PEOPLE OF BRUNEI: POPULATION, LANGUAGE, RELIGION AND FESTIVALS

PEOPLE OF BRUNEI

People in Brunei are called Bruneians. The are Muslim Malay people are similar to the Malays in Malaysia. Malays are a predominately Muslim ethnic group that make up a large portion of the populations in Malaysia, Indonesia and were the descendants for many people in the Philippines. The adjective Bruneian refers to the people of Brunei.

There are 412,000 people in Brunei (estimated 2012). About 73 percent of all Bruneians live in urban areas (compared to 76 percent in the U.S.). The other 27 percent live mostly in small agricultural villages or kapongs (traditional fishing villages). Bruneians enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world with a per capita income of around $30,000 a year. The population is growing at the rate of 1.6 percent a year (compared to -.2 percent in Britain and 3.0 percent in Kenya). The average life expectancy is 74 years; about 30 percent of all Bruneians are under 15, and three percent are over 60.

Malays make up 65.7 percent of the populations; Chinese, 10.3 percent, indigenous people, 3.4 percent and other, 20.6 percent. There are about 25,000 Iban and Dusan tribal people which live rain forests. The are some Indians. Some of the others are foreign laborers brought in to work as construction workers, domestic help and perform jobs that Bruneians don’t want to do.

The people of Brunei lack an identity. If you ask someone to take you out for Brunei food, they'll likely take you to either a Chinese, Malaysian or Indonesian restaurant." Malays are mostly Muslims. Traditionally farmers and fishermen, they have made great advances in the last 30 years. Most ethnic Chinese are non-Muslim. They have traditionally controlled the businesses in Brunei. The Indians are descendants of laborers originally from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh brought by the British. Some of them are Muslims.

Malay Cultures in Brunei

Brunei's culture is mainly derived from the Old Malay World, a territory which covered the Malay Archipelago. Brunei’s culture is therefore deeply rooted in its Malay origins, which are reflected in the nation’s language, architecture, ceremonies, and customs governing daily life. Though various foreign civilisations have played a role in forming Brunei’s rich history, the traditions of the Old Malay World have left an indelible mark on the culture of modern Brunei. [Source: Brunei Tourism ~]

Today, Bruneians are predominantly Malay, though significant Chinese, Indian and indigenous Bornean populations add to the cultural makeup of Brunei. Brunei’s blend of cultures, customs, beliefs and customs is therefore very similar to that of Malaysia. The nation’s official language is Malay, but English is widely spoken by most of the population, and most signs in the country are written in Roman script.

If Malay traditions are Brunei’s cultural root, then Islam is its heart. The nation’s Malay Islamic Monarchy is a uniquely Bruneian blend combining the best of Malay culture with the teachings of Islam and a mutual respect between ruler and subjects. This national philosophy is aimed at forging a stronger sense of identity as well as fostering unity and stability, and it forms the backbone of Bruneian cultural identity. While Brunei is indeed a devoutly Muslim country, the national philosophy is one of respectful tolerance, allowing for the practice of other religions and beliefs.

Borneo Cultures

The Southeast Asian island of Borneo — third largest island in the world — has captivated the imagination of explorers and travellers for centuries with its alluring mix of indigenous culture and untamed rainforest. [Source: Brunei Tourism ~]

Approximately 16 million people live on the island of Borneo, which is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam. The island's population is comparatively low for the region, owing largely to the fact that up until a few decades ago, Borneo was completely covered by dense rainforest with poor soil for agriculture. This, combined with rugged terrain, unnavigable rivers and the fierce head-hunter reputation of its inhabitants, ensured that the island remained underdeveloped for many years, giving Borneo a legendary mystique as one of the most mysterious and exotic places on Earth. For thousands of years, this image was fairly close to the truth. Borneo has been inhabited for at least 35,000 years, and life for many Borneans has changed little over the centuries. Most people lived in harmony with nature, leading nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles, travelling over vast areas in search of wild boar and other products of the forest.

Around three thousand years ago, traders from other lands began to frequent Borneo, connecting the island to a larger trading network extending to China, India, and beyond. Locals collected exotic products like bird's nests and sandalwood for trade abroad but otherwise, life went on as before. Approximately 500 years ago, Islam arrived to the island, and a number of Muslim kingdoms were established, the largest of which was Brunei, which once controlled most of the northern coast. The name Borneo is in fact derived from the name Brunei.

