A sun-washed jewel clenched between the South China Sea and North Borneo’s rainforest, the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam exudes the colour and mystique of a nation whose sovereignty once stretched across the entire island of Borneo and parts of the Philippines. Indeed, the word “Borneo” is an adaptation of the name “Brunei,” by which the entire island was once known.
Just 443km north of the equator, modern Brunei’s 5765 sq km land area is bordered by the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak to the east and west respectively and Kalimantan (Indonesia) to the south. Rainfall and humidity are high, with temperatures averaging 28 degrees Celsius throughout the year. Yet Brunei rests outside the tropical typhoon and earthquake belts.
Today, Bruneians are predominantly Malay, though significant Chinese, Indian and indigenous Borneoan populations add to the cultural makeup of Brunei. 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 Arabic script.
With its historical roots in the Old Malay World, Brunei is endowed with a rich cultural heritage encompassing Old Malay traditions and customs as well as art and architecture, all distinctly influenced by Islam. Bruneians uphold the nation’s heritage through their use of royal titles and regalia as well as Islamic architectural design to ensure that their legacy is passed down without losing its essence in modernisation.
If Malay traditions are Brunei’s cultural root, then Islam is its heart. The nation’s Malay Islamic Monarchy is a unique 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.
While Brunei may be firmly rooted in its centuries of tradition, it is a nation that has entered the 21st century ready to become one of Asia’s most exciting contemporary destinations for tourism, investment and business.
Visitors will find that there are a number of good business and tourist class hotels, surprisingly chic shopping and commercial centres, outstanding cuisine featuring local and international fare, several state-of-the-art business venues, first class medical and educational facilities, and an excellent road network.