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Author: Laxman Burdak IFS (R)

Brunei (Hindi:ब्रुनेई, /bruːˈnaɪ) is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.


  • Malay: Negara Brunei Darussalam
  • Jawi: نڬارا بروني دارالسلام‬


Apart from its coastline with the South China Sea, the sovereign state is completely surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is separated into two parts by the Sarawak district of Limbang. Brunei is the only sovereign state completely on the island of Borneo; the remainder of the island's territory is divided between the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia.


According to local historiography, Brunei was founded by Awang Alak Betatar, later to be Sultan Muhammad Shah, reigning around AD 1400. He moved from Garang in the Temburong District[1] to the Brunei River estuary, discovering Brunei. According to legend, upon landing he exclaimed, Baru nah (loosely translated as "that's it!" or "there"), from which the name "Brunei" was derived.[2]He was the first Muslim ruler of Brunei.[3] Before the rise of the Bruneian Empire under the Muslim Bolkiah Dynasty, Brunei is believed to have been under Buddhist rulers.[4]

It was renamed "Barunai" in the 14th century, possibly influenced by the Sanskrit word "Varuṇa" (वरुण), meaning "seafarers".[5] The word "Borneo" is of the same origin.

In the country's full name, Negara Brunei Darussalam, darussalam (Arabic: دار السلام‎) means "abode of peace", while negara means "country" in Malay.

The earliest recorded documentation by the West about Brunei is by an Italian known as Ludovico di Varthema, who also said the "Bruneian people have fairer skin tone than the peoples he met in Maluku Islands". On his documentation back to 1550;

We arrived at the island of Bornei (Brunei or Borneo), which is distant from the Maluch about two hundred miles, and we found that it was somewhat larger than the aforesaid and much lower. The people are pagans and are men of goodwill. Their colour is whiter than that of the other sort ... in this island justice is well administered ...[6]


At the peak of the Bruneian Empire, Sultan Bolkiah (reigned 1485–1528) is alleged to have had control over most regions of Borneo, including modern-day Sarawak and Sabah, as well as the Sulu Archipelago off the northeast tip of Borneo, Seludong (modern-day Manila), and the islands off the northwest tip of Borneo. The maritime state was visited by Spain's Magellan Expedition in 1521 and fought against Spain in the 1578 Castilian War.

During the 19th century, the Bruneian Empire began to decline. The Sultanate ceded Sarawak (Kuching) to James Brooke and installed him as the White Rajah, and it ceded Sabah to the British North Borneo Chartered Company. In 1888, Brunei became a British protected state and was assigned a British resident as colonial manager in 1906. After the Japanese occupation during World War II, in 1959 a new constitution was written. In 1962, a small armed rebellion against the monarchy was ended with the help of the British.[7]

Brunei gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984.

Early history

One of the earliest Chinese records is the 977 AD letter to Chinese emperor from the ruler of Po-ni, which some scholars believe to refer to Borneo.[8] In 1225, a Chinese official, Chau Ju-Kua (Zhao Rugua), reported that Po-ni had 100 warships to protect its trade, and that there was a lot of wealth in the kingdom.[9]

In the fourteenth century, the Javanese manuscript Nagarakretagama, written by Prapanca in 1365, mentioned Barune as the vassal state of Majapahit,[10] which had to make an annual tribute of 40 katis of camphor. In 1369, the Sulus attacked Po-ni, looting it of treasure and gold. A fleet from Majapahit succeeded in driving away the Sulus, but Po-ni was left weaker after the attack.[11] A Chinese report from 1371 described Po-ni as poor and totally controlled by Majapahit.[12]

However, scholars claim that the power of the Sultanate of Brunei was at its peak between the 15th and 17th centuries, with its power extending from northern Borneo to the southern Philippines.[13] By the 16th century, Islam was firmly rooted in Brunei, and the country had built one of its biggest mosques. In 1578, Alonso Beltrán, a Spanish traveller, described it as being five stories tall and built on the water.[14]

See also



  1. History for Brunei (2009). History for Brunei Darussalam: Sharing our Past. Curriculum Development Department, Ministry of Education. ISBN 99917-2-372-2.p. 26
  2. Marie-Sybille de Vienne (9 March 2015). Brunei: From the Age of Commerce to the 21st Century. NUS Press. pp. 27–. ISBN 978-9971-69-818-8.
  3. "Treasuring Brunei's past". Southeast Asian Archaeology. 8 March 2007
  4. Robert Nicholl (1980). Notes on Some Controversial Issues in Brunei History. pp. 32–37.
  5. James B. Minahan (30 August 2012). Ethnic Groups of South Asia and the Pacific: An Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-59884-660-7.
  6. Bilcher Bala (2005). Thalassocracy: a history of the medieval Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. School of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sabah. ISBN 978-983-2643-74-6.
  7. Pocock, Tom (1973). Fighting General – The Public &Private Campaigns of General Sir Walter Walker (First ed.). London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-211295-7.
  8. Wendy Hutton (November 2000). Adventure Guides: East Malaysia. Tuttle Publishing. p. 30. ISBN 978-962-593-180-7.
  9. History for Brunei 2009, p. 43
  10. "Naskah Nagarakretagama" (in Indonesian). Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia. Archived from the original on 23 May 2017.
  11. History for Brunei 2009, p. 44
  12. History for Brunei 2009, p. 45
  13. Brunei". CIA World Factbook. 2011.
  14. Nicholl, Robert (2002). European sources for the history of the Sultanate of Brunei in the Sixteenth Century. Special Publications, no.9. Muzium Brunei. ISBN 978-0-8028-4945-8.pp. 47–51