And Now.... BRUNEI
Teacher Page

"Brunei is one of the oldest existing polities in Southeast Asia," observe D. Ranjit Singh and Jatswan S. Sidhu in their excellent Historical Dictionary of Brunei Darussalam (1997). It has a "rich historical heritage," they continue, "and is the longest surviving sultanate in the region."

If that's not incentive enough to introduce your students to this unit on Brunei, compare the third curriculum standard listed below with this further assessment by Singh and Sidhu: "Through the ages … Brunei acquired an astute sense in the use of international diplomacy. The monarchy especially made effective use of this tool to steer the kingdom out of very tight situations and, in the process, has managed to save and preserve the identity of the state … to bring it to the status of a full sovereign nation." Clearly, Brunei is an excellent topic for teachers working on any standard of learning (SOL) that deals with the impact of globalization on traditional societies.

"And Now…. Brunei" is appropriate for courses in world history, world regions, and contemporary issues. It will help students to begin exploring a fascinating country and to touch on several social studies disciplines while doing so: Brunei's history has long been influenced by its geography: An island nation, it is located on one of the world's most strategic maritime routes. Brunei's government, a traditional monarchy, is committed to the preservation of its people's culture — both religious (Islamic) and ethnic (Malay). Though prosperous, Brunei is intent on diversifying its oil-driven economy. And, though small in size and population, Brunei has taken its place as an equal member in such international forums as the UN, APEC, and ASEAN.

This unit will help you to address several goals in social studies curriculums for Grades 9-12. Here are several — three from the National Council for Social Studies guideline, Expectations of Excellence…. (EOE), and one from the National Standards for World History (NSH), published by the National Center for History in the Schools. Thus, students should be better able to:

  • "assess ways that historical events have been influenced by … physical and human geographic factors in local, regional, [and] national … settings." — "People, Places, and Environment" (EOE)
  • "analyze … patterns for preserving and transmitting culture, while adapting to … [forces of] change."
  • "Culture" (EOE)
  • "analyze connections between globalizing trends in economy, technology, and culture in the late 20th century and dynamic assertions of traditional cultural identity and distinctiveness." "The 20th Century Since 1945" (NSH)

  • "explain conditions and motivations that contribute to … cooperation and interdependence among groups, societies, and nations." "Global Connections" (EOE)

You may want students to note (or research) the basic history embodied in Brunei's formal name. Brunei Darussalam — which means Brunei, Abode of Peace — includes the Arabic term Darussalam (meaning "abode of peace"). Also: Students will undoubtedly recognize the reference to the religion of Islam. (For a review of its history and some basic teachings, see the excellent article on "Islam" in the CD edition of Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000.) But they may not be familiar with the term Islamic sultanate. The Encyclopaedia Britannica advises that the term sultan is a traditional title, derived from the Arabic word for "authority," and used by monarchs in Islamic countries. Brunei's government now prefers the designation "Malay Islamic Monarchy."

The terms Southeast Asia and Malay Archipelago are dealt with under Question # 1, below. Other terms that you may to preview include: consensus, cultivation (farming), diversified economy, eco-tourism, fossil fuels, globalization, protectorate, and trade surplus.

The questions at the top of the Brunei Student Text Page are meant to help students begin researching issues related to this unit's topic. Access to the Brunei Map Page would seem to be essential for students reading the text page, given all the geographic references they will find there. In fact, larger-area and world maps would also be useful, as readers note the roles that Arabian merchants and European colonizers played in Brunei's history. Here's some background on the four questions at the top of the text page:

1.    How has Brunei's geographic location influenced its history? In a way, the entire Student Text Page is a commentary on this question. But more specifically, the answer involves (a) Brunei's location near the equator, (b) its presence on a large island within an archipelago (Borneo is the world's third largest island), and (c) its unique position facing the shores of a strategic maritime route between two great bodies of water. One fourth of all world trade is still shipped across that route today.

Suggestions: Developing definitions. If students are not already aware of the distinction, have them research and then write definitions of these terms: Southeast Asia and Malay Archipelago. Southeast Asia includes the land and archipelagoes inhabited by Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. (Note: The Brunei Map Page indicates all these countries, though parts of Myanmar and Indonesia are not shown.) The Malay Archipelago — the largest island system in the world — includes only the island nations of Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the part of Malaysia that is on Borneo…. Tracing trade routes. Chinese historians reported on Brunei's trade activities as early as the 6th century CE. Marco Polo reported having heard of Brunei centuries later. And the lure of the Indies' spice trade led 16th-century Spanish fleets to make daring sea voyages. If you have a wall map of the world, invite a student to trace the general path and direction of such voyages, as East African, Arabian, European, and American vessels found their way to Brunei and its neighbors. (Remind students: The Suez Canal was not built until the 19th century; the Panama Canal, not until the 20th.)

2.    Why is that history so important to an understanding of Bruneian culture today? The Student Text Page mentions three key influences in the development of the Bruneian culture: its Malay roots, the Islamic religion, and Western influences (colonization, legal systems, pressures for trade). Not mentioned in the text page are the 20th-century "Western" wars that enveloped the region, too.

