The Sultanate of Brunei was very powerful from the 14th through the 16th
century. Its realm covered the southern Philippines, Sarawak and Sabah.
European influence gradually brought an end to this regional power. Later,
there was a brief war with Spain in which Brunei was victorious. The 19th
century however saw Brunei losing much of its territory to the White Rajahs
There was a small rebellion against the monarchy during the 1960s, which
was prevented by the United Kingdom. This event became known as the Brunei
Revolt and was partly responsible for the failure to create the North
Borneo Federation. The rebellion also affected Brunei's decision to opt
out of the Malaysian Federation. Brunei was a British protectorate from
1888 to 1984.
The Sultan of Brunei, whose title has passed within the same dynasty
since the 15th century, is the head of state and head of government in
Brunei. The Sultan is advised by several councils and a cabinet of ministers
although he is effectively the supreme ruler. The media is extremely pro-government
and the Royal family retains an almost godlike status within the country.
There is no elected legislative body. In September 2004 the Sultan Hassanal
Bolkiah convened an appointed Parliament which had not met since independence
The country has been under hypothetical martial law since a rebellion
occurred in the early 1960s and was put down by British troops from Singapore.
A battalion from the British Army's Royal Gurkha Rifles is still stationed
in Brunei under agreement with the Sultan to protect the oil fields in
the West of the country. Other units from the British Army are present
to support and train the Brunei Army.
Brunei also claims territory in Sarawak and is one of many nations to
lay claim to the disputed Spratly Islands.
Brunei is divided into four districts, called daerah. These are:
- Brunei and Muara
Brunei consists of two unconnected parts; 97% of the population lives
in the larger western part, only about 10,000 live in the mountainous
eastern part, the district of Temburong. Major towns are the capital Bandar
Seri Begawan (about 46,000 inhabitants), the port town Muara and the oil
producing districts of Seria and Kuala Belait.
The climate in Brunei is equatorial-tropical, with high temperatures,
a high humidity and heavy rainfall.
This small, wealthy economy is a mixture of foreign and domestic entrepreneurship,
government regulation, welfare measures, and village tradition. Crude
oil and natural gas production account for nearly half of GDP. Substantial
income from overseas investment supplements income from domestic production.
The government provides for all medical services and subsidizes rice and
housing. Brunei's leaders are concerned that steadily increased integration
in the world economy will undermine internal social cohesion although
it became a more prominent player by serving as chairman for the 2000
APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation) forum. Stated plans for the
future include upgrading the labor force, reducing unemployment, strengthening
the banking and tourist sectors, and, in general, further widening the
About two-thirds of the Brunei population are of Malay origin. The most
important ethnic minority group are the Chinese, with about 15%. These
groups also reflect the most important languages: Malay, which is the
official language, and Chinese. English is also widely spoken and there
is a relatively large expatriate community.
Islam is the official religion of Brunei, and the sultan is the head
of the religion in the country. Other faiths practised are Buddhism (mainly
by the Chinese), Christianity and very small communities still practice
The culture of Brunei is similar to Malay culture, with heavy influences
from Hinduism and Islam.