The historian with a golden heart

Professor BA Hussainmiya

The passing away of Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Dato Seri Utama (Dr) Haji Awang Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri bin Begawan Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Seri Paduka Haji Awang Umar on March 4, 2021 morning has taken away one of the most remarkable personalities in modern Brunei history.

Pehin Dato Seri Utama (Dr) Haji Awang Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri was the historian of Brunei who produced works on Brunei history, genealogy, traditional customs and conventions, royal titles, Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB), education and essays on Brunei heroes and more.

His final volume on Brunei Tarsila was completed for publication just before his passing. Despite his age, he kept working to produce the volume, undaunted. For Bruneians, he needs no introduction. He was knowledgeable in the family history of Bruneians of all stations. Based on name alone, he was able to recall the whole history of the ancestry. Blessed with a photographic memory, he not only had the royal genealogy memorised but most genealogical family trees in the country. He also had encyclopedic knowledge of the origins of Brunei and kingship. He did not keep his wealth of information to himself but shared with all.

Until his demise, Pehin Dato Seri Utama (Dr) Haji Awang Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri held the position as the head of Brunei History Centre, which he helped found after he gave up his directorship at the Brunei Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in 1982. Before Brunei attained full independence in 1984, the late Pehin held many important positions and played his role in the evolution of modern Sultanate.

He was born in Kampong Ayer on December 10, 1921. His father was a respected Islamic teacher or Alim.

File photo shows Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Awang Haji Aminuddin Ihsan bin Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Haji Abidin presenting a the book to the late Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Dato Seri Utama Professor (Dr) Haji Awang Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri bin Begawan Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Seri Paduka Haji Awang Umar. RAHWANI ZAHARI

The late Pehin earned a Malay education to be trained as a vernacular school teacher in 1939. As a Malay teacher, he was at the forefront with his contemporaries.

Having long served the education sector, the late Pehin became Director of the Language Board of Brunei from 1961-1964 and moved on to take up a position as Director of Brunei’s Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka from 1977 to 1981. He became Director of the Brunei History Centre the following year where he served until his passing.

I first met the late Pehin in 1985 when I attended a conference in Brunei. We became close colleagues in 1992 when I was tasked to write a book on modern Brunei History.

Since he was the head of the Brunei History Centre, he served a conduit to collect vital primary historical documents and source material in various archives outside Brunei. He sent two of his officials to assist me to scour all material lying in the London Public Record Office, American National Archives and a host of other libraries in Southeast Asia and Australia. Our hard work in identifying Brunei historical records swelled the Brunei repositories with miles of micro films and Xeroxed copies of the original records.

What impressed me the most about the late Pehin was that there was never a moment of idling in the office. He was always with red and black pens to correct new drafts of his works or dictate his ideas to his scribes at the History Centre.

He was an out-and-out traditionalist with a penchant for chronicling local history. His reliance on the Silsilah Raja-Raja Brunei and oral traditions resulted in a vernacular version of a history of Brunei from the 13th Century onwards.

The Brunei history has been recorded meticulously as a result of his input. He deserved to receive accolades as the pioneer historian of Brunei and his works consulted before anyone engaged themselves in writing their own versions of history. Moreover, I don’t think Brunei would ever come across another genealogical expert of his calibre.

Personally, Pehin Dato Seri Utama (Dr) Haji Awang Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri was a very amiable, suave and humane person. He had the golden heart to help anyone and everyone who sought his help.

As with his lasting contributions to Brunei history, generations of Bruneians will remember him for his contributions to improving educational attainments of Bruneians.