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POPULATION: 372,360 (2005 estimate)


The official name of Brunei, a tiny oil-rich Southeast Asian nation, is Negara Brunei Darussalam, which means, "The Country of Brunei, Abode of Peace." According to Chinese and Arab records, Brunei existed as early as the 7th or 8th century AD at the mouth of the Brunei River. In the 9th century, Brunei was conquered by the Srivijaya Empire based in Sumatra. By the 13th century, Islam had spread to Brunei. In the 14th century, it was ruled by the Majapahit Empire based in Java. Brunei then became independent and experienced its golden age from the 15th to the 17th centuries when it was a huge empire and controlled the entire island of Borneo as well as parts of the Philippines. During this period, Brunei's fifth sultan, Bolkiah (1473–1521), was famous for his sea exploits and for capturing Manila, while its ninth sultan, Hassan (1605–1619), was known for developing an elaborate court structure that, in part, still exists today.

Brunei then entered a period of decline due to internal problems over succession, which led to civil war, and to external problems in the form of Western colonialism, which resulted in its loss of territory. Brunei lost much territory to the British in Sarawak and Sabah. In the case of Sarawak, in 1839 a British adventurer, James Brooke, helped the Sultan of Brunei quell a rebellion by local chiefs and in return gained land that became the First Division of Sarawak. Brooke soon gained more land from the Sultan—Sarawak's Second Division in 1852 and its Third Division in 1861. His successor, Charles Brooke, obtained further territory for Sarawak at Brunei's expense. For instance, in 1882 Charles purchased Brunei's Baram district, which became Sarawak's Fourth Division, while in 1890 he took Brunei's Limbang district (without the Sultan's permission) and made it the Fifth Division after some chiefs had asked for his help against the Sultan. In the case of Sabah, in 1865, the Sultan of Brunei gave a ten-year lease to Charles Lee Moses who established the American Trading Company. In 1875 this company was purchased by an Austrian Consul, Baron von Overbeck, and his English partner, John Dent. In 1881, Dent bought Overbeck's share in the company and formed the British North Borneo Chartered Company. The same year, the Sultan of Brunei permitted the Company to rule over Sabah. In 1888 Britain made Brunei, Sabah, and Sarawak British Protectorates to prevent the Brooke family or the Company from taking over Brunei. In 1906 Britain established the Residential System in Brunei, whereby a British Resident was to advise the Sultan in all matters except Malay customs and religion. In the 1920s the British discovered oil and natural gas in Brunei and began the extraction of these resources. During World War II the Japanese invaded and occupied all three areas. After the war, Brunei remained a British protectorate and retained a British Resident until 1959 while Sabah and Sarawak became Crown Colonies.

In 1959, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin introduced the country's first constitution, which made Brunei a self-governing state with Britain still responsible for its foreign affairs and defense. The Sultan was not keen on full independence, preferring instead a British presence. In 1961 he favored federating with the other British territories of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak, and Brunei to form a larger political unit, the Federation of Malaysia, by 1963. In late 1962, however, he changed his mind about the merger after an armed coup by the Brunei People's Party, led by A.M. Azahari, revealed local opposition to the Federation. The British authorities crushed the armed revolt while the Sultan declared a state of emergency in Brunei. Since then, the Sultan of Brunei has ruled by decree as a non-elected prime minister. In October 1967 Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin abdicated in favor of his son, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. In January 1979 Britain and Brunei signed an agreement declaring that Brunei would become fully independent within five years.

Brunei remained a British protectorate until 1 January 1984 when it attained full independence. On Brunei's Independence Day, Sultan {xe "Bolkiah, Hassanal"} Hassanal Bolkiah proclaimed Brunei's National Philosophy: Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay Islamic Monarchy), which incorporates the Malay language, culture, and customs with Islamic laws and values and with the monarchy system. In 1984 Brunei also joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as the regional body's sixth member. In 1992, when Brunei celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the reign of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan set up the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation as a gift to his people. In 1994 through the Davao Agreement, Brunei joined Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines to form the East ASEAN Growth Area (BMIP-EAGA) to improve trade between them. In 1998 the Sultan proclaimed his son, Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, as the Crown Prince.

In 2000 the Sultan began civil proceedings against his brother, Prince Jefri, for misappropriating $16 billion from the Brunei Investment Agency, but the case was later settled out of court. Since 2003 Brunei and Malaysia have held talks over the disputed territory of Limbang, which the Brooke family in Sarawak took from Brunei without permission in 1890. Meanwhile, in September 2004, the Sultan reconvened the 21-member Legislative Council, suspended since 1984, to debate several proposed amendments to the Brunei's Constitution, including the direct election of 15 members to the Legislature. In May 2005 the Sultan reorganized his cabinet, dismissing four prominent ministers and replacing them with new ministers with private sector experience. His other changes included the creation of a new Ministry of Energy and the appointment of the first ethnic Chinese to a cabinet position, Pehin Dato' Lim Jock Seng as Minister of Foreign Affairs II. In September 2005, the Sultan dissolved the existing Legislative Council, which acts as Brunei's Parliament, and appointed 29 new members. As of 2008, no schedule had been established for the holding of elections.

