The Sultanate of Brunei, Abode of Peace

Brunei Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque in Brunei

A small nation located on the northern shore of the island of Borneo, Brunei Darussalam gained full independence from Britain in 1984. Since then, the country has radically transformed its economic and social structures. Brunei is endowed by natural resources such as oil and gas in addition to attraction sites which contributed to the progressive development of the economy. Remarkably, in 2014, Brunei has been the first Muslim country in Southeast Asia to announce the application of Islamic Shariah rules – a step which was widely criticised by the West who perceives these rules to be strict. Yet, after two years of enforcing Shariah rules, the country seems stable and growth indicators are rising. Furthermore, the non-Muslim community enjoys their rights as guaranteed by the rules. Historically, Brunei was trading with China during the 6th century and through allegiance to the Javanese Majapahit Empire (13th to 15th century), it came under Hindu influence. In the early 15th century, with the decline of the Majapahit Empire and widespread conversion to Islam, Brunei became an independent sultanate. The star of the Sultanate of Brunei shone in the 15th century when it controlled different parts within the Malay Archipelago including Sabah and Sarawak – currently belonging to Malaysia – and some parts of the Sulu Islands which are now part of the Philippines. This influence started to wane in the 18th century and by the year 1888 it became a British protectorate. In 1945 Australia liberated Brunei from Japan which invaded the country during World War II. With increased demands of freedom, a new constitution was adopted in 1959 to declare Brunei a self-governing state and the sultan regained control over internal affairs. However, foreign affairs, security, and defense matters remained under the control of Britain. With no worth mentioning rebellion activities, Brunei eventually gained its independence on 1 January 1984.


Capital Bandar Seri Begawan
Population 417,400
Area 5,765 sq. km
Major Language (s) Malay, English, Chinese
Major Religion (s) Islam
Life Expectancy Male: 76 years ; Female: 81 years
Currency Bruneian Dollar (BND)
Literacy rate Youth 99.6%, Adults 96.4%
GDP Per Capita USD 40,978.53 (2014)

The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, is one of the world’s longest-reigning and one of few remaining absolute monarchs. He maintains good relationship with his people who are proud to have him as the leader of the country.

Brunei-Sultan Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

For the past six centuries, the same family has been ruling the sultanate. His Majesty Hassanal Bolkiah was crowned in 1967 at the age of 22 after the abdication of his father Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin. In 1991, His Majesty introduced an ideology called Malay Muslim Monarchy which presented the monarch as the defender of the faith. Proceeding with his mission, he introduced the Islamic Shariah law in the country in 2014.

Culture and traditions

The society in Brunei is multiethnic. Malays constitute about 67 per cent and Chinese represent 15 per cent while other indigenous peoples (Iban, Dayak, and Kelabit, all mainly from Sarawak) are 6 per cent and others are regarded as 12 per cent of the total population. Therefore, Brunei’s culture is deeply rooted in its Malay origins which are reflected in the nation’s language, architecture, ceremonies, and customs governing daily life. Bruneians are very polite and well-mannered. Maintaining face is of upmost importance and they do their best not to cause issues or problems which could jeopardize this. Therefore, their communication style is very indirect and can come across as somewhat ambiguous to those from a culture where direct communication is the norm. By being indirect Bruneians avoid embarrassing other people. Most Bruneians find emotions such as impatience, anger, or irritation embarrassing and try to avoid them.

Brunei-Culture Brunei's culture mainly derived from the Old Malay World

Family is the focal point of the social structure in Brunei. Relationships with extended family members are strong and respect of older people is obligatory. Large gatherings of the family are organised in every national or religious occasion. Children are taught to subjugate their own desires for the good of the entire family and they also learn that it is through family support that they accomplish goals. The heart of Bruneian culture is Islam which the majority of people apply everywhere all the time. The cultural diversity based on religious belief in Brunei can be to a high extent compared to the situation in its close neighbour, Malaysia. Standard Malay is the official language in Brunei, but English is widely spoken by most of the population.

