BRUNEI, a state situated in the north-west of Borneo. It has been so diminished in area since the beginning of the 19th century as to have become in comparison with the other states of Borneo territorially insignificant. It formerly included the whole of northern Borneo and southern Palawan, and stretched down the west coast as far as Sambas.
What remains of this once powerful sultanate is a triangular-shaped territory, the base of the triangle being represented by 80 m. of coast-line, and the two sides by the frontiers of Sarawak. The area is calculated to be about 1700 sq. m. This great reduction of the extent of the territory has been brought about by the cession on successive occasions of strips of territory to Sarawak and to the British North Borneo Company on condition of annual payments of money. In 1888 the state was placed under British protection.
On the 2nd of January 1906 a treaty was made whereby the sultan of Brunei agreed to hand over the general administration of his state to a British resident. The sultan Mahommed Jomal-ul-alam, born in 1889, succeeded his father in May 1906. He receives an allowance of 12,000 dollars a year from state funds, and his two principal ministers receive allowances of 6000 dollars a year each. The interior people have for centuries been subject to petty oppression, and there is too much of the old spirit left among the Malays to avoid acrimonious dispute and rebellion.
The bulk of the inhabitants, who consist of Malays, Kadayans, Orang Bukits and a few Muruts, are to be found in and about the capital—also called Brunei—the population of the city being estimated at about 15,000, and the population of the whole territory being about 25,000. The city is prettily situated on the river, with a background of cleared hills, and in the distance heights clothed with magnificent forest. The dwelling-houses are built over the river on slender piles obtained from the Nibong palm which resists the action of the water for several years.
Though there are practically no exports and imports, there is a certain amount of inland commerce, the Brunei Malay usually earning a living by trading with the interior tribes of Sarawak and British North Borneo. Some of them are skilled workers of brass, and the Brunei women make very beautiful cloth, interwoven and embroidered with gold thread. Sago is worked in the important river-valleys of the Tutong and the Balait, but only a small quantity of rice is cultivated.
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The history of this ancient and decaying sultanate is of some interest. Brunei, or, as it is called by the natives Bruni or Dar-ul-Salam (city of peace), possesses a historic tablet of stone upon which, in a.h. 1221 (1804), was engraved in Malay characters the genealogy of the sovereigns who have ruled over the country. The engraving was the work of Datu Imaum Yakub, the high priest at the time, who received the genealogy from the lips of Merhoum Bongsu, otherwise Sultan Muadin, and Sultan Kemal-Udin, who ordered this record of their forefathers to be written. This stone tablet now stands on the tomb of Sultan Mahommed Jemal-ul-Alam at the foot of Panggal hill, in the city of Brunei.
The Selesilah, or book of descent, is kept in the palace by the sultan. The other heirlooms, which are also kept in the sultan’s palace, and which descend to each sultan in turn, are the “Nobab Nagara” (two royal drums) from Johore and Menang-Kabau, and the “Gunta Alamat” (bells), the gift of Sultan Bahkei of Johore or Malacca. The first sultan of Brunei was Alak-ber-Tata, who was probably of Bisaya stock, and governed the country before the introduction of Islam, in the 15th century. He assumed the name of Mahommed on his conversion to Islam, which was brought about during a visit to the Malay peninsula. Brunei, at this time, was a dependency of Majapahit (Java), and paid a yearly tribute of a jar of areca juice obtained from the young green nuts of the areca palm, and of no monetary value.
The Hindu kingdom of Menjapahit was destroyed by the Mahommedans in 1478, and Brunei is mentioned in the history of Java as one of the countries conquered by Adaya Mingrat, the general of Angka Wijaya. Sultan Mahommed’s only child was a daughter. His brother Akhmed married the daughter of Ong Chum Ping, a Chinese officer said to have been sent by his emperor to obtain a jewel from Mount Kinabalu in North Borneo, and was the successor of Sultan Mahommed in the sovereignty of Brunei. He was succeeded by Sultan Berkat, an Arab sherif of high rank, from the country of Taif in Arabia, who had married Sultan Akhmed’s only child.
Sultan Berkat built a mosque and enforced Mahommedan law, and with the assistance of the Chinese built the stone wall, which is still in existence between the islands of Kaya Orang and Chermin, by sinking forty junks filled with rock across the mouth of the Brunei river. This work was completed before the arrival of Pigafetta in 1521. In the reign of Sultan Bulkeiah Magellan’s squadron anchored off the mouth of Brunei river in August 1521, and Pigafetta makes mention of the splendid court and the imperial magnificence of the Borneo capital.
Sultan Bulkeiah was otherwise known as Nakoda Ragam; he was the greatest warrior of Brunei and made military expeditions to Java, Malacca, Luzon and all the coasts of Borneo. His tomb, which is handsomely built of stone, is still to be seen in Brunei, and is constantly visited by Malays, who leave money and various articles on the tomb as offerings to his memory. Others, again, come and take away anything they can find, which they keep as charms and mementoes. The Spaniards captured Brunei in 1580, the reigning sultan and his court retiring to Suai in the Baram district.
The invaders were compelled to evacuate the place, however, in consequence of the heavy losses they sustained in the numerous attempts made for its recovery. The golden age of Brunei was nevertheless at an end, and there is little more of importance to record. Disputed successions and civil war, maladministration and the untrustworthiness of the Malay character, caused a steady decline in prosperity. The East India Company started a factory in the town in the 18th century, but commerce had already decayed and the establishment was abandoned.
In the early part of the 19th century Brunei was but a resort for pirates and a market for the slave trade. During the 'forties Admiral (then Captain) Keppel and other officers of the British navy suppressed piracy in the neighbourhood. Sarawak was handed over to Raja Brooke, and, after the capture and temporary occupation of Brunei by Sir Thomas Cochrane, Labuan was ceded to the British empire. From this island it was possible to exercise a certain control over the townspeople, and a consul was stationed there to watch affairs. Nowadays the political consequence of Brunei largely arises from the existence there of valuable seams of coal, leased to the Sarawak government.
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 4. pp. 681-682.