Brunei, officially the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Apart from its coastline with the South China Sea, the country is completely surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is separated into two parts by the Sarawak district of Limbang. Brunei is the only sovereign state completely on the island of Borneo; the remainder of the island’s territory is divided between the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Brunei’s population was 423,196 in 2016.
At the peak of the Bruneian Empire, Sultan Bolkiah (reigned 1485–1528) is alleged to have had control over most regions of Borneo, including modern-day Sarawak and Sabah, as well as the Sulu Archipelago off the northeast tip of Borneo, Seludong (modern-day Manila), and the islands off the northwest tip of Borneo. The maritime state was visited by Spain’s Magellan Expedition in 1521 and fought against Spain in the 1578 Castilian War.
During the 19th century, the Bruneian Empire began to decline. The Sultanate ceded Sarawak (Kuching) to James Brooke and installed him as the White Rajah, and it ceded Sabah to the British North Borneo Chartered Company. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate and was assigned a British resident as colonial manager in 1906. After the Japanese occupation during World War II, in 1959 a new constitution was written. In 1962, a small armed rebellion against the monarchy was ended with the help of the British.
Brunei gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984. Economic growth during the 1990s and 2000s, with the GDP increasing 56% from 1999 to 2008, transformed Brunei into an industrialized country. It has developed wealth from extensive petroleum and natural gas fields. Brunei has the second-highest Human Development Index among the Southeast Asian nations, after Singapore, and is classified as a “developed country”.
According to local historiography, Brunei was founded by Awang Alak Betatar, later to be Sultan Muhammad Shah, reigning around AD 1400. He moved from Garang in the Temburong District to the Brunei River estuary, discovering Brunei. According to legend, upon landing he exclaimed, Baru nah (loosely translated as “that’s it!” or “there”), from which the name “Brunei” was derived. He was the first Muslim ruler of Brunei.
It was renamed “Barunai” in the 14th century, possibly influenced by the Sanskrit word “varuṇ” meaning “seafarers”. The word “Borneo” is of the same origin. In the country’s full name, Negara Brunei Darussalam, darussalam means “abode of peace”, while negara means “country” in Malay.
The earliest recorded documentation by the West about Brunei is by an Italian known as Ludovico di Varthema, who also said the “Bruneian people have fairer skin tone than the peoples he met in Maluku Islands”.
One of the earliest Chinese records of an independent kingdom in Borneo is the 977 AD letter to Chinese emperor from the ruler of Po-ni, which some scholars believe to refer to Borneo. In 1225, a Chinese official, Chau Ju-Kua (Zhao Rugua), reported that Po-ni had 100 warships to protect its trade, and that there was a lot of wealth in the kingdom.
During the 15th century, Po-ni had seceded from Majapahit and then converted to Islam, thus transforming into the independent Sultanate of Brunei. Brunei became a Hashemite state when she allowed the Arab Emir of Mecca, Sharif Ali, to become her third sultan. Scholars claim that the power of the Sultanate of Brunei was at its peak between the 15th and 17th centuries, with its power extending from northern Borneo to the southern Philippines (Sulu) and even in the northern Philippines (Manila) which Brunei incorporated via territorial acquisition accomplished through royal marriages.
War with Spain and Decline:
Brunei briefly rose to prominence in Southeast Asia when the Portuguese occupied Malacca and thereby forced the wealthy and powerful but displaced Muslim refugees there to relocate to nearby Sultanates such as Aceh and Brunei. However, European influence gradually brought an end to the regional power, as Brunei entered a period of decline compounded by internal strife over royal succession. In the face of these invasions by European Christian powers, the Ottoman Caliphate aided the beleaguered Southeast Asian Sultanates by making Aceh a protectorate and sending expeditions to reinforce, train and equip the local mujahideen.
Eventually, the Spanish took advantage of the rivalries among the port-kingdoms of the Philippines and had incorporated some these kingdoms in a coalition against Brunei. Spain was still fresh from the Reconquista an 800 year old war to Re-Christianize a Spain which was invaded by the Umayyad Caliphate. So, their knowledge of, an admiration of, as well as a hatred of Islam was still fresh in their hearts when Spain and Portugal decided to wage war against the entire Islamic world. The Spanish regarded Brunei the center of Islamic preaching in the Philippines. Spain declared war in 1578, planning to attack and capture Kota Batu, Brunei’s capital at the time. Manila itself was captured from Brunei, Christianised and made a territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain which was centered in Mexico City.