Brunei is an absolute monarchy, with the Sultan serving as Premier, Defense Minister, Finance Minister, and as the religious head of Brunei. The present Sultan is the 29th in a line that dates from Sultan Muhammad, who converted to Islam in 1514. His brother, Prince Mohamed, serves as the Foreign Minister while his son, Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, serves as the Senior Minister. The Sultan's cabinet is made up of members of his extended family, the Bolkiahs, who control all the government departments and most of the nation's wealth. The Sultan is assisted and advised by his Cabinet, the Religious Council, the Privy Council, and by the Council of Succession.


Brunei is located on the northern coast of the island of Borneo; it lies between the South China Sea and the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. It is divided by Sarawak into two unconnected parts: a larger western portion and a smaller eastern portion. The western portion contains three of Brunei's four districts—Brunei Muara, with the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan; oil-rich Beliat; and agricultural Tutong—while the eastern portion has the sparsely populated district of Temburong, which is separated from the rest of Brunei by Sarawak's Limbang district.

With a total area of only 2,228 sq mi (5,770 sq km), Brunei is a very small country that is roughly the size of Delaware. Its population centers are mainly along its flat coastal plains. To its west, Brunei has hilly lowlands, and to its east, mountains. Over 70% of Brunei's entire land area is covered by tropical rainforests. The Brunei government has set aside 317 sq mi (820 sq km) as national parks or forest reserves, in part to protect the unique wildlife found in its rainforests, such as the Borneon proboscis monkey, the silvered leaf monkey, and the slow loris, a tree dwelling nocturnal primate. Brunei has an equatorial climate that is hot, humid, and wet all year round. The average daytime temperature is between 79° F and 95° F. Although typhoons, earthquakes, and severe flooding are rare, Brunei is subject to seasonal haze from forest fires in Indonesia. The country is rich in petroleum, natural gas, and timber.

Brunei has a population of 372,360 (2005 estimate), which is growing by 1.9% annually. Over 75% of the population lives in the urban areas, with 60,000 in Bandar Seri Begawan, the largest city. The Malays, the largest ethnic group, comprise 67% of the population while the Chinese make up 15% and the indigenous groups, including the Ibans, Muruts, Dusuns, and Melayu Tutong, form 6%. The remaining 12% includes European, Asian, and North American expatriates.


The official language of Brunei is Malay (Bahasa Melayu), which is the primary language of most Bruneians. A common greeting in Malay is Apa Khabar? (How are you?). Another typical greeting, particularly among Muslims, is the Arabic Assalamu alaikum (May peace be among you), to which the reply is Wa'alaikum salaam (And peace be upon you).

English is also widely spoken and used, especially in business settings. Among the Chinese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and other Chinese dialects are commonly used. Each indigenous group in Brunei also has its own language.


One Brunei folktale is the legend of Nakhoda Manis (Sweet Sailor) that tells of how the ship of an unfilial son was turned into a huge rock, known as Jong Batu, in the Brunei River. According to this legend, a widow, Dang Ambon, lived with her son, Nakhoda Manis, in the village of Kampong Ayer until he left home to seek his fortune in the city of Sulu. He eventually gained wealth and success, married a noblewoman, and became the owner of a large ship. He then planned a trip to the Brunei River to visit his mother. Since his mother longed to see him again, she paddled out in a small boat to his ship, shouting that she missed him. However, when the wife of Nakoda Manis saw the mother, she was so disgusted with what she viewed as a very old and poor woman that she demanded that the mother be chased away. Unfortunately, Nakhoda Manis listened to his wife and ordered his crew to push his mother's small boat away. The heartbroken Dang Ambon then cursed her son. Soon thereafter his ship capsized in a storm. After the storm, a huge rock, called Jong Batu, appeared in the Brunei River where Nakhoda Manis had anchored his vessel.


