For two centuries the Sultanate of Brunei was one of the great dynasties of Southeast Asia, the ruler of all of Borneo.
The arrival first of colonizing Europeans and later the depredations of James Brooke, the notorious “White Raja” of Sarawak, reduced Brunei in size and scope. By the late 19th century the Sultanate had become an English protectorate.
The discovery of vast deposits of offshore oil in the early 20th century revitalized Brunei’s fortunes. The Sultanate gained full independence from the United
Kingdom in 1984, and today Brunei is one of the world’s smallest and richest countries. Once the ruler of all Borneo, Brunei today is surrounded by Malaysia’s Sarawak
The capital is Bandar Seri Begawan, a city of some 75,000 people. Bandar boasts elegant modern Islamic mosques, museums and palaces. Brunei’s other chief attractions are its exotic water villages at Kampong Ayer and its pristine rainforest.
Despite being a small county, Brunei has one of the highest living standards in the world and is the second richest country in Southeast Asia, after Singapore. Brunei is home to breathtaking wildlife, abundant oil reserves and one of the only remaining absolute monarchies.
- The longest-reigning male monarch in the world
Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei, is currently the longest-reigning male monarch in the world having reigned for 54 years as of 2022. Queen Elizabeth II is currently the longest-reigning monarch; she ruled for over 70 years.
- It’s one of the only remaining absolute monarchies
Brunei and Bhutan are the only remaining absolute monarchies in Asia. As an absolute monarch, the Sultan of Brunei is the head of government and state. He is also the King, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Defense.
- The largest residential palace in the world
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Istana Nurul Iman Palace in Brunei is the largest residential palace in the world; it is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei. It has 1,788 rooms, covers 50 hectares of land and was built for $1.4 billion.
- The Sultan enjoys an incomparable luxury
According to Insider, he owns 500 Rolls-Royce cars, has a 1,788-room palace and regularly enjoys $20,000 haircuts
- The Sultan’s birthday is an important date in the national calendar
July 15, Sultan’s birthday, is marked with national festivities and activities. The day begins with a mass prayer. The Sultan addresses the public later in the day.
History and politics
- The early history and its royal family are shrouded in mystery
This is due to the paucity of records and the attempt to create an Islamic version of history that erases everything else.
- It used to be a British protectorate
Was a British protectorate from 1888 until 1963 when it gained full independence from the British.
- Brunei chose to remain a British protectorate rather than join the Federation of Malaysia
It was the only Malayan state to choose to remain a British protectorate in 1963 rather than join the Malaysian federation.
- The Japanese occupied from 1941 to 1945 during World War II
The Japanese occupation was characterized by the plundering of resources. By the end of the occupation, the country was in near ruin. There was heavy fighting for control of the city, which resulted in its destruction.
- It has no elected representatives
All members of the legislative council are appointed by the king. Although there is no election, there is one legal party: the National Development Party (NDP).
- About 7% of the population are Christians
Christianity is the second-largest religion practiced in Brunei.
- Christmas is banned by decree
It is illegal to celebrate Christmas in public. However, many Christians and even Muslims celebrate it in the privacy of their homes.
- Marriages between Muslims and Christians are prohibited
The marriage of a Muslim to a Christian woman is a crime punishable by death. The law discourages Muslims from learning about other religions.
- Brunei’s media is neither free nor diverse
Broadcasting is dominated by state television and radio. The private press is controlled or owned by the royal family. Journalists must exercise self-censorship when reporting on religion or politics.
- About 99% of the population are active social media users
According to Statista.Com, 99% of Bruneians are active on social media. Despite government attempts to control mainstream media, most citizens still use social media to find independent and unbiased information.
- 78% of Brunei is covered by rainforest
Despite the pressures of development has managed to preserve 70% of its rainforests. These rainforests are home to a variety of flora and fauna. Some of the most endangered animal and plant species are found in these forests. Notable wildlife species include saltwater crocodiles, flying lizards, probosci’s monkeys, and the Sunda-clothed leopard.
- It was the first Asian nation to ban shark fins
In June 2013, the washing of shark fins was banned. It is a cruel practice that is harmful to the survival of many shark species. Leading conservation organizations have welcomed the move. This ban stipulates that no species of shark can be caught in Brunei’s waters. The trade, import, and sale of shark products are also criminalized.
- Ulu Temburong National Park is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world
This Ulu Temburong National Park covers about 50% of Brunei’s southern district and has enchanting green landscapes. It is known as the “Green Jewel of Brunei” because of its pristine jungle.