Brunei Darussalam’s customs and traditions are shaped by a unique syncretism of Islamic faith and its Malay identity. While Islam has significant influences on Brunei’s culture, the country’s customs and traditions, traditional ethnic cultures and values are equally as influential. Together, the traditional ethnic cultures and values make up the Bruneian hospitality. The two components are emphasised in the country’s national philosophy of Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB).
Bruneian Malay customs, values and tradition come to life incorporated with modern elements in Malay weddings. The bride and groom often don outfits incorporating the traditional and vibrant ‘kain tenunan’ and exchange gifts presented on silver or bronze trays called ‘gangsa.’ A traditional wedding consists of several rituals including akad nikah which is the solemnisation ceremony and bersanding which is considered the highlight of the wedding. Guests typically wear traditional attire known as baju cara melayu for men and baju kurung for women.
Baju cara melayu and baju kurung are also worn during special occasions such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri following a month of fasting during Ramadhan. Hari Raya is considered an opportunity for family and friends to reconnect and forgive each other. Family members traditionally engage in a salam (handshake) in accordance to the Malay culture to ask for forgiveness. The salam is usually initiated by the younger of the two by bending down until their forehead comes in contact with the other person’s hand as a sign of respect. Alternatively, the younger may bend down and kiss the elderly’s hand.
Bruneian customs are also incorporated into the daily lives of its people through everyday etiquette, one of which is to bend slightly when walking past an elderly person to show respect. It is tradition for Bruneians to eat with their hands, particularly with the right as the left hand is considered unhygienic. Pointing at objects with the index finger is also considered impolite, especially when pointing at people. It is common practice for Bruneians to point with their thumb, while the four fingers are folded in a way that resembles a fist.
Shaking hands is common practice but only between those of the same gender, given that it is not customary for Muslims of different genders to have physical contact. Public displays of affection are recommended to be kept at minimum, and Bruneians also tend to dress modestly.
All in all, Bruneians are a tightly knit conservative community with strong family values, known to be warm and friendly towards visitors from all walks of life.
Copyright 1993 Borneo Bulletin Yearbook All rights reserved.