Brunei's state religion is Islam. The importance of the Islamic religion is clearly seen in Brunei's description of its government as a Malay Islamic Monarchy (Melayu Islam Beraja), with the Sultan serving as the head of the Islamic community. He represents the main ethnic group in the population, the Malays, who are Sunni Muslims and who comprise over two-thirds of the total population. For Muslims in Brunei, Islamic law (Shariah) takes precedence over civil law in a number of areas, including divorce and inheritance. The importance of Islam in Brunei is also seen in the adherence by Muslims to the Five Pillars of Islam: profession of faith that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet; prayer five times a day; giving alms to the poor; fasting from dawn until dusk during the holy month of Ramadan; and making a pilgrimage during one's lifetime to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Under Islamic law, the drinking of alcohol is forbidden as is the eating of pork. In 1991 the government introduced laws that made the sale of alcohol illegal.

The Sultan encourages the recital of the Holy Quran every morning prior to the start of work to obtain blessing and guidance from God. Every government function and project also incorporates the Doa, a very important link to God's blessing. The main mosques in Brunei are the magnificent Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, completed in 1958 in classic Islamic style, and the Jame 'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque, Brunei's largest, built to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Sultan Hasssanal Bolkiah's reign in 1992.

During the fasting month of Ramadan, all government officers and staff work a six-hour day, instead of the usual seven and a half hour workday, and all entertainment and sports activities are temporarily suspended. Non-Muslims are also encouraged during this period to refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking in public and from wearing clothing that expose their arms or feet.

The other two main religions in Brunei are Buddhism and Christianity, with Buddhists making up 13% of the population and Christians about 10%. Animism is also practiced in Brunei by some of the indigenous groups. The Brunei constitution guarantees religious freedom.


In Brunei, the following are public holidays: New Year's Day on January 1, National Day on February 23, the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day on May 31, the Sultan's birthday on July 15, Christmas Day on December 25, and Chinese New Year, which follows the lunar cycle. Muslim celebrations, which follow the lunar calendar, are also public holidays. These include Hijrah (Islamic New Year); the Prophet Muhammad's birthday; Hijrah Hari Raya Aidiladha (the Feast of Sacrifice); Isra' Mikraj (the anniversary of Muhammad's ascension); Hari Raya Ed-il-Fitri (the end of Ramadan); Hari Raya Haji (the end of the Haji pilgrimage session); and Nuzul Al-Quran (the anniversary of the revelation of the Holy Quran).

Because the lunar cycle is shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, the Islamic New Year can occur twice in one Gregorian calendar year. For example, in 2008 the Islamic New Year fell on January 10 and on December 29. State-level celebrations accompany the Muslim celebrations.


One rite of passage is a ceremony called mandi belawat, held after a mother gives birth to the couple's first child. During this ceremony the mother and baby wear the kain jong sarat (a hand-woven brocade with gold and silver threads) while the guests present the zikir, a form of religious chanting, praising the prophet Muhammad. The zikir is a traditional welcome used not only for a baby's birth but also to welcome the arrival of a guest of honor at an event or ceremony.

Another rite of passage, a traditional one for Muslim boys, is the circumcision ceremony, which takes place when a boy is between the ages of 9 and 12. Whereas traditional healers used to perform the circumcision, nowadays the circumcision is usually carried out in a hospital. The circumcision is then followed by a family celebration.

Yet another rite of passage is the burial of Muslims after death. According to Muslim tradition, the burial must take place as soon as possible after a person dies. The body is first ritually washed and then wrapped in a white cloth before it is placed in a coffin and transported to the cemetery. For the next three nights, prayers known as takhil are offered for the deceased at a family ceremony. In the weeks that follow, these prayers can be repeated by individuals or by groups of mourners. After a death, friends and relatives can offer condolences and money to the deceased's family but never flowers.

There are also rites of passage concerning marriage between Muslims in Brunei. After a Muslim couple decides to marry, several stages precede their wedding ceremony. For example, in the first stage, the members of the prospective groom's family make a formal marriage proposal to the family of the prospective bride. In the second stage, the engagement ceremony (bertunang), the groom's mother places the engagement ring on the bride's right hand. In the third stage, as the wedding approaches, the sending of dowries and gifts (menghantar berian) takes place. For example, the groom's family gives the bride's family a cash dowry and gifts such as a kain jong sarat, shoes, and handbags while the bride's family also gives some gifts in return. In the fourth and final stage before the wedding, the majlis berbedak is held separately for the bride and groom where they are given a religious blessing and showered with scented perfume. At this ceremony, family members also place dye on the palms of the bride and groom. The bride wears the kain jong sarat and also a floral headdress.

Then the wedding ceremony, or akad nikah (the solemnization of marriage vows) is held, usually at the home of the bride. At this ceremony, an imam (Muslim religious leader) reads a sermon and officially pronounces the couple as husband and wife. The wedding reception (bersanding) follows, with the couple seated on a dais as guests come up to congratulate them. The same evening, the groom's family brings food for the bride's family and the bride and groom feed each other. Three or seven days after the wedding, the groom's family usually brings the couple household items like rice and sugar or appliances like a washing machine or a television. The groom then stays with the bride's family for at least a week before the couple moves out to go to their own place.


