the seas. It is said that if you are fishing and needed to be saved from sharks, all you have to do is shout Tutong's name.

The common theme to all the stories is that Tutong is a name of a person and hence later became the name for the whole group of people living there — orang Tutong.

Interestingly enough, the Tutong people are also called Sang Keluyoh by the Dusun people as they have been discovered living near Sungai Keluyoh near Sungai Liang.

Tutong's unique language has also been studied. According to a chart done by a linguistic expert Robert Blust, the Tutong Language belongs to a family of the Northern Sarawak language which is a part of the Austronesia language family. These languages comprise all the Malay and Indonesian languages stretching from Madagascar to the Pacific Islands and from Taiwan to Easter Island.

The Tutong language is part of the Northern Sarawak language which is made up of languages along the beaches from Bintulu to Tutong which included Berawan, Kiput, Narum, Lelak, Lemeting, Dali, Miri, Belait and Tutong known as the Baram Hilir language.

Sir Henry Keppel in his book The Expedition to Borneo of HMS Dido for the Suppression of Piracy, published in 1846, studied the Miri language in detail and this was used by Robert Blust to study the similarity between the Miri language and the Tutong language.

Based on the study, it can be theorised that the similarity of the languages could be due to the expansion of the tribes moving from one area to another retaining the same basic languages. This can be seen by seeing that the Tutong people first staying in Sungai Keluyoh before moving on to Sungai Telamba and Sungai Tutong.

One linguistic study indicated the possibility that the Tutong people were originally living near Sungai Belait speaking a language called Belait Asli. Only a handful of speakers in Belait are able to speak that language nowadays. But based on the vocabulary of Belait Asli, the study indicated that almost all of it has similarity to the Tutong language. It is possible that the speakers of Belait Asli had moved on to Tutong and being renamed as Tutong people.

The original Tutong settlers expanded from Sungai Telamba, Telisai to Sungai Tutong. Originally these settlers stayed on the river building their houses on the river much like the houses on Kampong Ayer.

From Kampong Suran, more settlements were built such as along Tanah Buruh, Penanjong, Panchor, Suran and Petani. They later on to Tanjong Maya, Birau, Bakiau and Keriam. The economic activities also changed. Even though originally they stayed on the waters, they do not become fishermen or mariners as happened to the Bruneian who lived in Kampong Ayer. The Tutong settlers became farmers and planted rice and later on rubber.

In 1906, an officer was appointed by the British Resident became the first "District Officer" as well as Magistrate titled Orang Kaya Bandar Sabtu bin Tampan.

By 1911, more than 3,423 people were registered living in Tutong Town. With the establishment of government departments and government services, Tutong has expanded much since then.


Al-Qadr said…
I think, with this kind of simple but analytical historical writing, you could have easily gone for a Ph.D thesis, BRo! Another Pehin Dato Dr Jamil in the making...:)

I was born in the White Sands area along the coastal highway when that stretch of road was properly tarred by the JKR (Public Works Department) way back in 1963. But I can't really proclaim myself to be a 'Tutongian' or "orang Tutong" since my late father hailed from Kg Sungai Kedayan in Kampong Ayer and my mother is a Kadazan-Malay from Sabah. And the only Tutong Dialect I have picked up over the years are words like "Mian" (eat); "Ba'roi" (wind) or "makan angin" in Malay?Heheh:) Besides we moved on to Kuala Belait in 1965.
Unknown said…
Mashaa Allah. Proud knowing our Great Gandfather became the first District Officer as well as Magistrate titled Orang Kaya Bandar Sabtu bin Tampan.
Unknown said…
Puak tutong (sang keluyoh)is originaly decendants of mix marriage puak dusun with puak dali/lamiting/belait ...& the couples settle down at lurah saban , and that is the beggining of the people of tutong .

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