History of Brunei
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History of Brunei

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History of Brunei
Emblem of Brunei.svg
Bruneian Empire
to 1888
House of Bolkiah
(15th century - present)
Sultanate of Sulu
to 1578
Rajahnate of Maynila
to 1571
to 1571
Castilian War 1578
Civil War 1660-1673
15th century
to 1841
15th century
to 1846
Sabah (North Borneo)
15th century
to 1865
British protected state 1888-1984
Japanese occupation 1942-1945
Borneo campaign 1945
Revolt 1962

The history of Brunei concerns the settlements and societies located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, which has been under the influence of Indianised kingdoms and empires for much of its history. Local scholars assume that the Islamisation of Brunei started in the fifteenth century, with the formation of the Bruneian Empire, a thalassocracy which covered the northern part of Borneo and the southern Philippines.[1] At the end of the 17th century, Brunei subsequently entered a period of decline brought on by Brunei Civil War, piracy, and European colonial expansion. Later, there was a brief war with Spain, in which Brunei lost Manila and evacuated their capital for a brief period until the Spanish withdrew. The empire lost much of its territory with the arrival of the Western powers, such as the Spanish in the Philippines and the British in Labuan, Sarawak, and North Borneo. The decline of the Bruneian Empire accelerated in the nineteenth century when Brunei gave much of its territory to the White Rajahs of Sarawak, resulting in its current small landmass and separation into two parts. Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin later appealed to the British to stop further annexation in 1888. In the same year, the British signed a "Treaty of Protection" and made Brunei a British protectorate until 1984 when it gained independence and prospered due to the discovery of oil.[2][3]

Pre-Islamic Hindu-Buddhist Indianised kingdoms

Historic Indosphere cultural influence zone of Greater India for transmission of elements of Indian culture such as the honorific titles, naming of people, naming of places, mottos of organisations and educational institutes as well as adoption of Hinduism, Buddhism, Indian architecture, martial arts, Indian music and dance, traditional Indian clothing, and Indian cuisine, a process which has been also aided by the ongoing historic expansion of Indian diaspora.[4]

The history of Brunei before the arrival of Magellan's ships in 1519-1522 CE is based on speculation, the interpretation of Chinese sources, and local legends. Historians believe that there was a forerunner to the present day Brunei Sultanate. One possible predecessor state was called Vijayapura, which possibly existed in northwest Borneo in the 7th century.[a] It was probably a subject state of the powerful Srivijaya empire based in Sumatra. One predecessor state was called Po-ni (pinyin: Boni).[5] By the 10th century Po-ni had contacts with first the Song dynasty and at some point even entered into a tributary relationship with China. By the 14th century Po-ni also fell under the influence of the Indianised Hindu Javanese Majapahit Empire. The book of Nagarakretagama, canto 14, written by Prapanca in 1365 mentioned Berune as a vassal state of Majahpahit.[6] However this may have been nothing more than a symbolic relationship, as one account of the annual tribute owed each year to Majahpahit was a jar of areca juice obtained from the young green nuts of the areca palm.[7] The Ming dynasty resumed communications with Po-ni in the 1370s and the Po-ni ruler Ma-na-jih-chia-na visited the Ming capital Nanjing in 1408 and died there; his tomb was rediscovered in the 20th century, and is now a protected monument.

A stone tortoise with a stele in memory of Ma-na-jih-chia-na in Nanjing.

Chinese settlement and the Kinabatangan

The greater part of the official historical record for early Brunei until the arrival of Pigafetta is based on legends and assumptions.

The historical account - lacking any real evidence - has been constructed in such a way that around 1370, Zhu Yuan Zhang sent representatives to Brunei and Indonesia, and Brunei paid tribute to the Ming Chinese, which signified the strong influence of the Ming Dynasty and accounts for the combination of Ong Sum Ping's influence in Brunei. the account that follows below is the version currently accepted in Brunei, but challenged by a number of scholars because it lacks factual substance.