When Bruneians meet, they shake hands by lightly touching the hands and then bringing their hands to their chest. Some also shake hands in the Western manner. When meeting with members of the opposite sex, some do not shake hands with them but instead nod, smile, or give a verbal greeting. When a person joins a small group, it is polite to greet each person individually, beginning with the person on the right. In the case of members of the royal family, they are first greeted by a bow and then by a light handshake.

When greeting others, Bruneians usually address them by their given name. In formal situations, however, full names are used. Malay men use their father's name, preceded by their own given name, as in Ahmad bin Ibrahim, with bin denoting "son of". The usual honorific for men is Awang. Malay women also use their father's name preceded by their own name and with a binte in between, to denote "daughter of," as in Fatimah binte Yusof. The usual honorific for women is Dayang.

In formal situations, titles are also used. For example, members of the hereditary nobility have the title Pengiran before their name and this title is included when addressing them. Another title is Pehin, awarded by the Sultan to commoners and the equivalent of a life peerage in the United Kingdom. Some men also have the title Dato, awarded by the Sultan to male subjects and the equivalent of a knighthood in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, some women have the title Datin, awarded by the Sultan to his female subjects and the equivalent of a damehood. For men who have completed the pilgrimage to Mecca, the title Haji is used before their name whereas for women who have made the pilgrimage the title Hajjah is used before their name.

An important aspect of Bruneian life is visiting friends and neighbors. These visits usually take place without prior notification, although visitors know that they should avoid doing so during the Muslim prayer times. Evening visits usually take place around 8pm after the last prayer for the day. For special occasions like weddings and birthdays, formal invitations are extended. During a visit, guests remove their shoes before entering a home. Among the older generation, male guests often enter before the female guests. The host usually offers a drink of either tea, coffee, or a soft drink, and some snacks in the form of finger sandwiches, cakes, cookies or puddings. When visiting a sick person, gifts are not expected, but some visitors do bring cakes, fruit, or a cash gift for the sick person's family. When receiving food or gifts, only the right hand is used although the left hand may be used for support. When refusing any food that is being offered, it is considered polite to touch the plate lightly with the right hand.

It is considered rude to point with the index finger. Instead, the thumb of the right hand is used, with the four fingers folded beneath it. It is also considered rude to touch another person's head, although an adult may touch a child's head. In conversation, hand gestures are usually not used. However, among close friends and family members, some Bruneians do use some hand gestures.

Before entering a mosque, the shoes must first be removed. In the mosque, the women cover their heads and wear clothing that also covers their knees and arms.


Brunei's per capital gross domestic product (GDP), at $33,600 in 2005, is among the highest in Asia. Crude oil and natural gas production account for over half of GDP and more than 90% of exports. Brunei is the third largest oil producer in Southeast Asia and the world's fourth largest producer of liquefied natural gas. The nation has no external debt and the Sultan ranks as one of the wealthiest men in the world. Brunei also has no personal income tax.

Brunei's healthcare system ranks among the best in Asia. Health services are free for Brunei citizens while permanent residents and expatriates pay a nominal charge. The healthcare system is a three-tiered system, with health clinics providing primary care, health centers providing secondary care, and district hospitals providing tertiary and specialized care. Patients requiring very specialized treatment are sent abroad, with expenses for Brunei citizens being borne by the government. Brunei's healthcare system is heavily subsidized by the government and its quality is comparable to any developed country. Private and public hospitals have very modern and up-to-date facilities. Nearly all the villages in Brunei have health centers and children clinics. In remote areas that are not easily accessible, the government provides health care through its Flying Medical Services. The military has its own hospitals to look after the military personnel and their dependents. Since 1970 all major diseases have been eliminated, including malaria, cholera, and smallpox. The Ministry of Health carries out regular immunization programs and has a successful track record in preventative medicine.

Regarding housing, the Brunei government provides its employees with various types of accommodation at a monthly rental that is maintained at a relatively low price. The government also provides its employees with interest-free loans to enable them to build their own home or to buy one that has already been built. There are also national housing schemes of three categories that are open to all eligible citizens: the National Housing Development Program (NHDP), the Landless Indigenous Citizens Housing Scheme (LICHS), and the Land Entitlement and Infill Scheme (LEIS). Under the NHDP, there are five types of houses, each with three to four bedrooms. These houses are located at various housing sites with facilities like schools, community centers, mosques, parks, and playgrounds. The houses cost between $52,000 to $95,000 Brunei dollars, payable within a period of 15 to 30 years. Besides the government housing and the National Housing Schemes, Brunei has private sector housing schemes, such as the Brunei Shell Petroleum Housing Scheme and the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Scheme.

