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Bandar Seri Begawan



Brunei History Gallery

Negara Brunei Darussalam or "Brunei, Abode of Peace" constitutes less than 6,000 square kilometres of northern Borneo, with a population of only 340,000. Believed to derive from the words "baru nah", literally "This is it! (the place)", it is obviously named after the first words exclaimed upon its foundation! Chinese archives record it under the name of Poli as early as 473AD and there is evidence of the Hindu-Buddhist culture from the 7th to 14th centuries synonymous with the region. Arab traders arrived from around the 10th century until Islam became the official faith with the conversion of ruler Awang Alak Betatar in the 14th century, who adopted the title Sultan Muhammed Shah. The first record of the name Brunei comes from this time, naming it as Buruneng in a poem written in 1385 relating all the lands of the Majapahit Kingdom, it was a vassal state at that time paying an annual tribute of Camphor, a prized aromatic oil which is secreted from the uppermost trunk of 100 metre tall trees. 15th and 16th century Arab sources corrupted Buruneng variously as Burnai or Barain and 16th century European chronicles describe it as Bornei for example, from whence the name Borneo has evolved. I was interested to learn then that the names Brunei and Borneo have the same derivation, testimony to the fact that the Sultanate historically held power over the whole island. This variation in nomenclature also helps to demonstrate the diversity of foreign influence at that time.

Under the new Sultan's tutelage Brunei came to dominate local trade, symptomatic of the tendancy of passing trade to breed the evolution of aristocracies at river mouths. The controlling influence this created between the interior of Borneo and the outside world was cemented by the Sultan offering protection in return for commercial domination, his reach growing to encompass the whole of Borneo, Sulawesi and the Philippines. Its influence subsequently became eroded by the arrival of European powers which enforced monopolies under the duress of their greater naval power, with her imperial influence and revenues declining drastically with the onset of the 17th century.

An archaeological site known as Kota Batu 5Ks away from present day BSB was noted by Pigafetta, the scribe of Magellan's circumnavigational expedition in 1521, a commercial centre visited during what was then Brunei's golden age. He recounted a stilt village large enough to boast 25,000 families, the old capital much like the new. A map importantly explained its pivotal role in serving as a convenient halfway point along the northerly route from Malacca to the Moluccas, and friendly terms met between the Portugese and the Brunei Sultanate from 1514 were maintained for centuries in this ilk. It was this Portugese success which had prompted the Spanish to sponsor Magellan (perversely a Portugese) to find a Western route to the Spice Islands 1519-1522, spurred on by the delineation of undiscovered lands attributed under the Treaty of Tordesillas, establishing what was destined to be a lasting influence in the Philippines before spending 3 weeks in Brunei. Of the 5 vessels and 230 men who had set out on this venture only 1 ship and 18 men survived to return to Spain. Their desire to secure Spanish ports of call and further the dissemination of Christianity later brought confrontation due to Brunei's policy of Islamic conversion however, Francisco de Sande, the newly appointed 2nd governor of Manilla led a fleet to Brunei in 1578 in what became known as the Perang Kastila (Spanish War), noting a fine 5 tiered mosque in the process of seizing Kota Batu before the force succumbed to disease and were forced to retreat. Brunei's importance had grown not least in response to the Chinese demand for local natural resources, which at that time were mainly Camphor, Beeswax, Sea Turtle Shell, Bird's Nests, Sago, Palm Nut and Rattan, with a 17th century Chinese source quoting it as being a pivotal point deemed the "terminal point of the Eastern Ocean and beginning of the Western Ocean".