In 1402, after the death of Sultan Muhammad Shah (or known before converting to Islam, Awang Alak Betatar), his son Abdul Majid Hasan ascended the throne. Ong Sum Ping and Pengiran Temenggong became regents. Bruneian history has seldom treated Hasan as the second Sultan. In 1406, after the death of Sultan Majid Hasan, there existed a two-year power vacuum. During this two years, Bruneian nobles were locked in a power struggle; in the end, with the clever maneuvering of Ong Sum Ping, Sultan Ahmad came out victorious and Pengiran Temenggong's faction lost. Ahmad thus became the second Sultan in Bruneian official History. Sultan Ahmad was married to a sister of Ong Sum Ping. To further cement his influence on the new sultan, Ong Sum Ping advised the sultan that a visit to China, a regional Asian power at that time was good. Thus, the new sultan sent Ong Sum Ping and several court officials as representatives to China to assure the new Ming Dynasty of continued tributary relationship. Ong Sum Ping and his entourage landed in the coastal region of Fujian; emperor Yong Le had officials organised a welcome party for Ong Sum Ping.

Advanced in age, Ong Sum Ping could not make the long journey back to Brunei, and died in Nanjing. Prior to his death, he had pleaded with Emperor Yong Le to grant several wishes among which (1) that Brunei continued to be a tributary kingdom, (2) Sungai Kinabatangan and the surrounding area, decades ago under the province of the Mongol Yuan dynasty of China, be re-annexed as Chinese territory, (3) that the highest mountain in the territory be named "Kinabalu" or "new China" or alternatively some say "Chinese Widow". Emperor Yong Le granted his wish and further conferred upon Ong's son Awang as the new ruler, and named the mountain of Brunei as Chang Ning Mountain - mean Jabel Alsalam ("mountain of peace") in Arabic.

In 1408, Awang returned to Brunei under the escort of Chinese Imperial eunuchs, officials, and soldiers. Awang succeeded to the position of Ong Sum Ping in Brunei, and continued to exercise political power and influence upon the sultan. The Chinese still referred to him as Chung Ping - General. In 1412, he paid tribute to Emperor Yong Le. The wife of Ong Sum Ping was also buried in Brunei at a location which the local Malays called Bukit Cina. The sister of Ong Sum Ping, who was the wife of Sultan Ahmad gave birth to a daughter. This daughter later inherited the throne and her consort became Sultan Sharif Ali (so he was Sayyidina), who came from the Arabian Peninsula. Sultan Sharif Ali was a descendant of Muhammad. The granddaughter and the Arabian were the ancestors of today's sultan of Brunei.

Bruneians today, still believe that Ong Sum Ping was an ancestor of the Brunei royalty. Even though the Bruneian royal family stressed more on the concept of Melayu Islam Beraja ? ?, but they do not discount the Chinese connection. Ong Sum Ping's name was recorded under the genealogy of the Sultans of Brunei. In the capital of Brunei--Bandar Seri Begawan (similar with ? in Sanskrit), there exist a street named Jalan Ong Sum Ping, and the Muzium Brunei also contained artifacts of Ong Sum Ping. The tomb of Ong Sum Ping's son is also under the Bruneian government heritage protection.

The historical "Silsilah Raja-raja Sulu" provide further evidence of Ong Sum Ping's existence. According to the record of the Silsilah Raja-raja Sulu, Ong Sum Ping arrived at Brunei with several Chinese soldiers on a commission to collect a certain precious Jewell, called Gomala, in North Borneo, assumed to be on the highest mountain and said to be guarded by a dragon. Ong Sum Ping and his men later landed on the eastern coast of North Borneo. The Chinese explorers knew from vast experience that to reach a high mountain they had to logically start from the big river mouth and move ever upwards to the source of the river. Ong Sum Ping set up a staging station on the Kinabatangan river and sent men upriver. Unfortunately, the source of the Kinabatangan river is not on Mount Kinabalu. After the demise of Ong Sum Ping, Awang the new raja of Kinabatangan sent an expedition, this time up the Labuk River. It only managed to set up another staging station at the confluence of the Liwagu Kogibangan and Liwagu Kawananan.