Eventually, the Spanish invaded the capital on 16 April 1578. The Sultan Saiful Rijal and Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Abdul Kahar were forced to flee to Meragang then to Jerudong. In Jerudong, they made plans to chase the conquering army away from Brunei. Suffering high fatalities due to a cholera or dysentery outbreak, the Spanish decided to abandon Brunei and returned to Manila on 26 June 1578, after 72 days.
Brunei eventually descended into anarchy. The country suffered a civil war from 1660 to 1673.
In the 1880s, the decline of the Bruneian Empire continued. The sultan granted land (now Sarawak) to James Brooke, who had helped him quell a rebellion and allowed him to establish the Kingdom of Sarawak. Over time, Brooke and his nephews (who succeeded him) leased or annexed more land. Brunei lost much of its territory to him and his dynasty, known as the White Rajahs.
Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin appealed to the British to stop further encroachment by the Brookes. The “Treaty of Protection” was negotiated by Sir Hugh Low and signed into effect on 17 September 1888. The treaty said that the sultan “could not cede or lease any territory to foreign powers without British consent”; it provided Britain effective control over Brunei’s external affairs, making it a British protected state (which continued until 1984). But, when the Kingdom of Sarawak annexed Brunei’s Pandaruan District in 1890, the British did not take any action to stop it. They did not regard either Brunei or the Kingdom of Sarawak as ‘foreign’ (per the Treaty of Protection). This final annexation by Sarawak left Brunei with its current small land mass and separation into two parts.
British residents were introduced in Brunei under the Supplementary Protectorate Agreement in 1906. The residents were to advise the sultan on all matters of administration. Over time, the resident assumed more executive control than the sultan. The residential system ended in 1959.
Discovery of Oil:
Petroleum was discovered in 1929 after several fruitless attempts. Two men, F. F. Marriot and T. G. Cochrane, smelled oil near the Seria river in late 1926. They informed a geophysicist, who conducted a survey there. In 1927, gas seepages were reported in the area. Seria Well Number One (S-1) was drilled on 12 July 1928. Oil was struck at 974 feet on 5 April 1929. Seria Well Number 2 was drilled on 19 August 1929, and, as of 2009, continues to produce oil. Oil production was increased considerably in the 1930s with the development of more oil fields. In 1940, oil production was at more than six million barrels. The British Malayan Petroleum Company (now Brunei Shell Petroleum Company) was formed on 22 July 1922. The first offshore well was drilled in 1957. Oil and natural gas have been the basis of Brunei’s development and wealth since the late 20th century.
The Japanese invaded Brunei on 16 December 1941, eight days after their attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States Navy. They landed 10,000 troops of the Kawaguchi Detachment from Cam Ranh Bay at Kuala Belait. After six days’ fighting, they occupied the entire country. The only Allied troops in the area were the 2nd Battalion of the 15th Punjab Regiment based at Kuching, Sarawak. The British had anticipated a Japanese attack, but lacked the resources to defend the area because of their engagement in the war in Europe.
Once the Japanese occupied Brunei, they made an agreement with Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin over governing the country. Inche Ibrahim (known later as Pehin Datu Perdana Menteri Dato Laila Utama Awang Haji Ibrahim), a former Secretary to the British Resident, Ernest Edgar Pengilly, was appointed Chief Administrative Officer under the Japanese Governor. The Japanese had proposed that Pengilly retain his position under their administration, but he declined. Both he and other British nationals still in Brunei were interned by the Japanese at Batu Lintang camp in Sarawak.
The Sultan retained his throne and was given a pension and honors by the Japanese. During the later part of the occupation, he resided at Tantuya, Limbang and had little to do with the Japanese. Most of the Malay government officers were retained by the Japanese.
On 10 June 1945, the Australian 9th Division landed at Muara under Operation Oboe Six to recapture Borneo from the Japanese. They were supported by American air and naval units. Brunei town was bombed extensively and recaptured after three days of heavy fighting. Many buildings were destroyed, including the Mosque. The Japanese forces in Brunei, Borneo, and Sarawak, under Lieutenant-General Masao Baba, formally surrendered at Labuan on 10 September 1945. The British Military Administration took over from the Japanese and remained until July 1946.
