Brunei is a country located in Southeast Asia, perched on the northwestern coast of the island of Borneo. Primarily known for its oil wealth and primeval forests, Brunei is one of the least known countries in Asia. Here are some interesting facts about Brunei.
Facts about Brunei
1. Brunei is the fourth-smallest country in Asia.
Brunei is rather tiny. It has a total land area of 5,765 km² (2,226 sq mi), which makes it slightly larger than the US state of Delaware. Only Maldives, Singapore, and Bahrain are smaller than Brunei in size in Asia.
2. The official name of Brunei is Negara Brunei Darussalam.
Here Negara means “country” in Malay and Darussalam means the “abode of peace” in Arabic.
3. Brunei is an absolute monarchy.
One of the intriguing facts about Brunei is that it is one of the few remaining countries in the world which is an absolute monarchy. The Sultan of Brunei is the absolute monarch of the nation.
The Sultan serves as the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Brunei. He has the full executive authority and is also the head of the state. Although Brunei has a Parliament, there hasn’t been an election in the country since 1962.
4. The Sultan of Brunei is the world’s second longest-reigning current monarch.
Hassanal Bolkiah is the current Sultan of Brunei who succeeded to the throne as the Sultan of Brunei, following the abdication of his father on 5 October 1967. He is the 29th sultan in a line stretching back over six hundred years. Formerly the world’s richest man, the Sultan of Brunei’s net worth is estimated to be around 20 billion USD.
5. Brunei shares a land border with only one country.
Split into two parts by the Malaysian state of Sarawak, Brunei’s land border with Malaysia extends for 266 km (165 mi).
6. Brunei has a coastline of 161 km (100 mi).
All of Brunei’s 161 km (100 mi) long coastline is located along the South China Sea.
7. The highest point in Brunei lies 1,850 m (6,070 ft) above sea level.
Pagon Hill, Brunei’s highest point can be found in the exclave of Temburong in eastern Brunei.
8. The Sultanate of Brunei was once quite powerful and controlled parts of Southeast Asia.
The Sultanate of Brunei is thought to have been established in the 14th century. The Sultanate reached its zenith between the 16th and 17th centuries and once controlled large chunks of northwest Borneo and the southern Philippines. The empire’s vast wealth came from international commerce
9. Brunei was once a British protectorate.
By the late 19th century, the Brunei Sultanate had lost its luster and economic vibrancy, besides losing chunks of its territories, becoming a moribund state. Brunei accepted the status of a British Protected State by signing a Protectorate Treaty with Britain in 1888. Great Britain took charge of the Sultanate’s external relations in return for protection from its external enemies.
Despite the treaty, Brunei was being picked over by its bordering territories of Sarawak and Borneo. The country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and was in danger of dissolving. In 1906, Brunei signed an agreement with Britain that ensured the succession of Brunei’s ruling dynasty, with the arrangement that a British resident would advise the Sultan on all matters except those on internal policies concerning local customs and religion.
Brunei continued to exist as a British Protectorate until 1971 when under an agreement with the UK, it ceased to be a British protected state. Brunei’s constitution was amended to give the Sultan full control over all internal matters, with the UK retaining responsibility for defense and foreign affairs. Independence from the UK was finally achieved on 1 January 1984.
10. Brunei’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas.
In 1929 large resources of oil were discovered in Seria. Brunei’s small but wealthy economy is based heavily upon proceeds from exports of crude oil and natural gas. Crude oil and natural gas production account for about 90% of Brunei’s GDP.
Brunei is the fourth-largest producer of oil in Southeast Asia and the ninth-largest gas exporter in the world. The nation exports most of its crude oil and natural gas output, primarily to key Asian oil consumers, given the country’s minimal domestic consumption.
11. Brunei was once under Japanese Occupation.
During World War II, the Japanese invaded Brunei on 16 December 1941, Eight days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attacked and occupied Brunei hoping to secure a chunk of the country’s oil. Despite Brunei’s protectorate status, the British didn’t come to Brunei’s aid.
The Japanese adopted indirect rule, with native leaders employed as the instruments of the military government, according to their former status and their ability. Under Japanese occupation, Japanese was taught to students in schools, and government officers were required to learn Japanese in night classes. The Japanese also tried to foment anti-European sentiments among the Bruneian population.
The last days of Japanese occupation were marked by serious shortages of food and medical supplies. The Japanese occupation of Brunei lasted almost three and half years until they were evicted by the victorious Allied troops spearheaded by Australian units in June 1945.