The Nunuk Ragang Connection

Later this staging station became the permanent settlement now known as Nunuk Ragang the original home of the Kadazan-Dusun race. At the staging station the Chinese hung red colored pieces of fabric and red colored banner to indicate their presence to any follow-up parties. Red is an important symbolic color in Chinese culture, and even today whenever the Chinese set up a new project such as land development, they never neglect to set up a red coloured altar and offer sacrifice.[8] There is no zoological record of a red coloured Banyan Tree so it can only be assumed that to the simple native mind the Banyan tree has turned red, hence the name Nunuk Ragang. The offspring of the soldiers, porters and local natives women became the ancestors of the Kadazan-Dusun race. This explain the reason behind the many similarities in language between the natives of Taiwan and the Kadazan-Dusun language. The ethnic Tagahas, warlike and aggressive claim they are the descendants of soldiers. Additionally, the local native women were themselves descendants of previous waves of migrations of Austronesian people from mainland China and Taiwan to Sahul, and also during the Mongol Empire Yuan dynasty under Kublai Khan, in 1292, during which Sulu and Northern Borneo became a province under the Mongol Empire.[9] When, on a visit to China with the Sultan of Brunei in 1408, Ong Sum Ping died, his son, Awang returned as the new Raja of Kinabatangan three years later. Meanwhile, the settlement at Nunuk Ragang had already been well established and thriving. The new Raja, having converted to Islam was no longer interested in Jewell and dragon, but more concerned with court affairs having been appointed an important adviser to the Brunei Sultanate. Trading in the abundant resources at Kinabatangan became his most primary concern and the men at Nunuk Ragang was abandoned and left to fend for themselves.

According to this record, Ong Sum Ping didn't become Sultan, but his daughter was married to the Sultan, and he became the Sultan's father-in-law. Bruneian royal houses adopted the maternal succession system; it is known for certain that his maternal granddaughter became the Queen of Sultan Sharif Ali. However, it is believed that the year might be in 1375, not in the Yuan Dynasty, but in the 8th year of Emperor Hong Wu.

Relations with Europeans

Brunei's relations varied with the different European powers in the region. The Portuguese, for the most part, were more interested in economic and trading relations with the regional powers and did little to interfere with Brunei's development. This does not mean that relations were always cordial, such as in 1536 when the Portuguese attacked the Muslims in the Moluccas and the ambassador to the Brunei court had to leave because of the sultan's hostility. The Portuguese also noted that the sultanate was heavily involved in the region's politics and wars, and that Brunei merchants could be found in Ligor and Siam.

Relations with Spain were far more hostile. From 1565 on, Spanish and Brunei forces engaged in a number of naval skirmishes, and in 1571 the Spanish who had been sending expeditions from Mexico succeeded in capturing Manila from the Brunei aristocracy that had been established there. Brunei raised several large fleets with the intention of recapturing the city, but the campaigns, for various reasons, never launched.[b] In 1578, the Spanish took Sulu and in April attacked and captured Brunei itself, after demanding that the sultan cease proselytising in the Philippines and, in turn, allow Christian missionaries to be active in his kingdom. The Spaniards withdrew after suffering heavy losses due to a cholera or dysentery outbreak.[10][11] They were so weakened by the illness that they decided to abandon Brunei to return to Manila on 26 June 1578, after just 72 days.[12] The short-term damage to the sultanate was minimal, as Sulu regained its independence soon after. However, Brunei failed to regain a foothold in Luzon, with the island firmly in Spanish hands.

The long-term effects of regional changes could not be avoided. 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.

Relationship with the British and Sarawak

During Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II's reign, disturbances occurred in Sarawak. In 1839, the British adventurer James Brooke arrived in Borneo and helped the Sultan put down this rebellion.

As a reward, he became governor and later "White Rajah" of Sarawak and gradually expanded the territory under his control. Brooke never gained control of Brunei, though he did attempt to. He asked the British to check whether or not it would be acceptable for him to claim Brunei as his own; however, they came back with bad news--although Brunei was poorly governed, it had a definite sense of national identity and could therefore not be absorbed by Brooke.

In 1843 an open conflict between Brooke and the Sultan ended in the latter's defeat. The Sultan recognised Sarawak's independence. In 1846, Brunei Town was attacked and captured by the British and Sultan Saifuddin II was forced to sign a treaty to end the British occupation of Brunei Town. In the same year, Sultan Saifuddin II ceded Labuan to the British under the Treaty of Labuan. In 1847, he signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with the British and in 1850, he signed a similar treaty with the United States, which, after a series of events, resulted in the first consul of the US, Charles Lee Moses, burning down his consulate. Over the years, the Sultans of Brunei ceded further stretches of territory to Sarawak; in 1877, stretches to the east of the capital were leased (later ceded) to the British North Borneo Chartered Company (North Borneo). Eventually, due to these seizures of territory, which was accepted by the sultan for annual lease payments, the British occupied the vast majority of the coast of Brunei. The Sultan only stopped handing over territory when Sarawak asked for Limbang, which the Sultan refused. Against the Sultan's wishes, Sarawak obtained control over the territory.