As for infrastructure, Brunei has two airports—the Brunei International Airport located in Berakas, near Bandar Seri Begawan, and the airport in Anduki, near Seria, used by the Brunei Shell Petroleum Company for its helicopter services. The national air carrier is the Royal Brunei Airlines, which operates flights to destinations in Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East. Regarding ports, the main one is Muara, about 28 km from the capital, while other important ones are the smaller Bandar Seri Begawan port and the port at Kuala Belait. There are also ferry services between Brunei and Labuan, Malaysia. There is one railway line, a 19 km railway in Seria operated by the Brunei Shell Petroleum Company. Regarding roads, a major highway is the Muara-Tutong coastal road. There are also several highways linking the districts and the towns and an extensive overland road network that connects Brunei to Sarawak and Sabah. From Brunei, one can also travel, via Sabah and Sarawak, to the Indonesian province of Kalimantan by road, air, or sea.

Brunei has one of the highest rates of car ownership in Southeast Asia, with most families having at least two cars. Drivers drive on the left hand side of the road. Taxis are available and are metered. Water taxis are also available and are unmetered, with fares negotiable. These water taxis are used to get to Kampong Ayer, Temburong District, and to the Malaysian towns of Limbang, Lawas, and Labuan. Bus services operate along selected routes throughout Brunei. Regarding tourist facilities, these are very good but underutilized; there are over 2,500 rooms spread over 30 establishments ranging from guesthouses to the very luxurious Empire Hotel and Country Club.

Most individuals in Brunei own a cellular phone and most households have a landline telephone. Broadband Internet is also widely available. The only local television station is government-owned, but foreign stations are available by satellite. The local television station broadcasts local programs and news as well as programs from the region and from around the world. Brunei has an advanced telecommunications system that offers international direct dialing services to 160 countries through two earth satellite stations. It also has a full range of worldwide telephone, telex, and facsimile facilities.


On the whole, Bruneians have large families. This is especially so among the Malays and the indigenous groups, while the Chinese tend to have smaller families. A generation or so ago, many couples had as many as eight children and relied on help from extended family members to raise their children. Nowadays, however, the trend is towards smaller families as most women now work outside the home. Moreover, although extended families can still be found, in some cases with three generations living together, there are presently many nuclear families as well. Regarding maternity leave, women who work in the public sector receive 56 days of paid maternity leave. Women continue to be mainly responsible for looking after the children and for managing the household. For families who can afford the expense, they employ live-in domestic helpers, mainly from the Philippines or Indonesia, to help with child-care and with the tasks of cooking and cleaning. These live-in domestic helpers are usually given a separate room in the family home.

The family home, in olden days, was a traditional wooden house built on stilts. Now the usual family home is a modern Western style brick house with three to four bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. However, some traditional wooden homes can still be found in the rural areas, but with metal roofs, and in Kampong Ayer (Water Village), a residential area of Bandar Seri Begawan, where homes are built on stilts over the Brunei River. Kampong Ayer has been called the world's largest water village on stilts. In fact, about 10% of Brunei's population lives in Kampong Ayer but the wooden houses are now equipped with modern appliances, satellite television dishes, and the latest amenities. Kampong Ayer is almost self-contained, with its own shops, mosques, schools, clinics, and a police station. To get to the mainland, the residents of Kampong Ayer use speedboats. In some parts of Brunei, one can also find many traditional longhouse communities where several families still live in one longhouse.

While family homes among the indigenous, the Malay, and the Chinese may differ in structure, the people of Brunei are one when it comes to their attitudes toward the elderly. They all tend to respect their elders and to care for them when they grow old. Because of this traditional respect for elders, Brunei has very few old folks homes or retirement homes. Many young adults also live with their parents, even after marriage. Arranged marriages have become less common as most of the young people prefer to choose their own spouse. Under Muslim law, unmarried couples are forbidden to date in secluded areas or to be by themselves in empty rooms or houses. Those caught violating these rules are fined by religious officials.


The people of Brunei wear either traditional clothing or Western-style outfits and are usually smartly dressed. The traditional clothing for women is the baju kurung, a loose-fitting outfit consisting of a long blouse and a long skirt. The material used is either cotton, satin, or silk. This outfit is in keeping with the requirement under Muslim law that women wear conservative clothing, with the body to be covered except for the face and hands. Clothing that is revealing is considered immodest and thus socially unacceptable. Most Muslim women also wear a tudong, a headscarf that covers their hair.

