Brunei Darussalam’s customs and traditions are shaped by the nation’s unique syncretism of the Islamic faith and its Malay identity.
Introduced in the 14th Century, Islam in Brunei flourished due to the nation’s first ruler, Awang Alak Betatar, who later changed his name to Sultan Muhammad Shah following his conversion to Islam.
From then on, religion has become an important factor in constructing the way of life of Bruneians. While Islam has significant influences on culture, customs and traditions, traditional ethnic cultures and values are equally as influential. Together, they make up the Bruneian hospitality. These two components are emphasised in the country’s national philosophy of Malay Muslim Monarchy.
The preservation of Brunei’s unique and elaborate customs is helmed by the Jabatan Adat Istiadat. Some of the functions of the department include upholding religious protocols and dress code of royal ceremonies.
In Brunei Malay weddings, Bruneian Malay customs come to life incorporated with modern elements. The bride and groom often don outfits incorporating the traditional ‘Kain Tenunan’ and exchange gifts presented on silver or bronze trays called ‘Gangsa.’ Each district has its own distinct ceremonies. For example, those from Tutong practice the tradition of ‘Basuh Kaki’ (washing feet). In this ceremony, newlyweds put their feet on top of each other. Guests pour water over the bride and groom’s feet and present an envelope filled with money.
Apart from weddings, Bruneian customs are incorporated into the daily lives of its people through every day etiquette. For example, it is common courtesy to bend slightly when walking past an elderly person. While it is tradition for Bruneians to eat with their fingers, Bruneians only eat with their right hand. Eating with their left hand is considered unhygienic.
Bruneians consider pointing at objects or people with the index finger as impolite. Alternatively, Bruneians point with their thumbs.
Shaking hands is also a common practice, but only between those of the same gender, as it is not customary for Muslims of different genders to physically touch each other. Public displays of affection are recommended to be kept at minimum.
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