In search of Brunei Malays outside Brunei

(Top) A presentation of a Brunei Malay wedding during a cultural seminar at the Orchid Garden Hotel. (Above) Students of Kiarong Primary School Brunei III performing `Sultan' during a national Hadrah competition for primary schools held at the Mukim Sengkurong Community Hall. Pictures: BT file

Monday, October 24, 2011

AT the recent Second Borneo History Seminar held recently at the International Convention Centre in Berakas, there were a number of international participants among the local participants. Some were from as far away as Pahang and some as near as Labuan and Beaufort in Sabah.

However they all had one thing in common. Their ancestors were all from Brunei.

According to an unverified source, the total number of Melayu Brunei or Brunei Malays outside Brunei exceeded some 400,000. If this was true, the Brunei Malay as a grouping outside Brunei is indeed a large group and can wield some form of influence if that can be utilised.

These people who are now outside Brunei clearly practiced Bruneian culture and tradition. So, sometime in the past, a number of Bruneians must have left Brunei and had families outside Brunei and continued to stay in their newly found countries.

The interesting question is, when did this happen? And a follow up question would be, why did this happen?

The Brunei group in Pahang is said to have been descendants from a Bruneian named Pengiran Bagauddin or formally known as Pengiran Sura Negara Pengiran Anak Badaruddin. It was said that he migrated to Pekan in Pahang. His descendants are not all in Pahang. A number of his descendants were also in Sarawak and were given three settlements Kewaripan Bintulu, Belangian and Bayan.

It is most likely that Pengiran Sura Negara was the direct descendant of Pengiran Muda Besar Muhammad Shamsuddin, the son of Sultan Abdul Jalillul Jabar who died in 1660.

Pengiran Muda Besar Muhammad Shamsuddin was a very young child when his father died, and the throne was taken over by Sultan Haji Muhammad Ali. Sultan Muhammad Ali was known as Al-Marhum Tumbang Di-rumput (Monarch who fell to the grass) as he was killed by his Bendahara who became Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin.

Further research need to be done on Pengiran Bagauddin. In the meantime it is estimated that there are about 6,000 of his descendants living in Pahang and other states currently.

The majority of Brunei Malays outside Brunei are located in the neighbouring states of Sabah and Sarawak. The migration to these two states happened in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when both became part of the new Sultanate of Brunei. The migration to Sarawak especially to the districts of Kalaka, Saribas, Sandong, Samarahan and Sarawak happened in the 14th century when the new sultanate conquered the districts of Sarawak. Similarly the migration to Sabah took place through the conquest of Sabah in the 15th century.

During the 15th to 19th century, the migration of Bruneians to the Brunei controlled areas continued. The migration can be said to be due to economic, social and political factors. The Brunei Malays controlled the mouth of the rivers of Borneo and therefore controlled the trade going into and out of the interiors of Borneo.

The control of the river mouths meant that Bruneians were in control of the island. Their expertise as sailors and warriors also led to trade and the sailing of Brunei ships to Myanmar and Luzon. It is also theorised that the name of Brunei could be derived from the word Varunai which is a Sanskrit word meaning "sea people".

In Sabah, the Brunei Malays opened up a few areas such as at Sungai Papar, Sungai Bongawan, Sungai Kimanis, Sungai Membakut and Sungai Tuaran.

The Brunei Malays took up new settlements around the Brunei Bay area such as Sipitang, Weston, Menumbok, Kuala Penyu, Kota Kilas, Membakut, Bongawan, Kimanis, Benoni, Papar and Tuaran.

These areas are all within the proximity of Brunei and this allowed those who stayed there to be able to continue their social and economic relationship to their families in Brunei. This was said to be encouraged by Sultan Bolkiah, the fifth Sultan of Brunei.

The Brunei settlements along the west coast allowed Brunei traders to use those settlements as resting points as well as maritime markers. The high ground of Bukit Kinandukan at the mouth of Sungai Papar and Layang-Layang Island played an important role as a marker on their route to Sabah and the north.

According to European records, Brunei traded with many nations around the region such as Siam, Java and Melaka. Manuel Teixeira said that in 1542, many junks were found there coming from others including Borneo.

Bruneians not only served as traders but also as warriors. They were found in Sumatra in the fleet of Acheh who was then attacking the King of Aru.

Migrations also occurred during unstable periods in Brunei. There were a few major periods which included the Castile War between Brunei and the Spanish in the Philippines, the Civil War between Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin and Sultan Muhyidin and the First and Second World Wars. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was also period of economic instability.

There are smaller groups of Brunei Malays outside these areas in Sabah. The areas include Tawau, Sandakan, Kota Marudu, Kudat and Tenom.

Before Sabah was run by the British, the Bruneians staying in these areas were able to come in and out whenever they feel necessary. It gave the impression that there are not many Bruneians in those areas. It is said that the migration from Brunei occurred mainly when the British colonials ran the state of North Borneo.

During the British rule, a number of Bruneians migrated to Sabah because of the much better economic opportunity there. In those days, Brunei was in dire straits and the major export in the early 20th century was cutch. Oil was not found in abundance until 1929.

The "new" migrants met the original Brunei settlers in those areas and stayed. One of the first census done was that in 1970, there were around 27,000 Brunei Malays in Sabah and in 1984, that has increased to 46,500 with another 7,500 in Sarawak.

The spread of Islam also coincided with the migrations of Bruneians to these areas. Bruneians brought the Islamic faith to Sabah and to the Philippines.

Even when the economic conditions in Brunei weakened, the spreading of the Islamic faith continued.

According to the people in Papar, there were a number of Islamic scholars there who came from Brunei and decided to stay there.

There were indeed numerous reasons for Brunei Malays to be outside Brunei and their existence has added to the diversity and the richness of those states and to the Brunei Malays as a whole.

The Brunei Times


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