During the 15th and 16th centuries, Brunei was considered as one
of the regional great powers, controlling Borneo and substantial
parts of the Philippines as well.
The Spanish and the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive,
but it was the British, who arrived in the region in the 17th and
18th centuries, who began to erode Brunei's influence. Sarawak was
ceded to the British in the 19th century and a series of 'treaties'
were forced on the Sultan as James Brooke, the first White Rajah
of Sarawak, consolidated his power base.
In 1888, the sultanate became a British protectorate.
Brunei was gradually whittled away until, with a final dash of
absurdity, Limbang was ceded to Sarawak in 1890, thus dividing the
country in half. In 1929, just as Brunei was about to be swallowed
up entirely, oil was discovered. British plans to make Brunei a
part of the Malaysian Federation were upset by a revolt in 1962.
The Sultan suspended the constitution and opted for independence.
The country has been under emergency laws ever since and mooted
elections have never eventuated. In 1984, Brunei became completely
independent, and underlined its new independence from Britain by
Since then, it has moved towards Islamic fundamentalism. In 1991,
the sale of alcohol was banned and stricter dress codes have been
Brunei Darussalam is one of the oldest kingdoms of the region, and
Islam has a great influence on the culture, customs and manners
in Brunei (very similar to those of Peninsular Malaysia).
The Ministry of Religious Affairs fosters and promotes Islam. Nevertheless,
the constitution does allow for other religions to be practiced.
Gentleness, politeness, decorum and hospitality are important elements
in Malay culture. In normal day-to-day social interactions, a Bruneian
is expected to be polite, trustworthy, tolerant, kind and understanding.
Normally, Bruneians shake hands lightly and bring their hand that
shakes the other person's hand to the chest to show their greetings
are from their hearts.
It is not customary to shake hands with a member of the opposite
sex. One should not point with the index finger, as it is considered
rude; instead one should use the thumb.
To beckon someone with repeated downward wave of the hand, as
in the western way, can be considered disrespectful. The proper
thing to do is to call politely by name or title or by appropriate
questions or requests.
In Brunei, it is customary to pass gifts, food, or any article with
the right hand, although the left hand can be used to support by
placing it under the right hand.
When visiting a person's house or mosques, one should remove one's
shoes and leave them outside at the steps. Especially in the mosques
one should not pass in front of a person at prayer, or touch the
Qur'an while women should cover themselves from head (with a veil),
arms, body and knees.
The traditions are highly valued in the Bruneian society, and
they are still very much a part of every Bruneian's life. One should
see the colorful and friendly ceremonies of engagements, weddings,
investitures or other traditional occasions.
The people believe in working together to accomplish a certain feat.
As such, it is normal to see big groups of people at these celebrations,
doing their bits to help the host. Dances are a form of traditional
amusement and recreation in the old days.
They normally tell the society a story of the Malay legends and
mythos, always accompanied by graceful and fluid movements in harmony
with traditional music.