Today, Borneo is still home to thousands of indigenous ethnic minorities which add to the island’s diversity and local colour. While Borneo is rapidly modernising, indigenous culture still thrives, evident in the many traditional longhouse communities that dot the landscape of Brunei and in the native handiworks and crafts they continue to produce. Headhunting, however, is a pastime which thankfully has retreated into legend!

Borneo

Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. Straddling the equator, it covers 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles), more than twice the area of the British Isles or more than Texas and Louisiana combined, and measures about (1290 kilometers (800 miles) from north to south and 800 kilometers (500 miles) from east to west. The northern 25 percent is occupied the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the Islamic sultanate of Brunei; and the southern 75 percent is occupied by the Indonesian state of Kalimantan.

Borneo is part of an archipelago called the Greater Sunda Islands. It is thinly populated and covered by mountains and rain forests. Most of the cities and towns are along the coast. The soil is poor. Large areas of the coast are made up of marshes and mangrove swamps. Most of the interior consists of rugged mountains interspersed with deep gorges. This area is laced with clear and whiskey-colored streams. The highest point 13,455-foot-high Mount Kinabulu in Sabah. In Kalimantan few areas rise above 3,000 feet. The highest point, in the central range there is 9,582 feet.

The rain forest on Borneo covers an area about the size of France but is shrinking all the time as logging, palm oil and mining interests penetrate deep into its interior. Valuable ironwood, teak, ebony, sandalwood and plywood-producing rain forest trees have largely been harvested. Crops grown on Borneo include rubber, palm oil, rattan, hemp, sago, pepper, sugar cane and rice. Oil has been found in the east and north. Gold is panned from the rivers and iron ore, antimony, lead, zinc, arsenic, copper, mercury, chromite and silver are all found here but are generally too expensive to mine profitably.

Borneo was once connected to the Southeast Asian mainland and the plant and animal life in both places are similar. There are orangutans, gibbons, monkeys, honey bears, giant butterflies, and black hornbills (sacred to the Dayaks), clouded leopards, wild pigs and ,a few elephants and rhinos. They are no tigers. Freshwater dolphins live in Mahakam River in east Kalimantan. Crab-eating monkeys and crocodiles live in the marshes. Typically in Borneo you find 100 or different tree species in one hectare and 200 or 300 plant species in an area the size of a living room. Even though there over 3,000 tree species on Borneo dipterocarps make up half of all the giant canopy trees. Hundreds of orchid species are found in Borneo.

Borneo doesn’t have as pronounced rainy and wet season as other places in Southeast Asia have. Rain falls steadily throughout the year. rainfall amounts are often high. The people of Borneo traditionally raised dry rice, sago, tapioca, ad sweet potatoes and hunted, fished and gathered wild plants from the forest. Because the terrain is so rough and waterlogged there are few good roads. Rivers have traditionally provided the main transportation routes.

About 19 million people live in Borneo with roughly 75 percent of them in Indonesia and 25 percent in Malaysia and Brunei. The original inhabitants are Dayaks, a tribe that only recently gave up head hunting and were once referred to as the "wild men of Borneo." The coastal areas are dominated by Muslim Malays. Some of them are Dayaks who began converting to Islam after the 15th century. Other group such as the Javanese, Sudanese, Madurese, Chinese and Bugis from Sulawesi arrived mostly in the 20th century, particularly in the last three decades as part of Indonesia's transmigration program. The Dayaks are now greatly outnumbered by Malays and Indonesians from other islands.

Population of Brunei

Population: 422,675 (July 2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 175. Age structure: 0-14 years: 24.2 percent (male 52,753/female 49,548); 15-24 years: 17.3 percent (male 36,187/female 36,965); 25-54 years: 46.9 percent (male 96,006/female 102,028); 55-64 years: 7.6 percent (male 16,542/female 15,589); 65 years and over: 4 percent (male 8,301/female 8,756) (2014 est.). Dependency ratios: total dependency ratio: 41.8 percent; youth dependency ratio: 35.3 percent; elderly dependency ratio: 6.5 percent; potential support ratio: 15.5 (2014 est.). Median age: total: 29.3 years; male: 28.9 years; female: 29.6 years (2014 est.)[Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Population growth rate: 1.65 percent (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 74. Birth rate: 17.49 births/1,000 population (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 107. Death rate: 3.47 deaths/1,000 population (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 216. Net migration rate: 2.47 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 39. =

