Thursday, August 17, 2017
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Brunei’s culture 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.

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.

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.

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!