S1E09: Brunei

Audio: S1E09 Brunei

In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Brunei a tiny independent state of just 2,200 square miles, located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Borneo is a tropical, equatorial island, one of the largest in the world, divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Brunei borders exclusively on the Malaysian section of Borneo. Its small section of coastline is inhabited by just over 400,000 people, and is among the richest nations in the world in terms of natural resources. Traditionally ruled by a Sultan, it became a British protectorate in 1888 and gained independence from the United Kingdom on January 1st 1984. Modern Brunei is ruled by a ‘Malay Islamic Monarchy’, where a Sultan acts as Supreme Head of State, ruling effectively as prime minister, finance minister, and commander of the armed forces. Brunei is the first and only country in East Asia to be ruled by Sharia law, introduced by the current Sultan in 2013. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

 

There are some things we talked about you might want to know more about:

  • It is difficult to say much for certain about the important Chinese diplomat, trader or prince Ong Sum Ping (the local Hokkien pronunciation of 黃森屏, Huang Senping in Mandarin), but he was clearly an important figure in Brunei’s earliest history, arriving in the area around 1375, marrying into the family of 1st Sultan Muhammad Shah, and subsequently helping to repel an invasion from the Sulu islands. His exact role is often occluded in modern history perhaps because he was either not Muslim or not Malay. Some of the conflicting information and opinions can be found on Wikipedia, the Brunei Times, from blogs I’m Just Saying, and Nomadic Republic, and from Malaysian politician Lim Kit Siang
  • In 1521, Brunei was visited by the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe, the Magellan-Elcano Expedition and an account was kept by Antonio Pigafetta (an Italian and the historian on the ship) of their meeting with the Sultan: “The king to whom we presented ourselves is a Moor, and is named Raja Siripada: he is about forty years of age, and is rather corpulent. No one serves him except ladies who are the daughters of the chiefs. No one speaks to him except by means of the blow-pipe
  • The Castillian War between the Spanish in Manilla and Brunei was a defining moment in 1578 when conflict over trade, religion and land led to military enagement between the Europeans and the Sultanate. In the end, disease played a large role in weakening the Spanish forces, hastening the Bruneian victory. Read about it on Brunei Resources (more from the same author in the Brunei Times), including the following quote:

Why did the Spaniards leave? According to Brunei legends, the Spaniards kept facing attacks organised by Pengiran Bendahara Sakam. The latter is seen as one of Brunei’s past folk heroes. He attacked the Spaniards with 1,000 men and defeated them. However, Western historians do not accept this version and deny that Bendahara Sakam even existed, preferring the version that the Spaniards left because of dysentery. According to the Spanish records, only 17 died of dysentery in Brunei and another six on the return to Manila, although a number of Filipinos also died. – Brunei Resources

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