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female; 0-14 years: 1.07 male(s)/female; 15-24 years: 0.98 male(s)/female; 25-54 years: 0.94 male(s)/female; 55-64 years: 0.99 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.95 male(s)/female; total population: 1 male(s)/female (2014 est.). =

Population density (per sq. km): 72. 76 per cent of people live in urban areas, concentrated along the coast; growth 2.1 per cent p.a. 1990–2012; birth rate 16 per 1,000 people (36 in 1970); life expectancy 78 years (67 in 1970). Population by Racial Group: Malays: 259,600; Chinese: 43,100; Others: 87,300. [Source: thecommonwealth.org ^^]

Malays make up 65.7 percent of the populations; Chinese, 10.3 percent, indigenous people, 3.4 percent and other, 20.6 percent. There are about 25,000 Iban and Dusan tribal people which live rain forests. The are some Indians. Some of the others are foreign laborers brought in to work as construction workers, domestic help and perform jobs that Bruneians don’t want to do. The Bruneian government runs a housing scheme for landless indigenous people.

Languages in Brunei

Bahasa Melayu (Malay) is the official language. It is similar to Bahasa Melayu (also known as Bahasa Malaysian, the national language of Malaysia) and Bahasa Indonesian (the language spoken in Indonesia). It is not a tonal language like Chinese or Thai. It is not difficult to pick up a few words. English is widely spoken and understood particularly in the business community. It is widely used as a business and working language. It is also the language of instruction in secondary and tertiary education

English is spoken by most Bruneians to varying degrees. Brunei is a former British colony and English is taught in the school. Visitors generally have no problem getting by without knowing any Malay. Various indigenous groups such as the Dusun, Murut and Iban speak in their respective dialects while the Chinese speak Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese while being equally conversant in Malay. Tamil is spoken by ethnic Indians.

A few Malay words (English, Malay): 1) Good morning --- Selamat Pagi; 2) Good afternoon --- Selamat Petang; 3) Good night --- Selamat Malam; 4) Thank you --- Terima Kasih; 5) You're welcome --- Sama-sama; 6) What is your name? --- Siapa Nama Awda?; 7) My name is ... --- Nama saya ...; 8) Excuse me --- Maafkan saya; 9) Yes --- Ya; 10) No --- Tidak; 11) How much? --- Berapa?; 12) Where is the toilet? --- Di mana tandas?; 13) I want to go ... --- Saya mahu pergi ke ...; 14) Turn right --- Belok ke kanan; 15) Turn left --- Belok ke kiri; 16) Go straight --- Jalan terus.

Religion in Brunei

Religions: Muslim (official) 78.8 percent, Christian 8.7 percent, Buddhist 7.8 percent, other (includes indigenous beliefs) 4.7 percent (2011 est.) Catholics make up 6.8 percent of the population. There are a significant number of Hindus of Indian origin.. Some Chinese are Confucians and Taoists but more are Christians. The national ideology, Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB, Malay Muslim monarchy) fuses Islamic values and Brunei. Brunei has sizeable Christian and Buddhist communities. Most are Chinese. There are an estimated 30,000 Filipino citizens in Brunei, many of them Catholic.

Modern scholars date the spread of Islam to Brunei Darussalam to the late 13th century. Prior to this, ancient Malay Culture was based on animistic and Indic culture. Islam gradually eroded these elements and thus, today’s Malay culture is now more identifiable with Islam. With over two thirds of its population professing the Islamic faith, Brunei is ruled according to the national philosophy of the Malay Islamic Monarchy, intertwining Malay traditions with Islam and deep-rooted respect for the nation’s monarchy. Bruneians practice a devout but tolerant brand of Islam, which encompasses sincere respect and devotion, while still remaining open to other faiths and beliefs. [Source: Brunei Tourism ~]

Since gaining independence from the British in 1984, Brunei has adopted the national philosophy of the Malay Islamic Monarchy (Melayu Islam Beraja), a system that encompasses strong Malay cultural influences, stressing the importance of Islam in daily life and governance, and respect for the monarchy as represented by His Majesty The Sultan. It is a philosophy of tolerance, which allows other cultures to follow individual traditions and to practice other religions.

