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. The religion grew among the citizens when the nation’s first ruler, Awang Alak Betatar, converted to a Islam and changed his name to Sultan Muhammad Shah. From that point, Islam has become an important factor in 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 Bruneian hospitality. The two components are emphasised in the country’s national philosophy of Malay Islamic Monarchy.
The preservation of Brunei’s unique and elaborate customs is helmed by the Adat Istiadat Negara Department. 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. For example, those from Tutong practise the tradition of ‘basuh kaki’ (washing feet). 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. 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.
Pointing at objects with the index finger of one’s hand is considered impolite in Brunei, especially when pointing at people. It is common practice for Bruneians to point with their thumb instead of the index finger.
Shaking hands is also common practice but only between those of the same gender, given that 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.
All in all, Bruneians are a tightly knit, conservative community, known to be warm and friendly towards visitors.
Copyright 2019 Borneo Bulletin Yearbook 2019 All rights reserved.