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Brunei History

The history of Borneo and its people has been largely determined by its strategic position at one of the world's major crossroads, its tropical climate, and north - east and south - east monsoons. Its geographical location served to make Borneo a "land bridge" to mainland South East Asia and an ideal meeting place for traders from East and West. The bountiful nature in the island contributed to the fact that Borneo was one of earliest homes of Man. Excavation works on the Niah Cave, which is a world famous archaeological site, had produced Paleolithic ( stone age ) implements and an ancient burial site carbon-dated to 40,000 BC. Although these findings provided strong evidence of Chinese and Indian civilizations having existed in Borneo since 1,500 years ago, the authenticated history of the island only began in comparatively recent times.

Historians believe there was a forerunner to the present Brunei Sultanate, which the Chinese called Po-ni. Chinese and Arabic records indicate that this ancient trading kingdom existed at the mouth of the Brunei River as early as the seventh or eighth century AD. This early kingdom was apparently conquered by the Sumatran Hindu Empire of Srivijaya in the early ninth century, which later controlled northern Borneo and the Philippines. It was subjugated briefly by the Java-based Majapahit Empire but soon regained its independence and once again rose to prominence.

Ancient Chinese texts referred Brunei as either "Pu-ni", "Po-ni", "Pu-li", "Bun-lai" or "Wen-lai" and documented its interactions with the Chinese Empire in the years 518, 523, 616, 669, 977, 1279, and 1369-1643 AD. Ancient Indian traders called Brunei "Sailendra", "Syailendra" or "Syaleindra"; while the arabs called it "Kamrun", "Sribuza", "Dzabaj" or "Randj".

"Borneo" has only recently been used as pronounced by Europeans based on the statement by John H. Moor in 1871. In another writing in 1812 by J.Hunt, he says "Borneo was the name only of a city, the capital of the three distinct kingdoms in the island,... The natives pronounce Borneo as Bruni and say its derived from the word "Brani" (Bruneian dialect for "Berani" in Bahasa Melayu) meaning courageous..."

Brunei existed side by side during the reign of the Srivijaya Empire of Sumatra in the 9th centrury, the Madjapahit Empire in Java in the 13th century and Parameswara in Malacca in the 15th century. Its earliest existence was believed to be a tributary province of the Srivijayan then the Majapahit Empire.

Mohammedanism entered Malaysia probably as early as the twelfth century. The chronicles of the Mohammedan princes of Malacca ascribe their conversion to a later date than this, but Marco Polo, who spent many months on the east coast of Sumatra in 1268, states emphatically that the inhabitants of the coast were even at that date ''Saracens." The Mohammedan trader is always a proselyter as well, and the eastward extension of Islam followed immediately when the rich trade of the Mediterranean with India and the Far East fell into Arab hands.

The conversion to Mohammedanism of the seafaring peoples of the Straits of Malacca and the coasts of Sumatra and Johore was the beginning of the historical prominence of the Malay. Their voyages for trade and conquest began to extend until a few centuries later even the distant Celebes and Moluccas were united with western Malaysia by the possession of a common faith and a common language of trade. Probably early in the fourteenth century the Malays established on the west coast of Borneo the settlement or sultanate of Brunei or Burnay (whence Borneo), and it was from this center that Mohammedanism spread to the Philippines.

In 1368, after the fall of the Sri Vijaya Empire, Borneo war conquered by the Majapahit King ( Hindu Empire ). The Brunei Empire had its golden age from the 15th to the 17th centuries, when its control extended over the entire island of Borneo and north into the Philippines. Brunei was particularly powerful under the fifth sultan, Bolkiah (1473-1521), who was famed for his sea exploits and even briefly captured Manila; and under the ninth sultan, Hassan (1605-19), who fully developed an elaborate Royal Court structure, elements of which remain today.

After Sultan Hassan, Brunei entered a period of decline due to internal battles over royal succession as well as the rising influences of European colonial powers in the region that, among other things, disrupted traditional trading patterns, destroying the economic base of Brunei and many other Southeast Asian sultanates. In 1839, the English adventurer James Brooke arrived in Borneo and helped the Sultan put down a rebellion. As a reward, he became governor and later "Rajah" of Sarawak in northwest Borneo and gradually expanded the territory under his control.

Meanwhile, the British North Borneo Company was expanding its control over territory in northeast Borneo. In 1888, Brunei became a protectorate of the British Government, retaining internal independence but with British control over external affairs. In 1906, Brunei accepted a further measure of British control when executive power was transferred to a British resident, who advised the ruler on all matters except those concerning local custom and religion.

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. An attempt in 1962 to introduce a partially elected legislative body with limited powers was abandoned after the opposition political party, Parti Rakyat Brunei, launched an armed uprising, which the government put down with the help of British forces. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the government also resisted pressures to join neighboring Sabah and Sarawak in the newly formed Malaysia. The Sultan eventually decided that Brunei would remain an independent state.