According to kwintessential.co.uk: Most Bruneians are Muslims and as such their lives revolve around the duties afforded to them by Islam. Alcohol is banned from the country however pork is allowed for non-Muslims. Gender relations are also governed by Islamic principles and etiquette. Shaking hands across genders is rare. Bruneians practice a devout but tolerant brand of Islam, which includes devotion, yet allows other faiths and beliefs. [Source: kwintessential.co.uk]

Islam in Brunei

Islam is the official religion of Brunei Darussalam as stated in the Brunei Constitution, with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan as the head of the Islamic faith in the country. Islam plays a central role in the life of Muslims in Brunei Darussalam. Other religious beliefs such as Christianity and Buddhism are practiced freely by other ethnic group.

The level of Islamic zeal varies somewhat from place to place. Muslims living in urban areas tend to be more liberal and Westernized than those living in the countryside. Extremely conservative Islam is not particularly strong in Brunei.The majority of Muslim women wear ankle-length caftans (loose dresses), often made from shimmering materials, and tudungs, pharaoh-like head scarves that are fastened below the chins with a pin and sometimes hang down like boy-scout neckerchiefs. Others wear head coverings that are wrapped around the head and are not pinned under the chin and look like head scarves worn by women in the Middle East.

In 2006, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times, “At the moment I’m in Brunei, a Muslim country nestled in Southeast Asia. At the University of Brunei, women outnumber men. Women here drive, fill senior offices in government and the private sector, serve as ambassadors and are pilots for the national airline. “Young women have equal opportunities now — it’s up to your capability,” said Lisa Ibrahim, president of the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Brunei. Brunei has gold-domed mosques in its skyline, and the sultan has two wives. But Brunei is also home to churches and Hindu temples serving a multiethnic society. Young people flirt together in the cafes, and non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol. “We tend to be more tolerant,” Yusof Halim, a prominent lawyer in Brunei, said of Asian Muslims. He then confided: “My honest opinion is that Arabs are male chauvinists.” [Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, December 10, 2006]

In recent years, Brunei has become more conservative. Alcohol is no longer sold in bars or restaurants. Sharia (Islamic law) was mandated in 2014 (See Justice system). Brunei law states that all Moslem citizens of Brunei must go to a mosque on Friday. In the seventies it was not unusual for traffic to come to a complete stop as the devoted emptied out of their cars to pray. The workweek in Brunei extends Saturday to Wednesday. The weekend is Thursday and Friday, Friday being the Muslim Sabbath

Visitors to Brunei will see that Islamic influences form a central foundation of the nation’s heritage. As Islam is the foundation for the life of the average Bruneian, many of the nation’s cultural practices and customs are intrinsically linked with religion. Aesthetically, Islam introduced important architectural features such as the ubiquitous mosques and art styles such as the tile mosaics seen throughout the nation. Other culturally enriching additions include the use of Jawi script, the abundance of religious texts and even foods and cooking styles.

According to kwintessential.co.uk: Most Bruneians are Muslims and as such their lives revolve around the duties afforded to them by Islam. Alcohol is banned from the country however pork is allowed for non-Muslims. Gender relations are also governed by Islamic principles and etiquette. Shaking hands across genders is rare. Bruneians practice a devout but tolerant brand of Islam, which includes devotion, yet allows other faiths and beliefs. [Source: kwintessential.co.uk]

According to kwintessential.co.uk: Muslims must pray five times a day – at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening. Friday is the Muslim holy day. Everything is closed. Many companies as well as government offices also close on Sunday and Saturday afternoon. During the fasting month of Ramadan, government staff works a six-hour day and entertainment and sporting activities are suspended. The Sultan encourages the recital of the Quran each morning prior to the start of work to obtain Allah’s blessing and guidance. [Source: kwintessential.co.uk]

Superstitions and Ghosts in Brunei

Malays, as with other Southeast Asians, have always taken great interest in stories of ghosts and spirits. It must be stressed that due to the animistic root of Malay folklore, these ghosts are seen as sharing the plane of existence with humans and are not always considered evil. However, when the delicate line that separates the boundaries of existence is crossed, or a transgression of living spaces occurs, a conflict ensues that may result in disturbances such as possessions. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Malay word for ghost is hantu. However, this word also covers all sorts of demons, goblins and undead creatures and are thought to have real physical bodies, instead of just apparitions or spectres. The most famous of these is the pontianak or matianak, the ghost of a female stillborn child which lures men in the form of a beautiful woman.

