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Trekking back in time Brunei history

Selamat Datang (the official language used in Brunei which means Welcome to Brunei), said the tour guide. He then said: "This year is our country's Visit Brunei Year and is officially opening its doors to attract tourists to come and visit this Kingdom of Unexpected Treasure. Now we are heading to the Brunei Museum which is located at Kota Batu about 5km from Bandar Seri Begawan.

According to Matzin Haji Yahya, the Archaeology officer of the Brunei Museum Department, the writer for 'A Note On The Stone Wall and Earthen Causeway at Kota Batu', Matussin Omar gives the best description on Kota Batu. He wrote, "Kota Batu is considered by the Bruneians today as the old site of Brunei Town, a view strongly supported by historical records.

Pigafetta, who visited Brunei in 1521, described the town as follows:

"That city is all built in salt water, except the king's house, and the houses of certain chief men. And it has twenty or twenty five thousand hearths. All their houses are of wood, and built on great beams raised from the ground In front of the king's house is a thick wall of brick, with towers in the manner of a fortress, and on it were fifty six large brass cannon, and six of iron." (Skelton 1969: 106 -7).

"The Brunei Museum in Kota Batu displays archaeology, ethnology, natural history of Brunei Darussalam and Islamic art," said the tour guide.

The Taiwanese tourists seemed to be enjoying themselves while visiting the Brunei Museum. Some tourists even requested that they want to see more historical sites of Brunei and asked, "Are there any more historical sites to visit?"

"Of course," said the tour guide. He then asked all the tourists to take a look at the recently launched 'Historical Trail' signboard beside the entrance of the Brunei Museum. The Historical Trail, "leading to sites within a mile from the Brunei Museum Building."

During the official launching of the Historical Trail, Pg Dr Karim Bin Pg Haji Osman, Manager of Brunei Museum Building said, "Some of the historical heritage sites along Kota Batu area are now ready for public visit. It is hoped with the existing signboard, it will provide information to the visitors about the existence of the sites and provide convenience to them."

"The whole idea of the Historical Trail is to introduce more historical sites within the Brunei Museum premises. We want tourists/visitors to not only visit the Brunei Museum but also other historical and interesting sites within the Brunei Museum premises. The historical trail signboard shows the direction to go in visiting the other nearby interesting and historical sites," added Pg Dr Karim.

The historical sites include Sultan Sharif Ali's Mausoleum (The 3rd Sultan of Brunei). "The existence of a strong connection with China is reflected in accounts of the second sultan, Ahmad, who is variously described as either Chinese or married to a Chinese woman. He had no sons to succeed him, so a son-in-law ascended to the throne. This was Sharif Ali, as Islamic religious leader said to have come from Taif in Persia and been a descendent of Amir-Muminin Hassan, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

"Sharif Ali spread the teachings of Islam among the people of Brunei under the first two sultans, and during his own reign, when he was known as Sultan Berkat (Blessed), he built the first mosque".

Not far from Sultan Sharif Ali's Mausoleum, was Sultan Bolkiah's Mausoleum (The 5th Ruler of Brunej). "Sultan Bolkiah was famed for his sea exploits, voyaging to Malacca and Java and conquering Sulu as well as briefly seizing Manila with the help of a cannon called Si-Cantar Alam (He who makes the earth shake). According to legend, Sultan Bolkiah once demonstrated the extend of his domain by taking a gantang (eight pounds) of pepper on a voyage and dropping a single peppercorn at each spot he landed until all were gone. He was famous for playing a set of royal musical instruments - a drum and a lute - on ship, thereby earning the nickname Nakhoda Ragam (the Singing Captain). Sultan Bolkiah even died at sea, while returning from Java where he had just married a princess named Puteri Laila Menchanai.

"According to the Selasilah, the princess was not told of his death until their ship reached Brunei, where upon she committed suicide in grief".

Matzin Haji Yahya also told Sunday Bulletin that, an archaeological site between Sultan Bolkiah and Sultan Sharif Ali's Mausoleum is not really officially opened to public but the site is possible to visit upon request. The site is still under further studies. Keliring is also another interesting site to visit and is supposed to be spelt and read as "Klirieng or burial poles," said Matzin Haji Yahya.

"Some of ethnic groups of Sarawak did not use caves for their burial jars but elaborate structures such as burial poles, known locally as KLIRIENG, which were constructed to house the burial jars of high-ranking individuals, especially chiefs. The burial poles are usually made from belian (ironwood). These majestic structures are carved from top to bottom motifs which often anthropomorphic. The use of Klirieng must have been in existence for several hundred years.

Other interesting sites on historical trail also included the Malay Technology Museum, Archaeology and Conservation Building, Islamic Religious School, mosque, Sharif Adam's Tomb, Imam Yakob's Tomb, Sharif Buntak's Tomb, Exhibition Office, and 15th Century Spanish Cannon. All admission is currently free and last year more than 60,000 visitors had visited the Brunei Museum.

In conjunction with this year's Visit Brunei Year 2001, it is hoped that with the launching of the Historical Trail, Kota Batu will be able to attract more visitors/tourists.

(By Jex Lim)

Source: Borneo Bulletin Sunday

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