In 1967, Sultan Omar abdicated in favor of his eldest son, Hassanal Bolkiah, who became the 29th ruler. The former Sultan remained as Defense Minister and assumed the royal title Seri Begawan. In 1970, the national capital, Brunei Town, was renamed Bandar Seri Begawan in his honor. The Seri Begawan died in 1986.

On January 4, 1979, Brunei and the United Kingdom signed a new treaty of friendship and cooperation. On January 1, 1984, Brunei Darussalam became a fully independent state.

From about 1400 until the early sixteenth century, Muslim invaders began to spread their influence throughout the island. During the 1500s, a powerful kingdom known as Brunei exercised domination over the whole of Borneo and it surrounding area after the fall of the Majapahit Empire. During that time, explorers and merchants from both the East and West visited Borneo. There are glowing accounts of the island trading chiefly in spices, rare woods, gold and precious tones and also experiencing a great deal of trouble with the coastal pirates.

In the late 1500s, the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and British appeared on the scene. They established prosperous trading posts in Borneo, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the kingdom of Brunei had shrunk to what we now know as Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei. Kalimantan was then under Dutch rule until 1949 when it ceded the territory to the Republic of Indonesia.

The state of Sarawak began to emerge as a separate political entity when an English adventurer, Sir James Brooks, war granted some territory in 1841 in return for his services in helping Brunei quell a rebellion in one of its provinces. The state of Sabah, on the other land, was under the rule of the Chartered Company of British North Borneo.

During the Second World War in 1941, the Japanese conquered the island. When the war ended, both Sabah and Sarawak were ceded to the British Government. The Malaysia concept was first announced by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the Malayan Prime Minister, in May 1961. Nine month later, a British Commission visited Sarawak and Sabah and discovered that the majority of the people were in favour of concept.

Both states achieved full independence and joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

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  • A history of the Philippines By David Prescott Barrows
  • The first really reliable Chinese records of Borneo and the Philippines begins with the accession of the last Sung dynasty, in the tenth century. The credit for first bringing Bruni to the official notice of China appears to be due neither to Chinese nor Borneans but rather to certain enterprising Arab traders of Canton or Ch'iian-chou. Just how early these Arabs began trading with Bruni and Sulu we have no means of knowing, but, in AD 977, one Abu All and two others came to the Chinese Court as envoys from the King of Bruni. They bore a letter from the King, who was named Hiang-ta, and also the following presents as tribute to the Emperor: 48 kilos of camphor, 5 boards of camphor-wood, 100 tortoise-shells, 3 trays of sandalwood, and 6 elephant tusks. The letter, which was sealed in many coverings, was written on "what looked like very thin bark of a tree; it was glossy, slightly green, several feet long and somewhat broader than one inch, and rolled up so tightly that it could be taken within the hand". (Groeneveldt.) The characters written upon it were fine and small and had to be read horizontally.

    The letter itself was full of oriental imagery and read somewhat as follows: "The King of Bruni bows his head to the ground in obeisance and prays that His Imperial Majesty may live ten thousand times ten thousand times a million years. I have now sent envoys to carry tribute; I knew before that there was an Emperor, but I had no means of communication. Recently there was a merchant, called Abu Ali, whose ship arrived at the mouth of my river; I sent a man to invite him to my palace and then he told me that he came from China. The people of my country were much delighted at this, and, preparing a ship, asked this stranger to guide them to the Court. The envoys I have sent only wish to see Your Majesty in peace, and I intend to send people with tribute every year. But when I do so, I fear that my ships may occasionally be blown to Champa and I therefore hope Your Majesty will send an edict to that country with orders that, if a ship of Hiang-ta arrives there, it must not be detained. My country has no other articles and I pray Your Majesty not to be angry with me."

    The Emperor ordered that the envoys be lodged in the hall for royal guests, and they were later sent away with presents and honors.

    While the foregoing account furnishes considerable incidental information about tenth century Bruni and its relations with surrounding countries, the records of the same Sung dynasty give still more important data about the city of Bruni itself. The town is said to have had more than ten thousand inhabitants, and to have been surrounded by a palisade or a wall made of wooden boards. The king's fighting-men carried metal swords and wore coats of armor made of cast copper. Cotton was grown, and cotton cloths were woven. Other details are given as to foods, burial and marriage customs, feasts, etc., all of which are typical of Malay life. Another, similar account, relating to Bandjarmasin rather than Bruni, speaks of many people living on rafts in the river, exactly as in Sri-Vishaya. Our conclusion from the particulars mentioned aboveespecially the use of a written language, metal weapons, coat-armor, raftdwellings, and walled townsmust be that at this time Sri-Vishayan civilization had already been firmly established in both southern and northern Borneo and was probably already beginning to make itself felt in the Philippines. The last surmise is substantiated by the fact that the first actual mention of the Philippines seems also to date from the tenth century, when certain traders from Ma-i, the present island of Mindoro, brought valuable merchandise to Canton for sale, in the year 982.

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    Page last modified: 20-03-2013 16:47:08 ZULU