For men, the traditional clothing consists of a baju, a loose shirt with long sleeves, trousers, and a kain samping, or short sarong. The baju and the trousers are of the same material and color. The kain samping is worn over the baju and trousers, covering the waist to the knees. The material used for the kainsamping can vary in quality, with some made from brocade. Some men also wear the traditional Malay headdress, the songkok, a brimless hat made of black or blue velvet. For men who have performed the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, they wear a white skull cap instead of the songkok.

Westernization has impacted traditional dress and costumes in Brunei as Western clothing and other fashions from abroad are popular. For instance, professional women like bankers and lawyers often wear dress suits and other Western business attire while professional men are usually seen dressed in business suits and ties. Moreover, Western clothing like jeans and sports jackets are commonly worn by the young people.


For breakfast, along with tea or coffee, Bruneians usually have fried rice, noodles, soto (noodle soup), cucur (fritters) or sandwiches. For lunch and dinner, the meal revolves around rice, the main staple, which is eaten with chicken, beef, lamb, seafood, or vegetables. Lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day but, with family members having different work and school schedules, they usually sit down to a family meal at dinner time.

For most Bruneians, the traditional way of eating is with the fingers of the right hand although some do use utensils. Popular dishes at mealtime include pais lauk (grilled fish), pais daging (grilled meat), lauk rabus (a sour and spicy fish soup), and nasi katok (spiced chicken or beef with rice). These dishes, heavily spiced with garlic, chilies, ginger, and tumeric, are usually accompanied by sambal belachan (a spicy shrimp paste). Locals are also fond of satay, pieces of marinated meat cooked on skewers, and eaten with a tangy peanut sauce, fresh slices of cucumber and onions, and with ketupat, rice filled in pouches made of coconut leaves. A special dish, often referred to as Brunei's national dish, is ambuyat, made from the pith of the sago palm. This pith is grated, dried, and emulsified into a starchy paste that is then boiled with water to form ambuyat. To eat the ambuyat, special joined chopsticks called chandas are used to twirl the ambuyat like spaghetti around it. The ambuyat-coated chandas are then dipped into a special ambuyat sauce made from salted durian, lemon juice, shrimp paste, and binjai, a mango-like Bruneian fruit. Other side-dishes that traditionally accompany a meal of ambuyat include salads, boiled fish in a very hot sauce made from small chilies, and a preparation of ferns, or pakis, sautéed with ginger and garlic. One very popular salad is rojak sotong, which includes sweet turnip, cucumber, pineapple, and calamari.

Desserts are either fried or steamed and are made from glutinous flour, sugar, coconut and pandan (pandanus leaves). The desserts include kuih talam, made from sticky rice and pandan leaf jelly, and kuih tako, made from coconut and pandan leaf. A favorite drink is teh tarik, a frothy tea prepared from powered local tea-leaves. Other favorite drinks are cool, sweet drinks made from local fruits and spiced with cinnamon and anise. During Ramadan, drinks made from sugar and pandan, like air selasih and air cincau, are very popular. Local fruits include the durian, the rambutan, and the langsat.


In Brunei, education begins with preschool, followed by six years of primary education and up to seven years of secondary education. For citizens, education is provided free from the age of five years and is mandatory for nine years. Muslim students who live more than eight kilometers (five miles) from their school are entitled to free accommodation in hostels, free transportation to school, or a subsistence allowance.

The schools are either Malay, English, or Chinese schools as they are classified according to the language of instruction. The Malay schools are public schools. While Malay is the medium of instruction in these schools, English and Arabic are used for certain subjects and Islamic studies form an important part of the curriculum. Students usually attend Islamic classes in the mornings or afternoons. Those who pass the sixth year of religious instruction can enter an Arabic course of study and many choose to go overseas, especially to the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The private schools mainly use English or Chinese as the medium of instruction. The families of government employees receive educational allowances for sending their children to private schools.

The literacy rate in 2006 was 94.7%. In 1985 the Brunei government established the University of Brunei Darussalam on a sprawling campus overlooking the South China Sea. By 2005 the university had about 3,674 students and over 300 instructors. Another institute of higher learning in Brunei is the Brunei Institute of Technology. However, most of Brunei's college students attend universities abroad and on government scholarships, especially when the fields of study sought are unavailable locally. The most popular destination abroad for higher studies is the United Kingdom although many students also go to the United States, Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore.


Brunei's cultural heritage is derived from the Old Malay World, a region that encompasses the Malay Archipelago. The Malay origins of Brunei's culture are reflected in the country's language, architecture, customs, and ceremonies. Brunei's Malay culture has been impacted by animism, Hinduism, Islam, and by Western influences in the form of colonialism, legal systems, and trade. The most important impact, however, has been Islam, as clearly seen in Brunei's national ideology and philosophy of a Malay Islamic Monarchy, which incorporates Malay culture and the Islamic religion. This national ideology and philosophy is aimed at forging a stronger sense of identity and at fostering unity and stability.

