Brunei Darussalam’s customs and traditions are shaped by the nation’s unique syncretism of the Islamic faith and its Malay identity. Islam was first introduced to Brunei in the 14th Century, and the religion grew when the nation’s first ruler Sultan Muhammad Shah converted to a Muslim. From that point, Islam has become an important factor in constructing the way of life of Bruneians.
While the religion has significant influences on Brunei’s culture, 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 MIB.
The preservation of Brunei’s unique and elaborate customs is helmed by the Department of Adat Istiadat Negara. 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 and vibrant kain tenunan and exchange gifts presented on silver or bronze trays called gangsa. Each district has its own distinct ceremonies, such as the tradition of basuh kaki (washing feet) practised by the Tutong residents. In this ceremony, newlyweds rest their feet on a whetstone and a machete, followed by guests pouring water over the bride and groom’s feet and presenting an envelope filled with money as a gift.
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. While it is a tradition for Bruneians to eat without using utensils, it is also a common practice to eat with the right hand only as eating with the left hand is considered unhygienic. Pointing at objects with the index finger of one’s hand is considered impolite, especially when pointing at people. It is a common practice for Bruneians to point with their thumb instead of the index finger.
Shaking hands is a 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 the minimum.
All in all, Bruneians are a tightly knit, conservative community, known to be warm and friendly towards visitors from all walks of life.
Copyright 2019 Borneo Bulletin Yearbook 2019 All rights reserved.