Brunei Darussalam, meaning “Brunei the Abode of Peace,” is a tiny kingdom, surrounded by Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 most interesting facts about Brunei.
1. Brunei is an oil-rich country.
An intresting fact about Brunei is that its oil and gas exports are responsible for the country having one of the top ten GDPs per capita. Oil production peaked in 1979 at 240,000 barrels per day, but efforts to conserve oil have brought it down to 200,000 per day currently. The Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) company and its associated companies are the biggest employers after the government. It is half-owned by Royal Dutch Shell plc., which gets much of its oil from Brunei. There is only one refinery in Brunei, which is owned by BSP and has capacity for 10,000 barrels per day.
2. The Sultan of Brunei is one of the wealthiest people in the world.
The net worth of Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah is estimated at $20 billion, making him one of the wealthiest people in the world. He has a passion for high-performance cars, and his collection of over 7,000 is said to include 600 Rolls Royces and over 300 Ferraris. Some of his vehicles have probably lasted longer than his wives. In 1965 the sultan married his first cousin, Princess Seleha, but they later divorced. He married an air stewardess, and then a talk show hostess who was 33 years younger than him.
3. Brunei is one of the least populous countries in the world.
The population of Brunei is less than 450,000, making it the 175th most populous country in the world. 66% of the population is Malay and Muslim. There is a significant Chinese minority of 11%, most of whom are not citizens, a fun fact about Brunei.
4. The nation is suffering an epidemic of obesity.
A 2016 survey found 30% of adults in Brunei to be obese, and 17% of adolescents. The same study showed childhood obesity to be increasing at 1% per annum. More than 60% of the patients at the Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital’s Obesity Clinic are women wanting to lose weight to fall pregnant. On World Obesity Day, the Minister of Health warned, “Brunei Darussalam is currently experiencing an obesity epidemic, and without a swift reversal, premature deaths from cardiovascular diseases will continue to rise, families will suffer, and there will be a severe impact to our economic development.”
5. It is renowned for its beautiful mosques.
The country is renowned for its beautiful mosques, which vary in style from traditional to ultra-modern. The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is considered one of the most beautiful mosques in Asia Pacific. Finished in 1958, it is an example of modern Islamic architecture with Mughul and Malay influences. Inside, it is luxuriously decorated with carpets from Saudi Arabia and British chandeliers. Outside, it is surrounded by floral gardens and a man-made lagoon. It is open to the public outside of prayer times and is one of the most visited sights in the city.
6. Alcohol is forbidden in Brunei.
Brunei is one of the most observant countries in Asia. An interesting Brunei fact is that no alcohol may be sold or publicly consumed. Non-Muslims are permitted to bring a maximum of two liters of alcohol into the country. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is started with a public holiday, and eating in public during the day is forbidden.
7. Bruneians have free education.
The citizens of Brunei receive free education at all levels, and the adult literacy rate in Brunei is a staggering 98%, a fun fact about Brunei. The country’s history as a British protectorate has resulted in elements of the British education system being adopted. A 7-3-2-2 pattern of education is followed. Seven years of primary school with three years of secondary education, after which the students are streamed into either vocational/skills training or academic studies. The latter leading to the equivalent of the British O and A-levels where examinations are conducted jointly by Cambridge University’s Local Examinations Syndicate and Brunei’s Ministry of Education. The University of Brunei Darussalam was opened in 1985 and offers undergraduate and a few post-graduate courses.
8. Japan occupied Brunei after they bombed Pearl Harbor.
In December 1941, Japan entered World War II by bombing Pearl Harbor. Immediately afterward, they attacked the island of Borneo to access the oil reserves in Sarawak and Brunei. Both countries were British protectorates but had no sea or air defense, and only a small detachment of the Punjab regiment to secure the area. The British had, however, taken the precaution of filling the oil wells with concrete in September 1941. On hearing of the invasion of Pearl Harbor, all equipment at the oilfields and the refinery in Sarawak was destroyed. By the end of the war, Japan had only managed to regain half the pre-war oil production level.
9. The kingdom was a British protectorate until 1984.
Brunei became a British protectorate in 1888, briefly interrupted by the Japanese invasion during World War II. It attained independence on January 1, 1984, an interesting Brunei fact.
10. In 2013 sharia law was introduced to Brunei.
In 2014, the sultan announced that sharia law would be phased into Brunei. The sharia law penal code advocates the death penalty for acts of sodomy, infidelity, blasphemy, and abortion. (The death penalty was already in place for murder and drug trafficking but has not been imposed since the 1990s.) Celebrities such as Elton John, Jay Leno, and George Clooney, amongst others, were vocal in their disapproval and instituted a boycott of the sultan’s Dorchester Hotel Group. In July 2019, reacting to harsh criticism from the international community, the sultan declared the death penalty would not be applied to acts of homosexuality.
The sultanate of Brunei is a wealthy country with a good standard of living, but aspects of its human rights are alarming.
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