Imperialism and Nationhood in Brunei
The focus here is on “non-Malay indigenous peoples.” Although the reader certainly grasps–more or less–what this expression refers to, Winzeler attempts in his introduction to deal with the Malay vs. non-Malay contrast in relation to the pervasive opposition of identities throughout the area–“traditional indigenous” vs. “mainstream national” (i.e., the State, cf. the book’s title). In Borneo, “Malay” polities emerged from coastal tribal groups that got involved in trade and so became connected to maritime networks. The current major world religious criterion, Islam, only came later.
These contributions investigate in great detail–from the pre-colonial to the colonial and to the modern nation-state period–the evolution of local and regional politics, economics, and policies regarding minorities, the ways in which these minorities adjusted and adapted to changing situations, and, ultimately, how they are coping with their present circumstances. These essays are fine-grained pieces of good scholarship, not the “Save-the-Noble-Savage” sort of literature now found everywhere, and, although some of the views held are deliberately provocative, they are convincingly argued.
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Brunei has long been associated with massive oil resources and the stability that its wealth can guarantee. But little is known of the revolt of 1962 which might have changed the fortunes of the sultanate and the fate of South East Asia. This is the first comprehensive history of the Brunei Rebellion, the trigger for the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation of the 60s and of critical importance in understanding the history of the region.
The revolt of 1962 was a small armed uprising in support of a Borneo Federation consisting of Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo. It opposed the Malaysian Federation, seen as a buttress of British and Western imperial interest. In a period of great tension between the West and the Communist world, China viewed the rebellion as a national liberation war and it was quickly suppressed by the British Emergency Force. But although the rebellion itself was short-lived, the consequences for the region’s international relations within Asia and with the West – especially given Brunei’s emergence as a significant oil-producer – were far-reaching.
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Brunei and Malaysia: Why Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Refused to Join the Federation [Forthcoming, October 2014]
by Isa Bin Ibrahim
Published by I. B. Tauris
Brunei, officially the State of Brunei Darussalam, is an oil-rich sovereign state in Southeast Asia, with 5th highest GDP per capita in the world. Formerly a British protectorate, in 1963 Brunei defied expectations and declined to join the federation of states which became Malaysia – a pivotal turning point in Brunei’s history which set the course for its future development. In this book, Isa Bin Ibrahim – a key player in the Sultan of Brunei’s delegation – provides an insider’s account of the 1963 negotiations and deliberations. He sheds new light on Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III’s relations with Tunku Abdul Rahman and explains why the British were so keen for Brunei to become part of the proposed federation, intending to create a counter-balance for Chinese power in the region. Through the author’s unique eyewitness perspective, the true story behind Brunei’s determination to retain its territorial integrity as a sovereign state is revealed for the first time.
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With the same nostalgic resonance consistent throughout, the book takes you through the shifting sands of time – including the birth of his people and his own childhood on the river, the instrumental role his father, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, played in maintaining Brunei’s independence, and his own entry into the life of ‘officialdom’ in the Government, steering the country by his brother’s side to where she is today. In recounting history, the gritty bits are not sidestepped. He talks about Brunei’s dilemma in the tug-of-war between the Malaysian Federation and the fight to keep together as a nation, the rebellion in 1962 involving a terrifying midnight siege on the Istana and the 1963 “Konfrontasi” inspired by communist extremists. The description of the devastation of the world wars and their global effects are atmospheric – first, World War II, and then the Cold War which was the casus belli of the turmoil and unstable conditions in South East Asia. What makes his side of the story interesting is that he, being in Foreign Affairs and then a Minister, was in the thick of it at the time.
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A reinterpretation of Sarawak history, “Power and Prowess” explores the network of power, economic and ritual relationships that developed on the northwest coast of Borneo in the mid-19th century, from which a coalition led by James Brooke established the state of Sarawak. Where many authors placed Brooke in the context of 19th-century British imperialism, this study perceives him in the context of Bornean cultures and political economies. Brooke emerges from the historical record as a “man of prowess”, with the author identifying important ritual sources of Brooke’s power among Malays, Bidayuh and Ibans, sources which derived from and expressed indigenous cultural traditions about fertility, health and status. Drawing on conceptual frameworks from political science, as well as recent southeast Asian historiography, the book offers a detailed political history of the period and new interpretations of Brooke’s career. This study also retrieves from the historical sources previously concealed narratives which reflect the interests, priorities and activities of Sarawak people themselves.
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