Brunei has been deemed by Forbes and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the fifth richest country in the world due to its petroleum and natural gas fields. It’s actually divided into two areas, three states in one area, and the state of Temburong separated from the others by a narrow strip of land belonging to Malaysia (it was lost to them in a war).
Legend has it that when Awang Alak Betatar discovered the area that later became Brunei, he yelled, “Baru nah!” which has been loosely translated as “that’s it!” or “there!” and later became Brunei. Another theory is that it was derived from the Sanskrit word “varun” which means “ocean” (where the word Borneo is also from). Because Brunei is a majority Muslim nation, the second part of its official name, Darussalam, means “abode of peace” in Arabic.
The Sultanate of Brunei was at its strongest between the 15th and 17th centuries and was once a pretty influential power in the area. However, the Spanish declared war to take over their lands, including many of the islands that are now part of the Philippines, and Brunei lost several of those islands to Spain. The British also attacked Brunei a couple of centuries later over a dispute as to who was the rightful Sultan, but then several years later, Brunei was placed as a protectorate of Britain in 1888 and remained so for the next 96 years, until their independence in 1984. During WWII, the Japanese overpowered the British who were stationed in Brunei and occupied the small country until it was liberated in 1945. However, through all of these changes, the same family has ruled Brunei for nearly six centuries.
The capital of Brunei is Bandar Seri Begawan, probably one of the longer capital city names. Not only is it the capital city, but it’s the largest city in Brunei, with almost 297,000 people in the metro area (about the same size as Cincinnati, Ohio). This city is home to Istana Nurul Iman, the home of the Sultan of Brunei, one of the wealthiest men in the world. It also holds the record as being the largest palace in the world. Although it is not open for tourists, its expansiveness is impressive in that it stands in at over two million square feet (which is larger than China’s Forbidden City and three times as large as the palace at Versailles in France)! Among its features are 1700 rooms, a dining room to seat 5000, its own mosque, an air-conditioned stable for his 200 polo ponies, 5 swimming pools, 18 elevators, 257 bathrooms (if you can’t find one, you’re not looking hard enough), and his 2000 cars (including 20 Lamborghinis and 165 Rolls-Royces). His car collection alone makes Jay Leno seem like an amateur.
While the Sultan is obviously living very well, the people aren’t hurting that bad either. Citizens in Brunei pay $1 for a consultation with a doctor through its national health care plan, and if a service or treatment cannot be done in the country, then they will send you overseas for the care that you need at the government’s expense. Education from preschool through high school is also free. There are several trade schools, vocational schools, and a few universities in Brunei, which are also free to its citizens. And if there is an area of study where there are no programs in Brunei, the government will send you overseas to get the education you want – for free. This is what’s called giving back to the community and to its citizens. If you give the people access to affordable (or free) healthcare and education so that they’re not in debt for these basic amenities of life, then they will have more disposable cash to buy things, putting it back into their own economy, therefore strengthening it. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and kudos to Brunei for understanding this.
|Universiti Brunei Darussalam|
Because of Brunei’s proximity to Malaysia, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that much of its culture is similar. The official language is Malay, although the most widely-spoken language is Malayu Brunei (or Brunei Malay). English and Chinese are also widely-spoken languages as well.
The warm tropical weather makes Brunei a wonderful destination for that perfect unforgettable vacation. The diversity in its cultural influences represents all of Asia. And since its independence, it has continued to improve upon itself, like showing progress in women’s rights and equality, for example. But don’t let the tropical winds fool you – there are some things they take very seriously. Alcohol is banned (from the Islamic influence on their laws), and drug trafficking and illegally importing controlled substances carry a mandatory death penalty. However, although it may be small, the country is much richer than can be counted monetarily.
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