Suggestions: Establishing chronology. Encourage students, perhaps working in small groups, to research and develop a cultural-history chronology of Brunei — one that takes note of all those influences. Part of their task would be to make judgments about the number of specific events and highlights to include. A good package of complementary sources for this exercise might include: (a) the article on "Borneo" in Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000; (b) the entry on "Brunei" in The Encyclopedia Britannica; (c) and articles on "Brief History" (see "Key Dates") and "National Philosophy" at the Web Site maintained by the Government of Brunei Darussalam. Have each group "publish" (report on) its chronology, and ask students then to develop a single working version for the purpose of class discussion…. Assessing cultural influences. Invite students, using their chronology and information from the Brunei Data Page, to make generalizations about Brunei's cultural history. You might begin the discussion with this question: "What seem to have been the most enduring influences on Brunei's culture?" As students offer comments, you may want to inject the following items of information, to prompt them to rethink their views: (a) Brunei's own government sees its adherence to the rule of law and its independent judiciary to be, in part, a result of British influence — as it also views its cabinet-style of government, which replaces the Malay custom of having elders tender advice to the sultan. (b) Birth in Brunei does not automatically confer citizenship on the country's Chinese residents. They must — along with others seeking citizenship — pass tests on the subject of Malay culture, customs, and language. (c) For Muslims in Brunei, the Islamic Shari'a law supersedes civil law in a number of areas, including divorce and inheritance. (d) Bruneian women have achieved several high government positions, including ministerial posts, a High Court judgeship, and an ambassadorship. They serve in the armed forces, and nearly two thirds of Brunei University's entering class in the late 1990s were women.

3.    What types of economic and global challenges does Brunei face in the 21st century? As with many other contemporary nations, Brunei's economic dependence on a declining pool of natural resources is a motive to plan diversified sources of income for the future. Its small size and population also compel it to define and maintain a recognizable niche within the world community. And at the same time, the growing global economy and the spread of Western culture challenge Brunei's leaders to protect their people's traditional heritage.

Suggestion: Setting priorities. Review and profile Brunei's current economy. (See the Brunei Data Page, the second paragraph under "Independence" on the Student Text Page and the "And Now…." segment following that paragraph.) Then invite students to brainstorm and discuss options for Brunei's economic planners. Urge students to list "pros" and "cons" for each suggested option and then — as a group — to select the top three priorities. To keep students on track, you may want to point out that Bruneians must import most of their food. The current use of their land shows why: one percent is arable; one percent, permanent crops; one percent; permanent pastures; and 85 percent, forests and woodland (other uses account for the remaining 12 percent). More: Forested land is carefully protected in environmentally-conscious Brunei. The export of its tropical timber ("lungs of the world") is strictly prohibited.

4.    How is its government dealing with them? The "And Now…." segment offers several clues to Brunei's response to current challenges, though students will have to infer at least one — its overall response to the growing impact of globalization. This response is two-fold: (a) Through its membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Brunei has associated itself with regional neighbors who face the same problem and are therefore committed to the preservation of one another's culture. (ASEAN nations include half a billion people, which gives the group a powerful market potential, too.) (b) Through its active participation in wider forums — the UN, APEC — Brunei also has access to venues where it can press its case for maintaining culturally-based customs while engaging with the world market.

Suggestions. Following newsbreaks. In the summer of 2000, the Islamic Development Bank, which has been described as the premier Islamic financial institution in the world today, announced the location of a new Infrastructure Fund (IF) office in Brunei. In other words, Brunei could become a hub for developing infrastructure projects within its region. Encourage one or two students to follow this story on the Internet (perhaps using   +Brunei+IDB   as initial search terms) and report to the class as further news emerges. Discuss: "Is the IDB's decision helping to advance Brunei's plans for a diversified economy?" A similar topic for Internet research: Brunei's hope to develop itself as a Service Hub for Trade and Tourism (SHuTT) for the east ASEAN region…. Learning the "alphabet." World news in the 21st century seems filled with acronyms (SHuTT, for example). At a minimum, students of Brunei's foreign policy should know the meaning and membership of these two: ASEAN and APEC. (One source: Select "Appendixes," then "International Organizations and Groups" in the CIA's World Factbook 2001.) Brunei is also a member of G-77, IMF, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, WHO, WTO, and the World Bank (but not OPEC)…. Discussing the big question. It's already been alluded to, but one of the major questions driving this unit presents Brunei with one of its major challenges — the perceived conflict between the forces generally known as globalization and the desire of traditional cultures to retain their unique identity. Are these two imperatives really at odds? Or is the question really one of how to balance them, when establishing national goals, priorities, and policies? You might well conclude the use of this unit on Brunei by asking students to write an essay on this question: "Globalization and Traditional Cultures: Opposing Forces? Or Complementary Energies?"

The Web Site maintained by the Government of Brunei Darussalam has already been mentioned. See also the excellent Brunet Site.

The U.S. State Department publishes a good, comprehensive update: Background Notes: Brunei.

For any in-depth research you may be conducting, LE recommends these recent titles:

Gunn, Geoffrey C. Language, Power, and Ideology in Brunei Darussalam. Ohio University Center for International Studies. 1997.

Singh, D. Ranjit, and Sidhu, Jatswan S. Historical Dictionary of Brunei Darussalam. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press. 1997.

And we urge you to use the collection of research URLs on our Teachers Room page, as well.

Brunei Student Text Page | Brunei Map Page | Brunei Data Page

Would you like to see other pages in this study unit? Or visit LE's Home Page?

LE wishes to thank the Embassy of Brunei in the United States for underwriting the costs of producing and distributing the original printed version of this unit. We hope that, in this new electronic version, our unit continues to serve teachers and students in Grades 7-12.

Learning Enrichment, Inc. Content last updated: January 2002. Page last reviewed: February 2002.