And Now.... BRUNEI
"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
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
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.
. 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
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]
settings." "People, Places, and Environment"
patterns for preserving and transmitting culture,
while adapting to
[forces of] change."
- "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."
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.
FOUR BIG QUESTIONS
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
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
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
. 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
4. How is its government dealing with them? The
." 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
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
The Web Site maintained by the Government
of Brunei Darussalam has already been mentioned. See also the excellent
The U.S. State Department publishes a good,
comprehensive update: Background
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
Singh, D. Ranjit, and Sidhu, Jatswan S. Historical
Dictionary of Brunei Darussalam. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press.
And we urge you to use the collection of
research URLs on our Teachers Room page, as
Brunei Student Text Page
| Brunei Map Page | Brunei
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