12. Brunei was quite isolated and undeveloped until the 1950s.
Before the 1950s, Brunei did not have a newspaper, radio station, airport, or even much in the way of roads to facilitate internal transport. The only link the Brunei Sultanate had with the outside world was by sea via the island of Labuan (now a part of Malaysia). Nowadays, of course, things are very different
13. The capital of Brunei is Bandar Seri Begawan.
Home to more than half of the country’s population, Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital and largest city of Brunei. It is also Brunei’s cultural and financial hub. Financed by Brunei’s oil money, Bandar Seri Begawan is characterized by an array of magnificent mosques and strikingly modern buildings.
14. Malays are the dominant ethnic group in Brunei.
Approximately two-thirds of Bruneians are ethnic Malays. The Chinese make up a little over 10% of the country’s population. Indigenous groups such as the Iban, the Lun Bawung, the Dusun, and the Melanau account for less than 5% of the population. The remainder of Brunei’s inhabitants are expats from India, UK, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
15. Islam is the state religion of Brunei.
Approximately four-fifths of Brunei’s population is Muslim, virtually all Muslims are Sunnis. The remainder of the population is a mixture of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and people of other faiths.
16. Malay is the official language of Brunei.
Standard Malay is the official language of Brunei, for which both the Latin alphabet (Rumi) and the Arabic alphabet (Jawi) are employed. Brunei Malay is the most commonly spoken language in Brunei. Brunei Malay is rather different from Standard Malay and there’s only a low degree of mutual intelligibility between the two.
English is also widely spoken by the majority of the population throughout Brunei. It is used in business as a working language and as the language of instruction from primary to tertiary education.
17. The currency of Brunei is the Brunei Dollar (BND).
The Brunei dollar has been the currency of the Sultanate of Brunei since 1967 when it replaced the British Borneo dollar. It is normally abbreviated with the dollar sign $, or alternatively B$
Thanks to a Currency Interchangeability Agreement in 1967, the Brunei dollar is interchangeable with the Singapore dollar at par. A lesser-known fact about Brunei is that the B$10,000 note is the world’s most valuable note in circulation, worth about 7,560 USD (Feb 2021).
18. Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt strict Islamic Sharia law.
Though Bruneian culture is quite similar to that of Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s it has always been a bit more conservative. In 2014, Brunei adopted a strict Islamic Sharia Penal Code which permits punishments such as stoning for adultery and amputation for theft.
19. Brunei is a member of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
After becoming independent in 1984, Brunei became the sixth member of ASEAN on 7 January 1984.
19. Brunei doesn’t observe daylight saving.
Daylight saving has never been observed in Brunei.
20. Brunei drives on the left.
Being a former British protectorate, it’s understandable that vehicles in Brunei observe left-hand traffic rules.
21. Brunei has one of the highest car-ownership rates in the world.
Brunei ranks in the top ten in the world in terms of vehicles per capita. Bruneians have an insatiable appetite for cars. The Sultan of Brunei alone possesses about 5,000 cars! Some of the Sultan’s most notable haul of cars includes 20 Lamborghinis, 160 Porsches, 130 Rolls Royces, 360 Ferraris, 170 Jaguars, 180 BMWs, 360 Bentleys, and 530 Mercedes-Benz’s.
The staggeringly high car ownership rate can also be attributed to the absence of a comprehensive transport system, low import tax, and the highly subsidized price of fuel.
22. Brunei has the largest residential palace in the world.
The Istana Nurul Iman is the formal residence of the Sultan of Brunei. It also serves as the seat of the country’s government. The magnificent palace is located on the banks of the Brunei River. It was completed in 1984 at a total cost of around 1.4 billion USD.
According to Guinness World Records, Istana Nurul Iman’s total floor space is about 200,000 m² (2,152,782 sq ft). The palace has a staggering 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, a mosque, a garage with space for 110 cars, 5 swimming pools, a massive banquet hall, an air-conditioned stable for 200 ponies, and more.
23. Brunei was the first Asian country to ban shark finning.
In June 2013, Brunei became the first Asian country to ban shark finning. According to the ban, no shark species can be caught or landed in the waters of Brunei. The sale, import, and trade of any shark products were also criminalized in the country.
24. Brunei is not at all LGBT-friendly.
Homosexuality is illegal in Brunei. In 2014 Brunei passed a law making homosexuality a crime punishable by ten years in prison. In 2019, it was announced that the penalty would be death by stoning.
25. The sale and public consumption of alcohol is illegal in Brunei.
As a Sharia observant country, the sale and public consumption of alcohol is banned in Brunei. Non-Muslims are allowed to bring up to two liters of alcohol from their point of embarkation overseas for their own private consumption.
