A Short History of South-East Asia,
A Short History of South-East Asia,
Brunei is a small state of just 2,226 square miles located on the north-west coast of the island of Kalimantan, or "Borneo" (a Western term derived from "Brunei"). It is an Islamic State where the sultan, Sir Hassanal Bolkiah, the 29th Sultan in the dynasty, rules by decree. Its population is about 400,000, of whom nearly 60 per cent live in urban areas. Malays comprise about 64 per cent of the population, Chinese about 20 per cent and indigenous tribes about 8 per cent. It would be an unremarkable territory were it not that underneath its soil and under its territorial waters lie huge oil and gas reserves which have enabled the country to boast the highest per-capita income in South-East Asia at around US$27,000. This underground wealth has also enabled one of the world's few remaining absolute monarchies to survive into the 21st century. The sultanate has considerable financial reserves invested overseas.
Little is known of the early history of Brunei. There appears to have been trade between the north-west coast of Kalimantan and China as early as the sixth century and Brunei was influenced by the spread of Hinduism/Buddhism from India in the first millennium. Chinese records make mention of a kingdom of Puni, located on the north-west coast of Kalimantan, which paid tribute to Chinese emperors between the sixth and the ninth centuries. Brunei was claimed by the great Javanese empire of Majapahit in the 14th century, though it was most likely little more than a trading/tributary relationship. Brunei became a more significant state in the 15th century with a greater degree of independence from its larger neighbours. When the Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho visited Brunei in the early 15th century, as part of his exploration of South-East Asia, he discovered a significant trading port with resident Chinese traders engaged in profitable trade with the homeland.
Brunei was a small cog in the early South-East Asia trading networks but well known enough to figure in the records of the major states. The Brunei ruler seems to have converted to Islam in the middle of the 15th century when he married a daughter of the ruler of Melaka. The Portuguese conquest of Melaka in 1511 closed Melaka to Muslim traders, forcing them to look elsewhere in the archipelago. There was an outflow of wealthy Islamic traders who settled in other parts of the Indonesian archipelago taking with them not only their business acumen but also their religious beliefs. The Islamisation of the archipelago was given a great impetus. Brunei prospered from the Portuguese conquest of Melaka as Islamic traders were now attracted to its port in greater numbers. When Magellan's expedition visited Brunei in 1521 it found a prosperous town with a flourishing trading community linked into the South-East Asia - China trading network. Throughout the 16th century it engaged in political and commercial relations with other states in the Malay world, comprising the Indonesian archipelago, the Malay peninsula and southern Philippines.
Brunei became a major regional kingdom in the 16th and 17th centuries, with its influence stretching into the southern Philippines and its territorial claims extending over most of the north coast of Kalimantan, including what are now the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. As the first Islamic kingdom in the area, Brunei was the base for the Islamisation of the southern Philippines and surrounding areas, frequently coming into conflict with Catholic Spain after the Spanish conquest of Luzon, the central island of the Philippines. In 1578 Spain attacked Brunei and briefly captured the capital. It was unable to hold the town, in large part because its forces were decimated by sickness. Spain continued to try to conquer the Islamic Sultanate of Sulu in the southern Philippine islands, only finally succeeding in the last quarter of the 19th