Brunei Darussalam is Asia's wealthiest country. Rich reserves of oil and natural gas bring the tinny sultanate an annual revenue of US$ 5 billion dollars. Serene in its unobtrusive wealth, this is the Abode of Peace, Islam's seventh, most choicest heaven, which is what Darussalam means.
To call Brunei rich would be an understatement.
Centuries back, the sultanate was already on familiar terms with gold.
Until the 18th Century, its hills yielded the precious metal which adorned
Sultan's palace on land, as well as commoners' houses built over the water.
Now the gold fields have been exhausted and are replaced today by black
gold drawn from Brunei's watery depths--oil.
In flavour and tradition, the Bruneian is Malay. malay courtesy and distinguished manners, their gentleness and their sudden passions, are facets well described by W. Somerset Maugham, once a visitor to Brunei.
The anachronism of being a tiny nation living out its days in peace to suddenly emerge from its sequestered cocoon as an oil-rich and envied , albeit dot on the map, is not lost on its people.
The State of Brunei is bounded on three
sides and divided across the middle by Sarawak. Each town along this stretch
of short coast has its own unique character. Bandar Seri Begawan is Brunei's
seat of power. Here, wealth's accoutrements are self-evident, from the
golf-leaf dome of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, to Kampong Ayer's
stilt homes housing a large number of the Town's population. High-tech
and enormous spending on roads and buildings all over BSB nonetheless blend
comfortably with the Brunei Town that Maugham described decades ago.
Throughout the drive to Tutong, vast amounts of pristine white sand appear on the sides of the road. This sand is silica, 20 million tons of high grade mineral which a prudent government has chosen not to tap yet but to defer as a contingency source of revenue at some later date in their history.
67 miles from the capital is Seria in the Belait district. "Nodding donkeys"-- used to pump the oil from the off shore rigs to the refineries on land, are interspersed among neat rows of bungalows and oil storage tanks.
While it is estimated that well over 70 per cent of the state is covered with equatorial rain forests, Brunei is content to leave this timber resource also untouched. Strict forestry laws ban the exportation of logs, allowing only processed timber for local consumption. With characteristic foresight, in the few areas where trees are felled, reforestation is already taking place.
Agriculturally, while 20 per cent of the
land is arable, only 15 per cent is under cultivation. The only agricultural
items that Brunei does produce in export quantities are black pepper and
rubber. However, rubber plantation has decelerated in recent years as world
prices have fallen and will so remain until such time when the government
feels that this natural resource will fetch more handsome prices. Sago
production is active in the Belait district and more than meets the local
Adapted from Brunei: Abode of Peace
The Sultan of Brunei