Post-World War II:
After World War II, a new government was formed in Brunei under the British Military Administration (BMA). It consisted mainly of Australian officers and servicemen. The administration of Brunei was passed to the Civil Administration on 6 July 1945. The Brunei State Council was also revived that year. The BMA was tasked to revive the Bruneian economy, which was extensively damaged by the Japanese during their occupation. They also had to put out the fires on the wells of Seria, which had been set by the Japanese prior to their defeat.
In 1959, a new constitution was written declaring Brunei a self-governing state, while its foreign affairs, security, and defense remained the responsibility of the United Kingdom. A small rebellion erupted against the monarchy in 1962, which was suppressed with help of the UK. The rebellion partially affected Brunei’s decision to opt out of the Malaysian Federation.
Brunei gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984. The official National Day, which celebrates the country’s independence, is held by tradition on 23 February.
Brunei is a southeast Asian country consisting of two unconnected parts with a total area of 2,226 square miles on the island of Borneo. It has 100 miles of coastline next to the South China Sea, and it shares a 237 mile border with Malaysia. It has 193 square miles of territorial waters, and a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
About 97% of the population lives in the larger western part (Belait, Tutong, and Brunei-Muara), while only about 10,000 people live in the mountainous eastern part (Temburong District). The total population of Brunei is approximately 408,000 as of July 2010, of which around 150,000 live in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. Other major towns are the port town of Muara, the oil-producing town of Seria and its neighbouring town, Kuala Belait. In Belait District, the Panaga area is home to large numbers of Europeans expatriates, due to Royal Dutch Shell and British Army housing, and several recreational facilities are located there.
Brunei’s small, wealthy economy is a mixture of foreign and domestic entrepreneurship, government regulation, welfare measures, and village tradition. Crude oil and natural gas production account for about 90% of its GDP. About 167,000 barrels of oil are produced every day, making Brunei the fourth-largest producer of oil in Southeast Asia. It also produces approximately 25.3 million cubic metres of liquified natural gas per day, making Brunei the ninth-largest exporter of the substance in the world.
Substantial income from overseas investment supplements income from domestic production. Most of these investments are made by the Brunei Investment Agency, an arm of the Ministry of Finance. The government provides for all medical services, and subsidises rice and housing.
The population centers in the country are linked by a network of 1,700 miles of road. The 84 mile highway from Muara Town to Kuala Belait is being upgraded to a dual carriageway. The main highway running across Brunei is the Tutong-Muara Highway.
Brunei International Airport is the main entry point to the country.
Royal Brunei Airlines is the national carrier.
The ferry terminal at Muara services regular connections to Labuan (Malaysia). Speedboats provide passenger and goods transportation to the Temburong district.
Brunei has one main sea port located at Muara.
Flag of Brunei:
The flag of Brunei has a centered crest of Brunei on a yellow field cut by black and white diagonal stripes (parallelograms at an angle). The yellow field represents the sultan of Brunei. The red crest consists of a crescent facing upwards, joined with a parasol, with hands on the sides. Black and white stripes run across the flag.
In Southeast Asia, yellow is traditionally the color of royalty. The crescent symbolizes Islam, the parasol symbolizes monarchy, and the hands at the side symbolize the benevolence of the government. The black and white stripes represent Brunei’s chief ministers who were once joint-regents and then – after the sultan came of age – senior advisors: the Pengiran Bendahara (First Minister, symbolised by a slightly thicker white stripe) and the Pengiran Pemancha (Second Minister, governing foreign affairs, symbolised by black), with the white stripe being roughly 12% wider than the black one.
On the crescent is the national motto in Arabic: “Always render service with God’s guidance.” Below this is a banner inscribed with Brunei Darussalam, which means ‘Brunei, the Abode of Peace.’
The flag in its present form, except for the crest, has been in use since 1906 when Brunei became a British protectorate, following the signing of an agreement between Brunei and Great Britain. Even though Brunei was only nominally independent after this, Bruneians retained certain symbols, like the flag.
The crest was superimposed in 1959 after the promulgation of the Constitution of 29 September 1959.
The design was retained when the country gained full independence on 1 January 1984 as Brunei Darussalam (Brunei, Abode of Peace).