The Brunei government is committed to the preservation of its people's culture, especially the core ethnic Malay and Islamic elements of that culture. In 1975 the government set up the Arts and Handicraft Center as a living testimony to the preservation of Brunei's traditional arts and crafts, such as boat making, bronze tooling, cloth weaving, silver-smithing, wood carving, and basket and mat weaving. Also on display at the Center are Malay weaponry, the Malay art of self defense (silat), traditional games, and traditional musical instruments. Some of these cultural artifacts can also be found in the Brunei Museum and in the country's Malay Technology Museum.

At handicraft centers and shops, traditional cloths can be purchased. These cloths include the beautiful gold or silver-threaded material known as kain jong sarat and collector textiles called kain tenunan. Jong sarat is usually worn during weddings and formal occasions. Also on sale are brassware, silverware, bronze items, gongs, and the traditional Malay dagger known as the kris. Some of the brassware, silverware, and bronze have been hammered and crafted by hand into attractive trays, jugs, spoons, jewelry boxes, bracelets, and napkin rings.

Brunei's cultural heritage includes its fine collection of Islamic art outside of the Arab world, such as its gilded Holy Qurans, its ceremonial items, and its intricate mosaics that adorn several of its religious monuments.


The government is the largest employer in Brunei, employing more than half of the total labor force, which totaled 180,400 in 2006. About 10% of the labor force is employed in the oil and gas industries. The major sectors in Brunei's economy are oil, natural gas, government, construction, services, retail, and some light manufacturing industries. The light industries include textiles, foodstuffs, mineral water, soft drinks, and cement. In 2003 around 2.9% of the labor force was employed in agriculture, 61.1% in industry, and 36% in services. In 2006 the unemployment rate was 4%.

Because Brunei's small population is insufficient to provide all its manpower needs, the government relies on foreign workers from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines. They work mainly in the construction industry. The government carefully regulates the flow of overseas workers into Brunei. Work permits for foreigners are issued for short periods and must be continually renewed. Despite these restrictions, foreigners make up a significant portion of the work force, numbering 60,000 in 1995. The government is trying to reduce the country's reliance on foreign workers and is training more locals in technical and professional fields.

The economy's dependence on oil has made Brunei vulnerable to swings in world oil prices. Since oil reserves are expected to run out in the next 50 years, the government is doing its best to diversify the economy by developing tourism and other industries. Agriculture and fisheries are among the industrial sectors that the government has selected for highest priority in its efforts to diversify the economy as only about 15% of Brunei's land area is cultivated while roughly 80% of its food is imported. The government owns a cattle ranch in Australia and most of its beef supply comes from that ranch, which is larger in size than Brunei itself. The government is also encouraging foreign investments and developing education and human resources.


Traditional sports include silat, a self-defense sport, and sepak takraw, a court game in which players pass a rattan ball using only the head, shoulders, or legs.

Brunei's most popular sport is soccer, which is both widely played and a spectator sport. Another very popular game that is also a spectator sport and widely played is badminton. Other popular sports are indoor soccer (futsal), cycling, golf, volleyball, softball, basketball, netball, cricket, and rugby.

Water sports include swimming, sailing, water-skiing, windsurfing, and snorkeling. Swimming pools are found throughout Brunei, for private and public use. Brunei also has several fitness and sports centers and a water sports marina. Other sports include athletics, squash, and horseback riding. Brunei has an assortment of world-class championship-quality golf courses, with some offering floodlit night golfing for cooler play. The Trijaya Equestrian Park has first-class facilities, including horses imported from Argentina, and is the world's largest indoor arena that can accommodate up to 50 horses at a time. It offers classes to all ages and abilities, including polo lessons for adults.


For entertainment and recreation, families with young children go to the cinema or theater, or they go on hikes, jogs, or walks through a national park or a forest reserve. One of Brunei's best known attractions is Jerudong Park and Playground, a 57-hectare amusement park in Brunei's capital, with facilities that include an outdoor amphitheatre, a Sky Tower, a roller coaster, a skating rink, a go-kart track, a video arcade, a shooting gallery, and a French carousel for children. Another very popular family-oriented attraction is the Oil and Gas Discovery Center (OGDC), which is in Seria, outside the capital. With its seven galleries that showcase over 100 interactive exhibits, the Center attracts many visitors and is both an educational and recreational landmark.

