Today is National day in Brunei. It is not the anniversary of Independence, which is January 1. But it is the day that is recognized nationally as the official day to celebrate independence.
Brunei is a sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia. Apart from its coastline with the South China Sea, it is completely surrounded by the state of Sarawak, Malaysia; and it is separated into two parts by the Sarawak district of Limbang. It 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.
The official national history claims that Brunei can trace its beginnings to the 7th century, when it was a subject state named P’o-li, in the Sumatran Srivijaya empire. It later became a vassal state of the Javan Majapahit empire. Brunei became a sultanate in the 14th century, under a newly converted Islamic sultan—Muhammad Shah.
At the peak of Bruneian Empire, Sultan Bolkiah (reigned 1485–1528) had control over the northern 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 1578’s Castille War.
The Bruneian Empire began to decline; during the 19th century, the Sultanate ceded Sarawak to James Brooke as a reward for his aid in putting down a rebellion and named him as rajah; and it ceded Sabah to the British North Borneo Chartered Company. In 1888 Brunei became a British protectorate and was assigned a British 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.
Brunei regained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984. Economic growth during the 1970s and 1990s, averaging 56% from 1999 to 2008, has transformed Brunei into a newly industrialized country. It has developed wealth from extensive petroleum and natural gas fields. Brunei has the second highest Human Development Index among the South East Asia nations after Singapore, and is classified as a developed country. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Brunei is ranked fifth in the world by gross domestic product per capita at purchasing power parity. The IMF estimated in 2011 that Brunei was one of two countries (the other being Libya) with a public debt at 0% of the national GDP.
The culture of Brunei is predominantly Malay (reflecting its ethnicity), with heavy influences from Islam, but is seen as much more conservative than Indonesia and Malaysia. Influences to Bruneian culture come from the Malay cultures of the Malay Archipelago. Four periods of cultural influence have occurred, as in much of SE Asia — animist, Hindu, Islamic, and Western. Islam had a very strong influence, and was adopted as Brunei’s ideology and philosophy.
Brunei’s cuisine is similar to, and heavily influenced by, the cuisines of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, with additional influences from India, China, Thailand, and Japan. As is common in the region, fish and rice are staple foods, though beef is expensive and thus less common. Due to the predominance of Islam, the meats are halal and pork is avoided. Here is a popular soup found throughout much of SE Asia.
Bak Kut Teh
1 ½ lbs beef/mutton sparerib cut into bite-size pieces
1 tbsp sugar
½ teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tsp preserved brown soy beans, pounded
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 piece of cinnamon bark (1 inch)
2 segments star anise
cilantro to garnish
Rub salt on the spareribs generously.
Sauté the ribs in a small amount of oil or shortening until well browned. Set aside.
Add the sugar to the pan and caramelize until light brown. This is a critical stage; you must stir and watch constantly. As soon as the sugar starts to turn add the soy beans and sauté for a brief time. Then add the ribs and other main ingredients, and cover with water or stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 ½ hours or until the meat is tender.
Serve as a soup garnished with cilantro. It is customary to serve rice with the soup.