Brunei: General Information

The oil- and gas-rich state of Brunei is officially called the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace (Negara Brunei Darussalam). It is a sovereign state located on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Apart from its coastline with the South China Sea, the country is completely surrounded by the state of Sarawak, Malaysia. Brunei is the only sovereign state completely on the island of Borneo; the remainder of the island’s territory is divided between the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia.

1. Bisaya woman
1. Bisaya woman

Various ethnicities are indigenous to Brunei and include the Belait, Brunei Bisaya, Dusun, Kedayan, Lun Bawang, indigenous Bruneian Malay, Murut and Tutong. In 2014, 65.7% of the population were Malay, 10.3% Chinese, 3.4% indigenous, with 20.6% smaller groups making up the rest. The official language of Brunei is Malay.

2. Dusun
2. Dusun

Islam is the official religion of Brunei, with two-thirds of the population adhering to it. Other faiths present are Buddhism (13%), Christianity (10%) and Freethinkers (ca. 7%).

3. Lun bawang
3. Lun bawang

Modern-day Bruneians still wear a style of traditional Malayan dress (see Malay baju kurung: General information) that has been in existence since the 15th century. The men wear  three different styles of this basic costume: the baju kurung cekak musang, the baju kurung teluk belanga and a third style especially for Brunei traditional dress with a handkerchief or a piece of cloth attached where the buttons are, however this is barely seen nowadays. Although the design of such garments once denoted social status, contemporary Bruneians tend to be less aware of these signifiers.


4. Murut
4. Murut


Brunei is one of Asia’s oldest kingdoms. Chinese records from the 10th century BCE refer to it as “Polo”, “Poni” or “Puni”.  At the peak of the Bruneian Empire, Sultan Bolkiah (reigned 1485–1528) is alleged to have had control over most regions of Borneo, including modern-day Sarawak and Sabah, as well as the Sulu archipelago off the northeast tip of Borneo, Seludong (modern-day Manila), and the islands off the northwest tip of Borneo. The conversion to Islam took place in the 16th century. By the end of the 19th century, however, most of its power had been lost in the colonial expansion of South-East Asia. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate and was assigned a British resident as colonial manager in 1906. The country was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. In 1959, a new constitution was written. In 1962, a small armed rebellion against the monarchy was ended with the help of the British. Brunei gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1st January, 1984.

Economic growth during the 1990s and 2000s, with the GDP increasing 56% from 1999 to 2008, transformed Brunei into an industrialised country. It has developed its wealth from its extensive petroleum and natural gas fields. Brunei has the second-highest Human Development Index among the Southeast Asia nations, after Singapore, and is classified as a “developed country”.

5. Bruneian wedding with various forms of baju kurung and baju cara melayu
5. Bruneian wedding with various forms of baju kurung and baju cara melayu

Women’s wear

The traditional Bruneian women’s costume includes the baju kurung (a long tunic over a long skirt). Nowadays, Bruneian women wear the baju kurung both at work and for formal occasions. Influenced by Islamic codes of dress, the costume will typically be accompanied by a headscarf (a tudung).

6. Tudung
6. Tudung

Men’s wear

Bruneian men wear the baju cara melayu (a tunic and long pants). The baju cara melayu is traditionally worn with a plaid or floral-patterned sarong (or Malayan kilt) called a sinjang, which extends from the waist to the knees.

8. Wrapping a sinjang
7. Wrapping a sinjang

Bruneian men traditionally wear a simple black hat called a songkok or a folded scarf called a dastar especially with ceremonial outfits.


8. Sonkok in various colours
8. Sonkok in various colours


9. Dastar & sinjang
9. Destar & sinjang



  1. Bisaya woman:
  2. Dusun:
  3. Lun bawang:
  4. Murut:
  5. Bruneian wedding with various forms of baju kurung and baju cara melayu:
  6. Tudung: By Zul from Brunei Darussalam. – Nabila Engagement., CC BY 2.0,
  7. Wrapping a sinjang:
  8. Sonkok in various colours:
  9. Dastar & sinjang:



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