Very similar to Malaysia, the traditional costume of Brunei includes the baju kurung (a long tunic over a long skirt) for women and the baju cara melayu (a tunic and long pants) for men. The baju cara melayu is traditionally worn with a plaid or floral-patterned sarong called a sinjang, which extends from the waist to the knees. Although the design of such garments once denoted social status, and has long played an important role as a marker of identity, contemporary Bruneians tend to be less aware of these signifiers. A study by Dr Siti Norkhalbi, a lecturer in Universiti Brunei Darussalam, in 2010 investigated the transformation in the mode of clothing in the country and its impact on identities. She found that globalisation and economic advancement have played significant roles in contributing to the processes of developing and changing the mood of clothing in Brunei.

Though various foreign civilisations have played a role in forming Brunei’s rich history, the traditions of the Old Malay World have left an indelible mark on the culture of modern Brunei.

Economic growth

Brunei has one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. Unlike in many other countries, where a few people control the wealth of the nation, Bruneians enjoy the outcomes of the development of their economy. Brunei rulers, though, have large shares in these benefits that makes the Sultan one of the richest people in the world. The transformation in the country’s economy, which turned into a steadily rapid growth, started when the fields of oil and natural gas were discovered. Crude oil and gas represent more than 96 per cent of the exports and contributes more than 70 per cent to the national GDP. Commercial production of oil from land wells began in 1929. In 1963, production from offshore wells began. A major LNG production facility was completed in 1972.

Manufacturing and other industrial activities are still underdeveloped since Brunei relies mostly on exports of crude oil and natural gas. However, there are some projects such as waterbottling plants, soft drink franchise, and garment companies. Projects that increase pollution levels are banned in Brunei, though. Priority is given to ensuring the stability of the natural environment. The tourism industry is developing in Brunei as the government’s expenditure on this sector is over USD 600 million annually, but its contribution in the country’s GDP is still low. About 87 per cent of the total number of tourist arrivals is tourists coming from destinations around within the 57 OIC member countries.

Brunei is a founding member of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and, with the nine other ASEAN members, formed the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. The main export partners are Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, Thailand and Indonesia. Among import partners are Singapore, China, Malaysia, the US, South Korea and the UK. The total reserves of Brunei are USD3,648,820 thousand. Foreign investors are increasingly showing interest in Brunei’s economy with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) figures USD567 and USD865 million over the past five years.

Commercial production of oil from land wells began in 1929. In 1963, production from offshore wells began. A major LNG production facility was completed in 1972.

Business and investment

There are great investment opportunities which facilitate the business-making process in Brunei. For some time, investors as well as local authorities have been hesitant to promote serious collaborations based on the perception each has of the other. Perhaps foreign investors look at the country as an Islamic Monarchy where they think will face difficulties. On the other hand, the Bruneian authorities have been very careful with the nature of businesses they can approve to invest in the country. But, this environment has changed with the introduction of several facilities by the government which makes the business environment in Brunei more attractive to foreign investors.

One of the most important initiatives was the establishment of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) in 2001 which adheres to be a leading economic development agency recognised for its professionalism, progressive and result driven culture. The expected outcomes were to grow and diversify Brunei’s economy by attracting investments and strengthening local businesses through research and innovation. This, in addition to the records achieved in high GDP per capita, stability of the country as well as business progress brought more investment and is expected to bring more in the coming years.

Through the vision WAWASAN 2035, Brunei aims to be one of the top 10 nations in the world, recognised for its quality of life and dynamic and sustainable economy by the year 2035.

In 2015, Brunei’s macroeconomic environment was rated the most stable worldwide. In terms of the quality of education, Brunei was rated third within ASEAN according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. The quality and price of electricity at USD0.09 per kWh make electricity supply very attractive to manufacturers. One thing which probably cannot be found anywhere else is the exemption of any kind of taxes on individuals since the country is following the Shariah law. Furthermore, companies established in Brunei Darussalam are permitted to have 100% foreign ownership; nonetheless credible partnership is available.

While Brunei is indeed a devoutly Muslim country, the national philosophy is one of respectful tolerance, allowing for the practice of other religions and beliefs.

Bruneians are proud to have centuries of royal heritage and to be the only remaining Malay Islamic Monarchy in the world. The Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back to 1405. In 1967 His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah was made the 29th ruler of Brune and led the country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1984. While Brunei is indeed a devoutly Muslim country, the national philosophy is one of respectful tolerance, allowing for the practice of other religions and beliefs.