A lesson in Brunei’s history

|     Muhammad Hadi Bin Muhammad Melayong, Senior Special Duties Officer, Secretariat Office, MIB Supreme Council     |

THE sixth session of the PenBorneo Lecture was held on May 14, 2018.

The lecture series is organised annually by the Borneo Research Centre (PenBorneo), a research centre for Borneo located at the Anggerek Desa Flat in Jalan Berakas. It aims to share Brunei’s history and promote PenBorneo as the preferred destination for research studies, particularly on Borneo.

Sharing a common goal, PenBorneo and the Brunei History Association (PESEBAR)made the decision to collaborate in organising the lecture, which included a series of talks and roundtable sessions.

Notable invitees included PESEBAR’s Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Dr Haji Asbol bin Haji Mail, a lecturer for the History and International Studies Programme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, and the author, who is Assistant Secretary of PESEBAR.

The half-day seminar was attended by officials from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS), teachers, librarians and students. The event’s theme centred around Brunei’s pursuit of relevance in relation to Borneo, a continuation of a series of seminars that focussed on the art, culture, craftsmanship, creativity and community on Borneo.

PESEBAR members at the Muslim cemetery in Mukah
A section of the attendees at the seminar

The papers presented covered the history of the practices carried out in Brunei, as measured by the residents’ persistence, endurance and innovation.

Associate Professor Dr Haji Asbol presented his working paper titled ‘Syair Rakis and the 19th Century Brunei Sultanate: Fantasy, Reality and Economy’, in which he explained how the fantasy contained in the poem had become a reality, not only in terms of the political scenario of Brunei Sultanate in the 19th Century, but also with regard to the economic integrity of the Sultanate.

The discussion touched on the subject of patriotism, Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) philosophy and loyalty to the Sultan, religion and nation.

Syair Rakis, written by Pengiran Shahbandar Mohammad Salleh bin Pengiran Sharmayuda in the 19th Century, showed the intentions of Brunei’s leaders and how they tried to manage the country’s politics amidst the backdrop of intervention from the British, who tried to take advantage of the political turmoil the country was experiencing for their own political and economic gain.

Unfortunately, the territory of the Sultanate of Brunei became smaller as James Brooke’s influence grew stronger after he was appointed Governor of Sarawak.

The paperwork of Associate Professor Dr Haji Hasbol generally talks about how the fantasy contained in the Syair Rakis has become a reality not only to the political scenario of the Sultanate of Brunei in the 19th century, but also how it directly affected the economic integrity of the Sultanate.

In poetry fantasy there are speculations about the future of Brunei as well as advice and views from the Brunei authorities in implementing the state administration. The fantasies in this poem existed as a result of the Brunei Sultanate’s relationship with the United Kingdom, which grew increasingly close due to the volatile political climate caused by Sarawak’s uprising.

The impact of this rebellion led to the appointment of James Brooke as the Sarawak Govenor.

As a result, Brunei has become a great country but now looks like a “room”, as mentioned in the Malay poem: udang galah jadi cencudik dan harimau garang dapat dimiliki…

The fate of Brunei was sealed with the driving of the English dagger into Sarawak, resulting in almost the entire empire of Brunei being controlled by the British, including Sabah.

These were the challenges Brunei faced in the past, which serve as a reference point and source of teaching for us. The strong spirit of nationality that exists within the spirit of the author of Syair Rakis is proof of the importance of MIB values which can act as a fortress in defending the supremacy of Brunei, especially for future generations of heirs.

The author in his paper ‘The Challenges of Malay Islamic Sultanate’ discussed the challenges faced by Brunei in regaining her sovereignty as a Malay Islamic Monarchial State in 1984. The starting point of this challenge was with the arrival of Western powers in the early 16th Century (as stated in Syair Rakis) until Brunei signed the Treaty of Friendship 1888 and Protection Agreement 1905/06.

The struggle to restore the sovereignty of the State of Brunei continued after the Second World War until it finally became an independent nation on January 1, 1984 with the declaration of the Malay Islamic Monarchy State.

The information and ideas highlighted in this paper are based on the author’s knowledge and experience as a result of research and assessment of historical materials at several overseas institutions.

The purpose of this intermediary is to share information and experience to further enhance knowledge and encourage the conducting of research and examination of historical materials abroad to collect, preserve and store historical documents relating to the history of the Malay Islamic Monarchy, as a means to compile reference and evidence material for the next generation of youth.

In this regard, several documents have been presented to show the challenges faced by the people and the country in an effort to restore their status as an independent and sovereign Malay Islamic Monarchy state.

In relation to these working papers, an 11-member PESEBAR delegation conducted a three-day research workshop primarily focussed on the history of Brunei-Mukah, which coincides with Syair Rakis. During the workshop it was noted that Pengiran Shahbandar Muhammad Salleh had taken himself to Mukah after losing his position to James Brooke in Sarawak.

The PESEBAR delegation’s visit to Mukah, among other aims, was for them to conduct research on the past relationship between Brunei and Mukah based on historical relics available in the area, thus establishing cooperation with their Mukah counterparts in the field of research and historical studies per the goals of PESEBAR.

The author would like to congratulate the Brunei History Centre and PESEBAR in organising this fruitful seminar and for their efforts in conducting field research in support of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s titah where His Majesty talked about preserving the nation’s sovereignty.

Hopefully this seminar can help maintain the status quo of the Malay Islamic Monarchy, and enhance understanding on Brunei and the importance of its history among Bruneians.