Little is known about the early history of Brunei except that it was heavily influenced by the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism before being converted to an Islamic country in the 15th century. Historians believe that an ancient trading kingdom existed on the Brunei River starting in the 7th or 8th centuries. The Chinese called this kingdom Po-ni and wrote about it in their records. This trading kingdom was conquered by the ancient Malay empire of Srivijaya early in the 9th century.
The Brunei Empire reached its “Golden Age” between the 15th and 17th centuries, gaining control over the entire island of Borneo as well as north into the Philippines. These years saw the emergence of two very famous and successful sultans. The first, Sultan Belkiah reigned from 1473-1521 was renowned for his sea exploits and even managed to capture Manila for a time. When the explorer Magellan visited in 1521, he noted that Brunei was a prosperous town with flourishing trade links to the Southeast Asia-China trading network. The second famed sultan was Sultan Hassan who reigned from 1605-1619. Brunei was very successful under Sultan Hassan and he managed to develop an elaborate Royal Court structure.
After Hassan’s reign Brunei entered a period of decline. There were many internal battles over royal succession. Also, European colonial powers were asserting their influence and disrupting trading patterns. European traders would offer local traders better prices for their goods and had the added benefit of being free of taxes that were compulsory in Malay ports. This ended up destroying the economic base of Brunei.
The late 19th century saw Brunei become a protectorate of the British Government. This meant that the country had independence internally, but Britain controlled any external issues. In 1906, Brunei gave executive power to Britain which would then advise on all matters except those to do with local customs and religion.
When oil was discovered in the 1920s it had a profound effect on the country essentially changing it forever. The 1950s and 1960s saw many attempts to make Brunei join neighbouring Sabah and Sarawak in the newly formed Malaysia, however, the wealth accumulated from oil and gas made it economically possible for Brunei to remain relatively independent. A new constitution was written in 1959 which made Brunei a self-governing state with Britain in control of foreign concerns. On 1 January 1984, Brunei became fully independent.
The oil and gas enterprises in Brunei meant that the sultanate was able to provide free health care, education and social services to all people as well as very low tax rates. It also enabled the country to have the highest per capita income in Southeast Asia and helped Brunei to remain one of the few absolute monarchies left in the world.
Brunei Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Brunei.
Learn about the history and culture of Brunei, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Brunei's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Brunei for yourself. Start exploring...book one of our Brunei tours today!
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