Upon declaring themselves protestant in 1568 and then finally shirking off Spanish governance in 1581, the Dutch promptly entered the scene. It was a major revelation of my visit to the Brunei Museum to learn that this historical revolution meant that they had become cut off from their traditional source of spices which were hitherto conveyed via Lisbon. Deciding the only solution was for them to venture forth and secure spices directly from their source, Holland's entry into the great colonial game was explained an it was crazy that 2 months in Indonesia, what was destined to become their Far Eastern bastion in that resolve, had not hitherto afforded that insight. Fighting the Spanish at every turn, the Dutch first reached Brunei in the year 1600 battle damaged and in need of refit, but their new national strategy was heavily invested in however. A further early realisation that a spirit of mercantile co-operation would be required for success saw the formation of the Dutch East India Company the VOC in 1602. Between 1614 and 1656 Holland established unprecedented control over the Spice Islands, with Spanish influence in Brunei receding in favour of protecting the Philippines from Dutch control, and the Portugese had similarly been pushed out with Holland's taking of Malacca in 1641, retreating to protect Macau and Formosa.

The British had arrived in Borneo before the Dutch , having established a trading station at Banjarmasin in the early 17th century, and it was in this connection that the threat to British merchantmen from piracy provoked the entry of the Royal Navy, though this interest was to be short lived. Pirates known as Ilanun and Balinini centred around the Sulu archipeligo travelled with the winds, creating a renowned "Ilanun Season" of organised pirate squadrons. The Dutch soon pervaded southern Borneo though, present day Kalimantan, with the Javanese Kingdom of Mataram further squeezing Brunei's seat of influence northwards to comprise what is now Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah. It was this progressive erosion of the Brunei Sultanate's control over its territories which eventually saw the voluntary cessation of much of her land. As well as her inability to quell civil unrest between warring tribes and the problem of piracy, the growth of the neighbouring Sultanate of Sulu in the southern Philippines meant that Brunei was in dire need of powerful friends. With the birth of Singapore in 1819, Britain re-enterd the fray around Brunei with the ceding of Labuan in 1846, and Brunei passed progressively further control of the originally small province of Sarawak to James Brooke. Sabah was similarly ceded as British North Borneo under a charter agreed with Queen Victoria, and the final districts of Putatan and Padas were cojoined in 1884. Trusan joined Sarawak and then in 1890 the Limbang River was most desperately passed over in hope of the British resolving disputes amongst the locals, effectively cutting the Sultanate of Brunei in 2. In 1895 the British North Borneo Company did a side deal in selling the Lawas River over to Sarawak, until by 1898 Brunei's present day borders were finalised. Though doubtless desirous of the protection these deals afforded I was left wondering as to just how much of this had been due to the genuine inability of the Sultanate to manintain law and order or whether it was more motivated by opportunism in grabbing the annual retainers. The final capitulation came with the acceptance of a British "Resident" or governor in 1906 which effectively brought Brunei under direct British control, and together with Sarawak and Sabah, Brunei was absorbed as a British Crown Colony in 1946 upon her retrieval from Japanese occupation. She only became newly independent in 1984.

Wildlife Gallery

The ubiquitous introductory beastie section was a better than average presentaton of Brunei's indiginous wildlife, though some licence had clearly been taken to include some East Malaysian species such is the Sultanate's humble expanse. Fully a third of the country is covered in mixed dipterocarp forest lowland foliage of wide diversity. I'm quite sure it managed to boast all of the many primate species on display however, with the Proboscis Monkey, Silver Langur, Maroon Langur, Grey Leaf Monkey, Long Tailed Macaque, Pig Tailed Macaque and Bornean Gibbon. Of the Deer species mentioned which were more numerous than hitherto encountered in Sarawak, the Sambar Deer, Common Barking Deer were joined by the Bornean Yellow Muntjac. It was also revealed that the Kancil is split into 2 sub species, the Greater and Lesser Mouse Deer, also explaining them to be the most primitive ruminants in the world since they lack the Omasum, the third of the normally 4 stomach chambers. The Porcupine also exists here in 3 distinct species and the Pangolin, Tarsier, Slow Loris, Clouded Leopard and Estuarine Crocodile all got a mention. Of the 8 Squirrel species the Great Squirrel was certainly the largest I had ever seen, a tufty beastie with a very long bushy tail the size of a cat. Conversely, the Sun Bear was related to be the worlds smallest bear species, relying heavily on smell since its hearing and vision are poor. 8 Hornbill species are endemic as ever and other final notables were the Reticulated Python,the King Cobra, the Finless Porpoise and the Bottlenose Dolphin. Impressive final specimens included a Scarab Beetle the size of my hand, a Horned Frog much larger still, and the very weird Fiddel Beetle, as were a couple of huge moths.

