BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
THE 19th century was a difficult and critical era for the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. His Majesty Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin ibn Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien II, the 25th Sultan of Brunei Darussalam (1885-1906), inherited Brunei which comprised an area including Modern Brunei plus the districts of Limbang and Pandaruan.
The Sultan was a witness to the country’s deterioration – economically, legally and politically – particularly since the arrival of British James Brooke in Sarawak in 1839. The British had begun to collect taxes in the Tulin territories in North Borneo which had been sold by the Wazirs and Cheterias, even Sultan Hashim himself, to the British North Borneo Company and Sarawak at the end of the century.
Before 1906, Brunei’s property rights were closely linked to the feudal system and its customs (adat). As mentioned in History for Brunei Darussalam: Sharing Our Past – Secondary 1 & 2, territories under the Brunei Sultanate at that time were governed in line with traditional land rights, comprising Kerajaan, Tulin, and Kuripan.
The Kerajaan territorial rights were the property of the Sultan, who held sole authority over Brunei territories which were administered by his officials. The Sultan also had the right to collect taxes from the holders of Tulin and Kuripan.
The Tulin territorial rights were those given to the members of royal families which were hereditary. The money earned from these lands belonged to the head of the family. The Kuripan territorial rights were those granted by the Sultan to important officials such as the Wazirs and Cheterias by virtue of their office, but they were not hereditary. They were handed down to the next official. Money earned from these lands provided the salary for that official.
Another territorial rights was the Monopoly Rights which were mainly controlled by Chinese businessmen. They had gained the rights to collect taxes on items such as rubber, tobacco and opium by advancing cash payments to the Sultan.
Sultan Hashim sold his Tulin territories apparently in order to finance the Sultanate as it was becoming economically weak. British Charles Brooke used this critical moment to annex the area of Limbang in Sarawak. In his efforts to regain the land, Sultan Hashim asked for help from the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid. In his letter to the Sultan of Ottoman, Sultan Hashim wrote, “My lands and the Religion of Islam have been destroyed by the infidel and one of my land named Limbang has been seized by the infidel, namely Charles Brooke in Sarawak.” But the letter was never been received or read by Sultan Abdul Hamid after a British spy confiscated it.
When the Land Enactment was introduced by the first British Resident Malcolm McArthur in 1907, these traditional land rights were abolished. The enactment required that all personal incomes earned from these territories become state revenue. Meanwhile, the government bought back the Monopoly Rights from the Chinese businessmen with a large loan obtained from the Federated Malay States. The Land Enactment of 1907 was replaced with the Land Codes in 1909.
“Under that enactment, all personal income earned through payments on territories as well as revenues from farms or trading monopolies became state revenue. A system of land codes was introduced the following year where land was systematically transferred with proper land grants and titles,” Rozan Yunos wrote in his article on the history of rubber plantation in Brunei (The Brunei Times, April 27, 2008).
The Residential System (1906-1959) brought many changes and improvements including the discovery of oil in Seria (1929); the introduction of a land policy with the issuance of land grants and title; the formation of departments in the government; the division of Brunei into four districts, including its mukims and villages; as well as the guarantee of the dynastic line of Sultan Hashim and the survival of the line of succession until today. It also prevented the Brookes or the Dutch to gain territorial control over Brunei.
However, it weakened the Sultan’s power as the British Resident assumed more executive control and disrupted traditional responsibilites and rights of Wazirs and Cheterias, forcing them to give up their land rights and privileges.
The British did not even assist Brunei in recovering Limbang; and now, Limbang is a thorn in modern Brunei-Malaysia relationship.
The Brunei Times
Sunday, August 9, 2009