26. Brunei has never won a medal at the Olympics.
Despite having participated in the Summer Olympics since 1996, Brunei has never won a medal. The nation has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
26. The most popular sport in Brunei is football.
Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Brunei. Unfortunately, the Brunei men’s national football team has tasted very little success at the international level and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup or the AFC Asian Cup.
27. Brunei takes care of its citizens.
Citizens in Brunei receive free education and medical services from the government.
28. Brunei has no income tax.
One of the unique Brunei facts is that the nation does not levy any income tax on individuals. In addition, there is no sales tax or value-added tax (VAT) in Brunei. However, all citizens must contribute 5% of their salary to a state-managed provident fund.
29. Brunei built a monument to celebrate the billionth barrel of oil it produced.
Oil is the lifeline of Brunei and its economy. The onshore oil field at Seria in Brunei is one of the country’s most important oil fields. In 1991, a monument called the Billionth Barrel Monument was built to commemorate the billionth barrel of oil produced at the Seria oilfield.
30. There are no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Brunei.
Brunei is one of the few countries in the world without a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surprisingly, there are no sites on UNESCO’s tentative list either.
31. Brunei is home to the largest stilt settlement in the world.
Often dubbed as the “Venice of the East”, the Kampong Ayer is a historical settlement on the Brunei River. Founded over 1,000 years ago, Kampong Ayer consists of 42 adjoining stilt villages which house around 30,000 people. The buildings here are interconnected by 30 km (19 mi) of walkways and bridges creating a contiguous settlement.
Kampong Ayer is equipped with hospitals, shops, mosques, schools, a post office, restaurants, police stations, and a fire department, all above water. Homes here have piped water, electricity, and satellite TV. The meandering plankways of Kampung Ayer make it a major tourist destination in Brunei.
32. In 1963, Brunei was the only Malay state that decided not to join the federation that would later become Malaysia.
In 1963, Brunei elected to opt-out joining the planned Malaysian Federation (which also included Singapore), despite initially showing interest to join. This was because Brunei was reluctant to compromise its newfound oil wealth and the pre-eminence of its monarchy.
33. Brunei’s rainforests are home to some of the world’s rarest wildlife species.
For a small country, Brunei has managed to conserve 70% of its rainforests despite the pressures of development. The nation’s forests are home to some of the most threatened species of flora and fauna. The Clouded Leopard, Proboscis Monkey, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Bornean Slow Loris, Sun Bear, Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, and the Green-Crested Lizard are some of the most notable wildlife species found in Brunei.
34. For three days every year, Brunei’s royals host an open house where it is possible to personally meet members of the royal family.
During the Hari Raya Aidilfitri Celebration at the end of Ramadan each year, the Istana Nurul Iman Palace opens its doors to the public (non-Bruneians are welcome too) for three days. The Sultan of Brunei and the royal family receive members of the public at his palace in the morning and afternoon. No invitation is necessary, you just have to show up.
Bruneians dress in their finest for this occasion and wait in queues for hours to meet the royals as it is considered to bring luck to their households. Males only meet the male members of the family and females the corresponding female ones.
Each visitor is treated to a lavish buffet. Everyone also receives a gift box on the way out, containing a cake and a Hari Raya greeting card as a token of gratitude from the sultan.
35. The national flag of Brunei has four colors.
It consists of a yellow background with two diagonal bands of white (top, almost double width) and black starting from the upper hoist-side. The flag has the coat of arms of Brunei in the center, on a yellow field. The national flag of Brunei was adopted in 1959 when the country was a British protectorate and was retained when the country gained full independence in 1984.
The color yellow is traditionally the color of royalty in Southeast Asia and symbolizes the Sultanate. The white and black stripes represent the two chief ministers of Brunei who advise the sultan and serve as regents when he is unable to rule.
The red-colored coat of arms bears a crescent symbolizing Islam, and the central mast is a symbol of the state. The flag and umbrella are symbols of royalty, and the upturned hands signify the benevolence of the government. The Arabic motto on the crescent translates as “Always render service by God’s guidance”.
36. The national dish of Brunei is Ambuyat.
The national dish of Brunei is a bit of acquired taste to say the least! Ambuyat is a type of white starch made from the interior trunk of the sago palm. A mixture of white solids and water, ambuyat is consumed with two-pronged bamboo chopsticks known as ‘chandas’.
Ambuyat itself has a rather bland flavor so it is served with a spicy and sour dip called cacah. It is also eaten with a variety of side dishes such as grilled prawns, fish, beef and an assortment of vegetables.