Brunei | Facts and History

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Szczepanski, Kallie. "Brunei | Facts and History." ThoughtCo, Mar. 10, 2015, Szczepanski, Kallie. (2015, March 10). Brunei | Facts and History. Retrieved from Szczepanski, Kallie. "Brunei | Facts and History." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 22, 2017).
Mosque in the morning light. Tan Yilmaz via Getty Images

Capital and Major Cities:

Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan, population 140,000

Major Cities:

Kuala Belait, 38,000

Seria, 35,400

Jerudong, 30,000

Tutong, 27,500


In theory, the government of Brunei is a constitutional sultanate, but in practice the sultan wields absolute power as the head of government and of the state. A state of emergency has been in place since 1962, providing the sultan with many powers outside of those granted in the 1959 constitution.

The current sultan is His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, who has been in power since his father's abdication in 1967.

Brunei's executive branch consists of five councils, all headed by the sultan: the Privy Council, the Council of Succession, the Legislative Council, the Religious Council, and the Council of Ministers. The 36-member parliament, or Majlis Mesyuarat Negera, is supposed to be elected by the people according to the constitution, but since 1970 the sultan has appointed all of the members.

Brunei's two-part legal system is based on English common law and sharia; Islamic law is applied in matters of divorce, adultery and other family law issues. Despite the basis in English law, Brunei does not have jury trials. Instead, a single judge hears and decides cases, unless the charge is a capital crime, in which case two judges sit in a panel to decide the case.


The total population of Brunei is about 409,000 people. About 67% are ethnically Malay, 16% Chinese, almost 12% Indian, European or Filipino, and 6% indigenous groups. The indigenous peoples include the Iban, an ocean-going subgroup of the Dayak people, the Dusun and the Melanau.


Brunei's official language is standard Malay, although most people use a divergent dialect called Melayu Brunei as their primary spoken language. The two dialects have many cognates, but are mutually unintelligible for the most part.

Minority languages include Iban, Dusun, Murut, Kedayan, and Tutong. Many citizens and resident expatriots speak Chinese or English, as well.


Islam is the official religion of Brunei, and about 66% of Bruneians are Muslim. Buddhists make up about 13%, including most of the ethnic Chinese population. In addition, approximately 10% of the population are Christians, mainly among people of European descent.


Brunei is a small country on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, with a total area of 5,765 square kilometers (2,226 square miles). Brunei occupies a portion of the northern coast totaling about 1% of the island; it borders only on Malaysia, although the southern three-quarters of the island belong to Indonesia. Brunei consists of two separate sections, with the vast majority of the population concentrated in the larger, western section of land.

The topography of Brunei is mostly flat and covered with rainforest, although the eastern sector has a few mountains.

The highest point in Brunei is Bukit Pagon, at 1,850 meters (6,070 feet), while the lowest point is sea level. Only about 2% of the land is arable, and less than 1% is under permanent crops.


A tropical equatorial climate prevails in Brunei, so the weather is warm and humid year-round. The average high temperature during the year is 28.3°C (83°F), while the average low temperature is 26.2°C (79°F). December tends to be the rainiest month, with an average of 343.5 mm (13.5 inches) of rain.


Brunei's thriving economy depends upon oil and natural gas extraction, which accounts for 90% of the nation's GDP. It has the ninth-highest per capita GDP in the world, at $49,400 US.

The unemployment rate in Brunei is an eviable 2.7%, and the number of people living below the poverty line is negligible.

1 Bruneian dollar = $.79 US as of July 2012.

History of Brunei:

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, records are scarce on the early history of Brunei. For the most part, history before the 15th century is actually a loose reinterpretation of Chinese legends about the area.

Reliable Chinese records indicate that Zheng He's second voyage as the leader of the Ming Treasure Fleet stopped in Brunei at some point between 1407 and 1409, returning with the King of Brunei to Nanking. The king paid homage to the Yongle Emperor, and then died. His tomb was rediscovered in the old Ming capital during the 20th century.

The king's son returned from Nanking to Brunei with the Ming fleet's third voyage in 1409. However, China was not the only foreign land with a major influence on the kingdom of Brunei. By about 1450, traders from the kingdom of Malacca had introduced Islam to Brunei.

In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca, and Muslim refugee traders and merchants fled to Brunei. However, Brunei would suffer the same fate in 1521 at the hands of Ferdinand Magellan and his crew.

The Portuguese were incredulous at the great wealth of Brunei's people, who wore gold-embroidered silk clothing and dripped with pearls and gems. As welcome trading partners, the Portuguese ate from beautiful porcelain dishes and rode richly caparisoned elephants to their audiences with the sultan. Relations with the Spanish were far colder, particularly after Spain captured Manila (now the capital of the Philippines) and expelled the ruling Bruneian family there in 1571. Spain tried to invade Brunei proper in 1578, but had to retreat after a deadly outbreak of disease.

Brunei retained its independence until 1846, when the British grabbed control over the territory after an internal disagreement over the succession. Brunei was formally made a British protectorate in 1888, and remained so until 1984.

In 1941, however, British control of Brunei was interrupted. The Japanese Imperial Army overran the territory with just 10,000 men, and held the area until June of 1945.

Brunei formally became independent on January 1, 1984.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Szczepanski, Kallie. "Brunei | Facts and History." ThoughtCo, Mar. 10, 2015, Szczepanski, Kallie. (2015, March 10). Brunei | Facts and History. Retrieved from Szczepanski, Kallie. "Brunei | Facts and History." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 22, 2017).