There are many Malay ghost myths, remnants of old animist beliefs that have been shaped by Hindu-Buddhist cosmology and later Muslim influences, in the modern states of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and among the Malay diaspora in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. The general word for ghost is hantu, of which there exist a wide variety. Some ghost concepts such as the female vampires pontianak and penanggal are shared throughout the region. While traditional belief doesn't consider all ghosts as necessarily evil, Malaysian popular culture tends to categorize them all as types of evil djinn.

See Malaysia

Pontianak and Vampire-like Female Demons

The Pontianak is the most famous Malay ghost. Also known as matianak or kuntilanak, it is the ghost of a stillborn female and a type of vampire in Malay folklore. According to the legend, a Pontianak (pronounced "pone-tea-ah-nark") is either the restless spirit of a dead pregnant woman or the vengeful spirit of a woman murdered by her own lover. The former version generally does little harm except probably scaring the heebie-jeebies out of you. She would usually be found standing by the side of a road cradling her tombstone like a baby and asking for a ride to her graveyard. The later is very violent, known to go on a blood lust until she either kills her lover or the male ancestor of her lover. The classic Pontianak would have very long hair flowing down to her hips, usually covering her face, full white dress sometimes with bloodstains, long fangs and long fingernails. When she's near, you will smell a very strong flowery smell. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo squidoo.com/malaysian-ghosts-ghouls-goblins ]

To prevent a stillborn baby from becoming a pontianak—as with its mother the lang suir—a needle is placed in each of the corpse's hands and a hen's egg under each armpit. Depicted as an ugly woman wiith sharp nails and a white dress, the pontianak can also take the form of a beautiful young woman or a night-bird. When she is close, she gives off a strong smell of frangipani. It is usually encountered by the roadside or under a tree, and attack men and drink their blood. The Indonesian kuntilanak, however, typically uses its bird form to attack virgin women. The bird, which makes a "ke-ke-ke" sound as it flies, may be sent through black magic to make a woman sick, the characteristic symptom being vaginal bleeding. A pontianak can be made into a good wife, by placing a nail into the hole at the nape of its neck (called Sundel Bolong). Modern popular culture often confuses the pontianak with its mother the lang suir. However, traditional myth is clear that the pontianak is the ghost of a dead baby and not a pregnant woman. A similar ghost called tiyanak exists in Philippine lore.

The penanggalan is a flying head with its disembodied stomach sac dangling below. Another type of female vampire, it is attracted to the blood of newborn infants and uses entrails trailing behind her head to grasp her victims There are several stories of her origins. One is that she was a woman who was sitting meditating in a large wooden vat used for making vinegar when she was so startled that her head jumped up from her body, pulling her entrails with it. Another has her as a normal woman during the day, whose head and entrails leave her body at night. If a baby is expected, branches from a type of thistle are placed around the doors or windows to protect the house, since her entrails will be caught by the thorns.

The penanggalan is known in Thai as krasue and a similar Philippine ghost called the manananggal which preys on pregnant women with an elongated proboscis-like tongue. The manananggal is spirit of an older, beautiful woman capable of severing its upper torso to fly into the night with huge bat wings to prey on unsuspecting pregnant women in their homes. The hantu kum-kum is the ghost of an old woman who sucks the blood of virgin girls to regain her youth.

Ghosts and Spirits Linked to Water

Hantu air (water spirits) live in large bodies of water, such as a river or lake. Some are said to be the ghosts of people who drowned, but they are generally independent spirits. If they show themselves, it is usually in the form of a floating log. They can be dangerous, and may drown or eat people. Until the 1960s, Malays in Trengganu would regularly pay respects to the sea spirits in the puja laut ceremony. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo squidoo.com/malaysian-ghosts-ghouls-goblins ]

Hantu laut (sea spirits) are animistic water spirits who assist fishermen and sailors. Until the 1960s, Malays in Trengganu used to regularly pay respects to the sea spirits through the puja pantai or puja laut ceremony.

Hantu jerambang is an evil spirit that lives in the middle of the sea and loves to cling on the mast of passing ships. Hantu balung bidai is an evil spirit that lives in water. It is flat and shapeless and will wrap itself around anyone swimming in its water and drown them. Hantu bandan is spirit that lives under waterfalls.