Oil and Gas Gallery

A dedicated presentation on this industry was testimony to its importance in the development of modern Brunei, a geographic quirk which otherwise might have struggled to remain a viable state. Since the first oil finds here in 1914, the British Malayan Petroleum Company was formed upon the discovery of the major Seria oilfield in 1929 and oil exportation had begun by 1932. After devastation wrought during WWII this field has risen to produce a peak of 115,000 barrels a day in 1956, a rate now restricted to 15,000, and Brunei produced her billionth barrel in 1991. Upon the commencement of offshore exploitation in 1963, gas became a more important factor, and upon its completion the Liquid Natural Gas plant built here was the largest in the world at the time. Under major player Brunei Shell, 5 major oilfields have now been developed, and besides use for local power stations the remainder is transported off to Japan under a contract of joint ownership by the Brunei government, Shell and Mitsubishi. This loading onto tankers is done from pipeline fed buoys 10Ks offshore, with 7.2 million tones of LNG being shipped annually. Tellingly, hydrocarbons account for more than 50% of Brunei's GDP and nearly 95% of her exports. I was happy to let the large detailed presentation on everything you ever wanted to know about the oil industry wash over me, though I did learn about the practice of Deviated Drilling for example, a technique which allows exploration at varying angles from the vertical. This allows the best use of fixed surface rigs, effectively bending the drill assembly in order to explore a cone shaped area.

Malay Culture Gallery

Though I had seen this kind of display many times before by now, this one was important considering that in his desire to cement a national identity, the present Sultan had early in his reign cited a strategy which he dubbed "Malay Muslim Monarchy", much to the chagrin of the sizeable resident Chinese population, most of whom are Christian. Concentrating on the many ritualised ceremonies of Malay culture, this presentation was better than most in relating that Sunat (Circumcision) is recommended but not obligatory according to the Koran, and is considered "noble" for women. As if they have a choice in it. Girls are circumcised at 40 days old, when perversely "a black chicken is provided to accompany her, if more than one is to be circumcised then the chicken is not needed". Primitive superstition or what! Boys are given the snip upon puberty, traditionally with a bamboo splinter, really something to look forward to. I read more about the Khatam Koran ceremony which marks the completion of Koranic recital lessons, the graduates' fingers and feet are coloured with an orange-red juice before songs and prayers are chanted. It was also revealed that during the Malay wedding ceremony, the couple are not allowed to sleep until the morning and traditionally play games in order to stay awake. Yeah, like before getting my rocks off for the first time I really want to be playing an all night session of Ludo. The Mullahs really just had to have one last throe at postponing the sins of the flesh! I finally learned that the male headdress worn on such occasions, the glittery pork pie hat with a cloth spire to one side is known as a Songkok. Various bad dirty jokes come to mind. As if to go out with a bang, this section of the museum was completed with an array of cannon, including dragon and serpent incarnations, one of which was uniquely double barreled.

An Islamic Art gallery was the kind of stuff I had seen ad nauseum, though I did actually appreciate what was obviously an exceptional collection of elaborate Korans, calligraphic decorated carpets and ceramics, jewellry and ancient coins. There was fine art work from Turkey, Iran, India, Egypt and Syria amongst other places and also a display of bronzework, weaponry and glassware. Fit for a Sultan, and I could only presume it had been appropriated by the Royal household over the centuries.

All in all I deemed the museum not bad at all considering the diminutive size of the nation, its disproportionate history was something of a draw and indeed it took me quite a while to get round the countless storyboards, with Roberto soon tiring of my persistence. It was too much even for me though to pay more than a passing interest to the exhaustive biographies of the royal dynasty and so I did my best to catch up with him. From here it was a 5 minute traipse downhill to what had rather confusingly been christened the Malay Technology Museum, actually a depiction of traditional lifestyles illustrated by a series of house mock ups.


Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Brunei

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