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History of Brunei

People have lived in the region that makes up modern day Brunei for thousands of years, however little is known about these early people as they didn't record their history. The people's closest contacts were the Chinese so the Chinese have some records of the general region's history. It seems the most likely people that ruled over the region in the 1200-1400s were the Po-ni, but this can't be confirmed. What is known is that the people of the region were primarily ethnic Malays with strong Hindu and Chinese influence, much as is the situation today.

Most historical account point to a history that claims in the early 1400s the people were ruled by a series of Sultans, who had close ties to the Chinese. Most people also tend to agree that they people converted to Islam in about the 1400s due to Malacca influence, with whom the people had strong ties.

What is known is that in 1511 the Portuguese took the Kingdom of Malacca and many of the Muslim traders fled; it is believed many of these traders settled in the region of Brunei, encouraging the grown of Islam. This led to expanded trade in the late 1400s as the sultan's control stretched over much of the coast. This influence peaked in 1521 the year the sultan, Bolkiah died and the year Ferdinand Magellan's ship landed in Brunei. This is when the country's written history begins, with the descriptions by the Portuguese of the wealth of the region upon their arrival.

From this point through the 1800s the European powers settled in the regions of Southeast Asia, but for the most part left Brunei alone. There were a couple conflicts with the Portuguese as the people regularly fought with the Spanish. The Spanish slowly took numerous lands in the region, including the city of Manila (in the Philippines) in 1571, which was at the time controlled by Brunei and Brunei itself in 1578. The Spanish soon after left though, returning to the Philippines.

What the Spanish did do was destroy the trade that Brunei took part in as the Spanish and other European powers began to control the seas. From this point into the 1800s Brunei was a small sultanate that lived on trade, which was weakened and didn't recover for centuries.

In 1839 independent British explorers arrived to the region to help put down a revolt. This led to further British intervention as one of these explorers sought to take the region as his own. This led to Britain getting officially involved as they entered the region in 1846 and took Brunei Town. This led to the forfeiture of lands to the British, a trend that continued as the sultans of Brunei lost all of Sarawak and eventual led to the region becoming a British protectorate in 1888.

During World War II the Japanese invaded and took the region from the British, but the region was liberated by the Australians in 1945. Despite this the British continued to control the region until 1959 when the sultan of Brunei gained control over domestic affairs and in 1984 the sultan gained full sovereignty over Brunei.

Under British control oil was founded in Brunei and since the country has gained increasing amounts of wealth as the money is used for domestic growth, but also adds to the sultan's personal wealth.

In 2004 a parliament was re-introduced, but this elected body has yet to gain great control or power from the sultan, who continues to rule with no true adversaries. Despite his full control on power, the current sultan, Sultan Bolkiah, has seemed willing to listen to the people and alters his policies and government leaders accordingly.

This page was last updated: July, 2012