Ghosts and Spirits of the Forest and Nature

Jembalang tanah are earth demons, which may act dangerously if not appeased with the proper rituals. Mambang are animistic spirits of various natural phenomena. They are very ancient demons that originate from Indonesia. Penunggu are tutelary spirits of particular places such as caves, forests and mountains. Hantu anak gua batu is a spirit that lives in small caves. Hantu lubang live in large holes or between large rocks. Hantu Hantuan is a spirit that lives in forests. Hantu gunung lives on mountains. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo squidoo.com/malaysian-ghosts-ghouls-goblins ]

Jenglot are doll-like vampiric creatures said to be found in the jungles. They are usually female. What are claimed to be dead jenglot are sometimes sold or exhibited, but they appear to be man-made.

Hantu galah (pole ghost) is a tall male ghost with extremely long and thin limbs. It is found among trees and bamboo. To make it disappear, a person simply picks up a stick or twig and breaks it. Hantu pisang (a Mah Meri belief) is A beautiful ghost that is supposedly formed when the heart of the banana bud is pierced with a nail attached to a thread.

Orang bunian are said to inhabit jungles. They are similar to elves except they are invisible to most people. Orang halus (invisible people) are dwarfs that live in the jungles and are conversant in Malay! They usually cannot be encountered unless one is purified by cleansing the body and wearing clean clothes.

Hantu beruk is a spirit that takes on the form of an ape and usually possesses dancers. Hantu belian is a spirit that takes on the form of a tiger. Hantu songkei is a spirit that protects animals and frees from from a hunter's trap. Hantu denai is a fierce demon that lives in forest and has the characteristics of a wild beast.

Hantu puteri is a spirit that will seduce men and lead them deep into forests where they will get lost. Hantu punjut is a ghost that takes children who wander into the forest late at night. Hantu bunyi-bunyian is a formless spirit—just a voice in the forest that beckons to people—causing then to lose their way. Hantu jembalang is a spirit that is bound to a certain area. If any construction is done at that area, offerings need to be made to appease it. Puaka are nature spirit of a place which are typically said to reside in abandoned buildings.

Holidays and Festivals in Brunei

Most of Brunei’s events and festivals are religiously oriented, but there are also holidays that commemorate important historical events. The First Day of Hijrah, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, and Chinese New Year don’t have fixed dates and other notable celebrations include National Day and the Sultan’s Birthday. Public holidays: New Year’s Day, Chinese New Year, National Day (23 February), Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day (31 May), Sultan’s Birthday (15 July) and Christmas Day.

January 1st—New Year's Day is celebrated with fireworks displays and parties with families and friends. The New Year’s Eve (December 31) features tennis, golf, squash, scuba diving, bowling, kayaking, and windsurfing events.

January or February—Chinese New Year is celebrated by the Chinese community beginning around the time of the first day of the first full moon on the Chinese lunar calendar. This festival lasts for about two weeks is celebrated with family reunion dinners, paying respects to elders, visiting relatives and friends, presenting ang-pows (red packets with money) to children and unmarried adults and lion dances in which dancers and acrobats demonstrate skills to the clashing of the cymbals and the beatings of gongs and drums. The celebration begins with a reunion dinner on the eve of the Lunar New Year to encourage closer rapport between family members. For two weeks after that families visit one another bringing with them oranges to symbolize longevity and good fortune. Traditional cookies and food are aplenty during this festivity.

February 23rd—National Day marks Brunei’s independence from Britain. Though freedom was actually achieved on January 1, 1984, the official celebration is held every February 23 to follow tradition. Bruneians usually prepare themselves two months beforehand. Schoolchildren, private sector representatives and civil servants work hand-in-hand rehearsing their part in flash card displays and other colourful crowd formations. In addition mass prayers and reading of Surah Yaasin are held at mosques throughout the country.

May 31st—Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day marks the commemoration of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces formation day. The occasion is celebrated with military parades, artillery displays, parachuting and exhibitions.

July 15th—Sultan's Birthday is one of the most important events in the national calendar with activities and festivities taking place nationwide. Celebrated on 15th July, this event begins with mass prayer throughout the country. On this occasion, His Majesty the Sultan delivers a 'titah' or royal address followed by investiture ceremony held at the Istana Nurul Iman. The event is also marked with gatherings at the four districts where His Majesty meets and gets together with his subjects.

September 23rd —Teacher’s Day celebrates and recognizes the good deeds of the teachers to the community, religion and the country. It is celebrated in commemoration of the birthday of the late Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Saadul Khairi Waddien, the 28th Sultan of Brunei for his contribution in the field of education including religious education. On this occassion, three awards are given away namely, Meritorious Teacher's Award, Outstanding Teacher's Award and "Guru Tua" Award.

