Brunei is one of three countries located on the island of Borneo in the central area of Maritime Southeast Asia. Here, it has a total area of 2,226 square miles and a population size of only around 417,200. Because of its close proximity to Malaysia, the culture of Brunei shares a number of similarities with its neighbor. In fact, over 66% of the population of this country are ethnically Malay. A number of other large minority groups, like individuals from India and China, have also contributed to the current culture of Brunei. Throughout its long history, this country has experienced several religious periods (including, animism, Hinduism, and Islam) that have culminated in the state of Brunei today.
The culture of Brunei is made up of several important aspects, including social beliefs and customs, religions and festivals, music and dance, literature and arts, and cuisine. This article takes a closer look at each of these components of the culture of Brunei.
Social Beliefs and Customs
The social beliefs and customs of Brunei are primarily influenced by Islam, which is the official national religion. In terms of social makeup, individual families play a critical role and are considered the building blocks of society. Within families and their extended relatives, each person occupies a place in the hierarchy. Elders tend to hold the most important part within the familial structure and showing them respect is of utmost importance in the culture here.
Islam has also influenced the social custom of conservative behavior and modest dress. Following these guidelines of modesty, women are expected to be fully covered with only their hands and face exposed in public. Another interesting social custom is that eating and drinking while walking are considered impolite and are behaviors that should be avoided. When shaking hands with somebody of the opposite sex, the man should wait for the woman to offer her hand as it is not customary for men and women to touch. Additionally, touching anybody on the head is considered rude.
Religions and Festivals
As previously mentioned, Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Brunei. The Constitution of this country dictates that the official national religion should follow the Shafi’i school of Islamic teaching, which makes up part of the complete teachings of the Sunni sect. The Sultan of Brunei acts as both the political and religious leader of this country. Religious freedom is protected by the national law, however, and several other religions are practiced here as well. Buddhism is the second most widely practiced religion here with 13% of the population identifying as Buddhist. Christianity is practiced by around 10% of the population, making it the third most widely practiced religion in Brunei.
Most of the festivals that take place here are in celebration of Islam. One of the biggest festivals is the Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, which is celebrated by the entire country. The Sultan and his family typically lead a parade through the capital city. This event occurs in January or February. Its date (like many other Islamic holidays) is never on the same day each year because it is based on the Islamic calendar. One of the biggest non-religious celebrations in Brunei is National Day, which takes place on February 23rd. On this day, the population of Brunei celebrates its complete independence from Great Britain.
Music and Dance
Brunei is home to unique folk music and dance styles, although Islamic practices do restrict these types of performances. Some of the most traditional types of music are combined with specific dance styles. Several instruments are utilized to play the music of Brunei, including gongs, coconut shells as percussion, rebana tambourines, and dombak drums. One popular music and dance combination is the Aduk Aduk, which is performed by children wearing warrior clothing to celebrate birthdays and the end of harvest season. Another example of traditional music in Brunei is the Adai Adai, which is a song performed by fishermen while they work. The Adai Adai is made up of vocals and percussion instruments. The Jipin performance is another important example of music and dance in Brunei. This performance, which originally comes from the Malay culture, is carried out by a group of 6 men and women. The music is produced by using percussion instruments as well as the gambus dan biola, a stringed instrument.
Literature and Arts
Literature is an important part of the culture of Brunei and one of the most important literary works is Sya’ir Awang Simawn, an epic poem. This poem tells the history of the Sultanate through the adventures of the hero Simawn. Children also have an appreciation for literature and are particularly familiar with the sajak style of poetry. The sajak was first used to teach children about history and civil studies. It is read in regular prose form but may be accompanied by hand movements as well.
The arts in Brunei take on a number of forms, including painting, architecture, jewelry, textiles, metal works, and baskets. During the mid-20th century, the government of Brunei took an active part in promoting art in the society. Since then, the production and sale of art have increased. Women work primarily with textiles and beads, while men tend to work with metals. This country is well-known for its silver ornaments and fabrics dyed in the batik style.
As in many countries around the world, the traditional food of Brunei is an important component of the culture and often brings its people together. Over the years, the dishes served in this country have been influenced by the culinary practices of its neighboring countries and of its immigrant communities. The Islamic religion prohibits the consumption of certain foods and drinks, so pork may be difficult to find and alcohol is not allowed here. Nearly every dish served in this country includes either rice or noodles, which may be served with a side of vegetables and meat. The national dish of Brunei is ambuyat. This dish consists of a sticky dough made of starch from the sago palm tree. This dough is shaped into a ball and dipped into a number of different sauces before being eaten.
About the Author
Amber is a freelance writer, English as a foreign language teacher, and Spanish-English translator. She lives with her husband and 3 cats.
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