Brunei's Winning Silversmiths 1908

I was going through the Brunei Annual Report 1908, exactly one hundred years ago and I saw this photograph of Brunei's silversmiths. These are our country brethren a 100 years ago. I don't know who they are but they are someone's great grandparents or great-great grandparents today.

According to the Report, there were only two industries of Brunei then which were worthy of note. One was the brass work and the other the silver smiths. Both are more or less restricted to certain families or guilds the members of which keep the secret of their trade very much to themselves. That being so, we can actually pinpoint who those people in the photograph are as it was only about 1970s or 1980s when the craft was open to the public. One kampong in Kampong Ayer was Kampong Pandai Besi which was said to be those who are good at this handicraft lived there.

The silversmith was less extensive because it requires greater skills and more difficult to learn. The Report remarked that is is remarkable that the silversmiths were able to do their jobs. Their implements were primitive, the use of shaped punches or stamps were unknown and that everything is made of old dollars melted down. Now I know what happened to the old coins of Brunei.

What was surprising is that the Brunei silver smiths work were good that it won prizes at the Agri-Horticultural Show held in August 1908 in Kuala Lumpur. They won 5 First prizes and 2 Second prizes and only one first prize was won by a non-Brunei work. In addition Brunei's craftsmen also won First or Second prizes for a dagger, a parang, a golok, a gong, silk/gold sarong and cotton sarong. It cost the government $498.65 to send representatives and the exhibits but the government made a profit from the sale of the exhibits.

It's amazing to note that our own silversmiths and craftsmen were able to compete overseas and won even as far back as 1908. We should continue that legacy.


Pg Runa said…
I met my friend this morning chatting about ' RAJA BASI' which was found by somebody at Serasa water. That so called 'RAJA BASI' was sold for $100.00 to a collector. It was actually part of a sunken ship. Accordingly during the transaction one the local 'besi' expert tried to cut the 'RAJA BASI' with everything he got but to no avail did he able to cut it! This event happened at a roadside stall at Kg Bengkurong a few days ago.

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