Brunei (S1.09)

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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Alaska (S1.05)

Audio: S1E05 Alaska

This week on 80 Days, we talked about Alaska, the United States of America’s 49th state. The name Alaska comes from the Aluet word Alyeska, meaning great land, and it is a plentiful place in many respects. Rich in natural resources, Alaska has a longer coastline than the other 49 states combined  and is the largest state in the US. It contains over 3 million lakes, as well as Denali, North America’s highest peak. about 500 miles separates Alaska from Washington state, its nearest neighbour within the US, and it has a strong connection with Russia, which used to occupy and control the territory. Exploring Alaska for you are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Hong Kong, the UK and Switzerland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

Flag of Alaska

Things you might want to read more about:

  • Alaska is the point of mainland America where it is generally considered humans first arrived in waves from Asia, including the ancestors of most indigenous South American peoples (25000-15000 years ago), the ancestors of many native Alaskan people and the Navajo and Apache Native American tribes  (14000-9000 years ago), the ancestors of Aleut and Eskimo people (9000-6000 years ago). This makes the area valuable for archaeologists trying to understand how people came to the Americas. Alaska’s indigenous people (including Tlingit, Athabaskan, Innupiak, Aleut and others) and much of their culture still persists to the present day, although they were, of course, greatly affected by the intervening centuries of colonisation.
  • Potlach – a “competitive altruism” practice among some native communities, such as Athabaskans
  • Music this week is all from aboriginal North American people and can be found here and here
  • Semyon Dezhnynov‘s expedition in the Bering Strait, which may have brought the first Russians to Alaska, although there are mixed opinions about this
  • The first Europeans to arrive in Alaska were the Russians, who – in the course of charting the Pacific coast of Russia – crossed the strait which is now named after Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator who led a voyage across to what is now Alaska. There were violent clashes with native Aleuts and Tlingit people and disease had devastating consequences on the indigenous population. Bering himself was marooned on an island on the way back to Russia and died.
  • Fur-trapping, particularly of sea-otters, became the major economic interest of the Russians in “Russian America” and a monopoly was given to the  Shelikhov-Golikov Company (later, the Russian-American Company), which set up headquarters at Sitka. This early settlement was attacked in the Battle of Sitka by the Kiks.ádi Tlingit clan.
  • Rather than lose their hard-to-defend province to the British in a war, the Tsar decided that the best course of action was to sell Alaska to the USA for $7.2m in 1867
  • We mentioned the instance of a Pope drawing a line on a map, which gave the Spanish a right to colonise some newly-discovered territories and the Portuguese others – this is dealt with in the Wikipedia article on the Treaty of Tordesillas
  • St Herman (the hermit) and St (Bishop) Innocent are two Russian Orthodox saints who were missionaries in the areas
  • The Klondike Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of people north to the parts of Alaska bordering Yukon as gold was discovered in the rivers of this region. Many were ill-prepared and most unsuccessful in staking claims. Con man “Soapy” Smith was an interesting character in this period, depriving treasure seekers of their money through tricks, games and crime, until his eventual death at a famous shootout on Juneau Wharf
  • During World War 2, there was a lot of action in the Aleutian Islands, while US forces attempted to dislodge a Japanese force which had occupied; American propaganda during WW2 was remarkably racial in nature, describing Alaska as a “Death Trap for the Jap

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