In 1906, the British started a residency in Brunei. This was averted from greater British control from a friendly report by Malcolm Stewart Hannibal McArthur, who prevented the nation from being colonized completely, in the Report on Brunei in 1904. This residency, with the Sultan having control over internal policies, continued until 1984. During this residency, oil was discovered, in 1928, by Shell. This is what has changed the country from its former impoverished state to a much wealthier one today.

Prior to Independence

The Sultan of Brunei participated in efforts to form a federation of Malaysia with the Federation of Malaya, Crown Colony of Sarawak, Crown Colony of North Borneo and the Colony of Singapore, but decided not to in the end due to the issue of oil profits and massive popular opinion against the move. This wish by the sultan resulted in a coup by the most populous party in the nation, comprising a vast majority of the population, by the Brunei People's Party (PRB). This failed due to poor organisation and their leader, A.M. Azahari, not even being in the country during the coup. Another option considered was a federation between North Borneo, Sarawak, and Brunei, but this was rejected due to oil revenues and the possible limitation of the Sultan's power.


On 14 November 1971, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah left for London to discuss matters regarding the amendments to the 1959 constitution. A new agreement was signed on 23 November 1971 with the British representative being Anthony Royle.

Under this agreement, the following terms were agreed upon:

  • Brunei was granted full internal self-government
  • The UK would still be responsible for external affairs and defence.
  • Brunei and the UK agreed to share the responsibility for security and defence.

This agreement also caused Gurkha units to be deployed in Brunei, where they remain up to this day.

On 7 January 1979, another treaty was signed between Brunei and the UK. It was signed with Lord Goronwy-Roberts being the representative of the UK. This agreement granted Brunei to take over international responsibilities as an independent nation. Britain agreed to assist Brunei in diplomatic matters. In May 1983, it was announced by the UK that the date of independence of Brunei would be 1 January 1984.[]

On 31 December 1983, a mass gathering was held on main mosques on all four of the districts of the country and at midnight, on 1 January 1984, the Proclamation of Independence was read by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. The sultan subsequently assumed the title "His Majesty", rather than the previous "His Royal Highness". Brunei was admitted to the United Nations on 22 September 1984, becoming the organisation's 159th member.

After Independence

Brunei gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984, joining ASEAN on the same year.[13] Economic growth from its extensive petroleum and natural gas fields during the 1990s and 2000s, with the GDP increasing 56% from 1999 to 2008, transformed Brunei into an industrialised country. Brunei has the second-highest Human Development Index among the Southeast Asian nations, after Singapore, and is classified as a "developed country". In 2014, the Sultan instituted an Islamic Sharia penal code[13]

See also


  1. ^ Not to be confused with the Indian state of the same name.
  2. ^ The Chinese pirate Limahon attacked Manila in December 1574, but Brunei was unable to take advantage of the Spaniards' distraction.
  1. ^ Saunders 2013, pp. 60.
  2. ^ Abdul Majid 2007, pp. 4.
  3. ^ Sidhu 2009, pp. 92.
  4. ^ Kulke, Hermann (2004). A history of India. Rothermund, Dietmar, 1933- (4th ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 0203391268. OCLC 57054139.
  5. ^ This view recently has been challenged. See Johannes L. Kurz "Boni in Chinese Sources: Translations of Relevant Texts from the Song to the Qing Dynasties", paper accessible under http://www.ari.nus.edu.sg/article_view.asp?id=172 (2006)
  6. ^ "Naskah Nagarakretagama" (in Indonesian). Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia. Archived from the original on 23 May 2017. Retrieved 2014.
  7. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHose, Charles (1911). "Brunei". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 681-682.
  8. ^ On, Low Kok (2006). Reading Symbols and Mythical Landscape in the "Tambunan Dusun Origin Myth" Kota Kinabalu:Universiti Malaysia Sabah. pp. 38-40.
  9. ^ Rutter, Owen (1922).British North Borneo: An Account of its History, Resources and Native Tribes.London: Constable and Company Limited. p.84-85
  10. ^ Frankham 2008, p. 278
  11. ^ Atiyah 2002, p. 71
  12. ^ Saunders 2002, pp. 54-60
  13. ^ a b "Brunei Time Line Chronological Timetable of Events - Worldatlas.com". www.worldatlas.com. Retrieved 2019.


Primary source

  • The Philippine Islands: Explorations by Early Navigators, Descriptions of the Islands and their People, their History and Records of the Catholics Missions, as related in contemporaneous Books and Manuscripts. Vol. IV-1576-1582. Eds. Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson. Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1903.

Secondary sources

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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