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The Commonwealth
Brunei Darussalam



Did you know:

Brunei Darussalam is a monarchy.

Scholarships for doctoral study are awarded by Brunei Darussalam to citizens of other Commonwealth countries under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1984
Population: 418,000 (2013)
GDP: –0.5% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 30
Official language: Malay
Timezone: GMT plus 8hr
Currency: Brunei dollar (Br$)


Area: 5,765 sq km
Coastline: 161km
Capital city: Bandar Seri Begawan
Population density (per sq. km): 73

Brunei Darussalam (Brunei – ‘Abode of Peace’) is a small state in South-East Asia on the north-west coast of the island of Borneo, in the Indonesian Archipelago. Its 161 km coastline faces the South China Sea. On the land side, it is enclosed by the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which divides it in two.

The districts of Brunei–Muara, Tutong and Belait make up the larger, western part of the country; Temburong district the east.

Main towns:

Bandar Seri Begawan (capital, pop. 76,200 in 2009, comprising Kampong Ayer 42,500), Kuala Belait (28,400), Seria (28,300), Tutong (21,500), Muara and Bangar.


The country has 3,030 km of roads, 81 per cent paved. The main deep-water port is at Muara, with a dedicated container terminal. The Brunei, Belait and Tutong rivers provide an important means of transport. Passenger vessels and water-taxis run between the shallow draught port at Bandar Seri Begawan, Temburong district, and the Malaysian port of Limbang. Brunei International Airport is six km north-east of the capital.

International relations:

Brunei Darussalam is a member of Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, United Nations and World Trade Organization.


The coastal plain is intersected by rivers descending from the hilly hinterland. To the east are mountains, the highest point being Bukit Pagon at 1,812m. Most towns and villages are beside estuaries.


Tropical, with high humidity and heavy rainfall. There is no distinct wet season; the wettest months are January and November. Much of the rain falls in sudden thundery showers.


The most significant environmental issue is seasonal smoke/haze resulting from forest fires in Indonesia.


Mangrove swamps lie along the coast, and forest covers 72 per cent of the land area, a large part of this being primary forest, dense in places and of great genetic diversity. There are 15 forest reserves, covering about 40 per cent of the total land area. The government plans to increase the area of the forest reserves. Around 15 per cent of the land area is cultivated.


Most of the mammals are small and nocturnal, including tree shrews, moon rats and mouse deer. There are numerous bird species, especially hornbills. Some 33 mammal species and 22 bird species are thought to be endangered (2014).


The pre-Islamic history of Brunei is unclear, but archaeological evidence shows the country to have been trading with the Asian mainland as early as CE 518. Islam became predominant during the 14th century and the Brunei Sultanate rose to prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it controlled coastal areas of North-West Borneo, parts of Kalimantan and the Philippines. The Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish began arriving after the 16th century. Brunei lost outlying possessions to the Spanish and the Dutch and its power gradually declined as the British and Dutch colonial empires expanded.

In the 19th century the Sultan of Brunei sought British support in defending the coast against Dayak pirates, and ennobled James Brooke, a British adventurer, as Rajah of Sarawak in 1839. The British proceeded to annex the island of Labuan in 1846. North Borneo became a British protected state in 1888 and Brunei voluntarily accepted the status of a British protected state under the Sultan, with Britain having charge of its foreign relations. The loss of Limbang district to Sarawak in 1890 split Brunei into two and remains an obstacle to good relations with Malaysia to this day.

In 1906 a treaty was signed between Britain and Brunei making Brunei a full protectorate. The treaty assured the succession of the ruling dynasty, with the arrangement that a British resident would advise the Sultan on all matters except those concerning local customs and religion.

In 1929 large resources of oil were discovered in Seria; these and subsequent discoveries made Brunei a wealthy country. In 1959 a written constitution was introduced, giving Brunei internal self- rule and allowing for a legislative council. The residency agreement of 1906 was revoked, transferring the resident’s power to the Sultan and appointed officials below him.

During 1962 there were sporadic and unsuccessful attempts at rebellion, instigated by the North Borneo Liberation Army. These were put down with the help of British Gurkha units flown in from Singapore and the Sultan declared a state of emergency. This has been renewed every two years since.

In the 1960s, Brunei considered merging with the Federation of Malaysia, which at the time included the provinces of the Malaysian peninsula, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. The idea was opposed by the Brunei People’s Party, which at that time held 16 seats in the 33-member legislative council, and which proposed instead the creation of a state comprising Northern Borneo, Sarawak and Sabah. The Sultan finally decided against joining the Federation.

In 1971, under an agreement with the UK, Brunei ceased to be a British protected state. The constitution was amended to give the Sultan full control over all internal matters, the UK retaining responsibility for defence and foreign affairs. Brunei became a fully independent sovereign state on 1 January 1984.

Grainger's World - The Kingdom of Brunei

The Birth of Brunei

15 Things You Didn't Know About Sultan Of Brunei (Hassanal Bolkiah)

Learn more about Brunei Darussalam on The Commonwealth site Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Brunei Tourism Promotional Video

Brunei (Asia) Vacation Travel Video Guide

Brunei Darussalam (2017)

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