On weekends, some families enjoy picnics at a swimming pool or at a beach. Karaoke is popular at restaurants and at home, as most families have karaoke machines. Other recreation activities in Brunei include kite-flying, snooker, and bowling. In the case of the young people, many of them enjoy socializing at sidewalk cafes and at shopping malls. For some, going shopping is also a favorite leisure time activity. Shoppers can be found at traditional markets, at tiny boutique shops, or in large shopping malls. The malls include the Yayasan Shopping Complex, the Hua Ho Mall, The Mall, and the Seria Plaza.


In general, Bruneians enjoy music and dance. The government's Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports sponsors musicians and dancers who perform locally and abroad. Folk arts include traditional Bruneian performances like Adai-adai, a song and dance performed by men in fishermen attire, and Puteri Lela Menchanai, a musical tragedy about the accidental death of Brunei's fifth Sultan at the hands of his queen.

Among traditional crafts are weaving, silverwork, wood carving, and metalwork. Some of these crafts are taught to the young people in Brunei at a government-sponsored center aimed at preserving Brunei's national heritage.

Hobbies include the playing of traditional musical instruments, such as the gong, the small gongs or tawak-tawak, and a type of xylophone known as the gulingtangan. These musical instruments are played at wedding ceremonies and family gatherings. Among youth, their hobbies also include contemporary music and dance; these are taught at private studios.


The Brunei government is concerned about the increase in domestic violence and abuse against women and currently has several pieces of legislation in place to protect women. The government is also concerned about the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children and has legislation to deal with these crimes.

There is also some concern about drug use but this is not a major problem. On the whole, Brunei has a very low crime rate, due to government stability and economic prosperity. It also has a very low prevalence of HIV/AIDS (less than 0.1% in 2003) as health care services are very good. Homosexuality is illegal in Brunei.

While race relations between the Malays and the Chinese remain cordial, it needs to be pointed out that it is not easy for the Chinese in Brunei to become citizens. The 1961 Citizenship Law raised the residency requirement for non-indigenous peoples (mainly Chinese) to 25 years, of which 20 years had to be continuous. In 1984, another Citizenship Law raised the residency requirement for non-indigenous peoples to 30 years, of which 25 years had to be continuous. As a result, many Chinese are stateless. Under the country's law, birth in Brunei does not automatically confer citizenship. All seeking citizenship in Brunei have to pass tests on Malay culture, customs, and language.


Males outnumber females in population figures. Males also comprise the majority of scholarship holders and dominate the upper levels of the government echelon although more women have achieved high government positions, including the posts of ministers. Moreover, of the 60 local pilots in the Royal Brunei Airline, only 4 are women. In addition, under Muslim law, women are left less inheritance money compared to men. However, in a marriage, a husband is required to share his earnings with his wife but is forbidden to touch his wife's money.

Females outnumber males at the university level, with nearly two thirds of Brunei University's entering class in the late 1990s being women students. Brunei also has more female than male teachers. Women serve in the armed forces and they have equal opportunities to land and house ownership. The government also emphasizes affordable and equal access to healthcare. In general, women have fair access to jobs across the Sultanate and Brunei does not have gender wage bias issues. In Brunei's public sector, the gender wage gap hardly exists due to the uniform pay scale for men and women. In the private sector, however, men on average earn 28% more than women in all occupations.

The percentage of women in the Bruneian workforce has grown significantly, from 20 % in 1971 to 59 % in 2006. Under Brunei law, women under the age of 18 are not allowed to work at night or on offshore oil platforms. The employment of children below the age of 16 is also prohibited. In the business sector the government's supportive measures for women include the financial assistance schemes through commercial banks, such as the Enterprise Facilitation Scheme, the Micro-Credit Financing Scheme, and the Working Capital Credit Fund. Nearly two-thirds of the beneficiaries of these schemes are women. The main government agency for women's affairs is the Department of Community Development, in the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports. This Department is responsible for the protection of women and girls and provides counseling services, welfare allowances, and emergency relief when needed. The Department's programs are strongly supported by the Women's Council of Brunei Darussalam, a non-governmental organization affiliated to the ASEAN Council of Women's Organizations, and by other government agencies and the private sector. Brunei has acceded into the Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination against Women and is committed to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and other regional and international declarations on gender issues. Brunei's National Registration and Immigration Act allows children of female citizens married to foreign nationals to be accorded Brunei citizenship upon application.

Regarding homosexuality in Brunei, it is frowned upon and considered illegal. As Brunei is a Muslim country, homosexuality can be punished by up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of 30,000 Brunei dollars.


"Brunei." Culture Grams World Edition 2008. Ann Arbor: Pro-Quest CSA, 2007.

Embassy of Brunei Darussalam. Washington, D.C. (June 2008).

Saunders, Graham. A History of Brunei. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1994.

U.S. Department of State. "Background Note: Brunei Darussalam." (June 2008).

—by P. Sodhy

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