September 29th—Public Service Day is observed with the objective to uphold the aspiration of the Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam towards creating an efficient, clean, sincere and honest public service. The Public Service Day commemorates the promulgation of the first written Constitution in Brunei Darussalam. The Public Service Day is celebrated with the presentation of the meritorious service award to Ministries and Government Departments.

December 25th— Christmas day is a joyous and colourful celebration enjoyed by Christians throughout the country. Even many Muslims celebrate the day like the rest of the world with family gatherings and gifts.

Muslim Holidays in Brunei

Religious festivals whose dates vary from year to year include Prophet’s Birthday, Isra Mikraj (Ascension of the Prophet), First Day of Ramadan, Nuzul al-Quraan (Anniversary of the Revelation of the Quran), Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (Eid al-Fitr/end of Ramadan), Hari Raya Aidil Adha (Eid al-Adha/Feast of the Sacrifice) and Hijriah (Islamic New Year).

Movable—Ramadan is a holy month for all Muslims. It is period of fasting - abstinence from food, drink and other material comforts from dawn to dusk. During this month, religious activities are held at mosques and suraus throughout the country. Ramadan includes: 1) Movable—First Day of the Fasting Month of Ramadan; 2) Movable—Anniversary of the Revelation of the Koran. 3) Movable—Panjut Festival in Kuala Kangsgar heralds the end of the 27th night of the Muslim month of Ramadan (fasting month). Malays celebrate this auspicious night by lighting up their houses with lanterns and candles.

Moveable—Hari Raya Puasa (Eid al-Fitr) is celebrated nationwide and marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. It falls on the first day of Syawal, the 10th month of the Muslim calendar. Muslim usher in the day with thanksgiving prayers at the mosque and remembrance of departed loved ones. It is also a common practice for Muslims to hold 'open houses' for their relatives and friends. Children are given presents and money, and everyone wears new clothes. Muslims go to the mosque in the morning for special Eid prayers, worship and thanksgiving. The rest of the day is all about eating and socializing with friends and family. Special festive dishes are made especially for Hari Raya including satay (beef, chicken or mutton kebabs), ketupat or lontong (rice cakes in coconut or banana leaves), rendang (spicy marinated beef) and other tantalizing cuisines. In these auspicious occassion Istana Nurul Iman was open to the public as well as to visitors for 3 days. This provides the nation and other visitors the opportunity to meet His Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, in order to wish them a Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Movable—Hari Raya Aidiladha is also known as Hari Raya Korban. Goats, sheep and cows are slaughtered to commemorate the Islamic historical event of Prophet Ibrahim S.A.W. The meat is then distributed among relatives, friends and the less fortunate. Held at the end of the Hajj period, when Muslims go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. In the early part of the first day, prayers are held at every mosque in the country. Families get together to seek forgiveness from the elders and loved ones. You will see Bruneians decked-out in their traditional garb visiting relatives and friends.

Movable—Maal Hiraj is celebrated nationwide and commemorates the first day of the Muslim calendar and the haj (the journey of the prophet Mohammed from Medina to Mecca). The day is marked with rallies and processions in all the state capitals.

January or February—Mohammed's Birthday usually falls in January or February. It is celebrated nationwide with religious rallies held throughout the country. Muslims gather to recite hymns and holy verses from the Koran at mosques and Muslim scholars give talks. In Brunei Darussalam, this occasion is known as the Mauludin Nabi S.A.W. Muslims throughout the country honour this event. Readings from the Koran and an address on Islam from officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs marks the beginning of this auspicious occasion. His Majesty the Sultan also gives a royal address and with other members of the Royal family, leads a procession on foot through the main streets of Bandar Seri Begawan. Religious functions, lectures and other activities are also held to celebrate this important occasion nationwide.

June or July—First Day of Hijrah, the Muslim New Year, celebrates the migration of the prophet Muhammad and his followers to Medina from Mecca. This festival also marks the Islamic New Year, so it doesn’t have a fixed date but typically falls in June or July.

July or August—Maluad, Tenth Day of Muslim New Year.

September or October—Me'raj commemorates the ascension of the Prophet Mohammed to paradise.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Fortune magazine, Vanity Fair magazine, Brunei Tourism, Prime Minister's Office, Brunei Darussalam, Government of Brunei Darussalam, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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