Welcome to a very special edition of Neue Routes.
For two Sundays (December 6 & December 13, 2020) – the public “travelled back in time” (well, sort of) by making stops at a number of spots around the Brunei capital. With the help of actors from Medley House Productions, the public was given a glimpse of what life was like in the olden days.
For this article, the Neue team reached out to Rozan Yunos, who has written around 300 articles on Brunei’s history in his column, ‘The Golden Legacy’, in The Brunei Times. He is also the man behind the ever-popular @bruneiheritage.by.rozanyunos Instagram page that documents all things related to Brunei culture, history & heritage.
For those of you who missed out on the Immersive History Walk during The Tiny Lit Fest, here’s your chance to go on your own little tour. (Map included!)#1. The Abandoned HSBC Headquarters
We begin our journey here at ‘The Corner’ along Jalan Sultan (now renamed as Jalan Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien) just opposite the now-abandoned Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) Headquarters in Bandar Seri Begawan.
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Interestingly, HSBC was the first bank set up here in Brunei soon after the war in 1947. However, it wasn’t until June 1974 that HSBC moved to its new HQ at the corner of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Pemancha that we are all familiar with.
Take a good look around and try to picture how life was like way back when.
According to Rozan, Jalan Sultan was literally red during Chinese New Year and considered as “China Town”, well … that was back in the 1950s.
“Lion dances and firecrackers were everywhere along Jalan Sultan – from that stretch all the way to the Customs building,” he said, adding that most of the shops along this stretch of road were run by Chinese businessmen back in the day.
When asked why this was so, Rozan said: “Remember when you go back to history, back in 1906 when the British Resident wanted to move the people from Kampong Ayer to dry land, the Malays did not want to take it. It was mostly the Chinese, some of whom had established business operations in the water village.”
#2. Jalan Cator
As you walk past the multi-storey car park along Jalan Cator, try picturing a wet market here. It was indeed a hive of activity. “Back in the day, everybody would come to this wet market,” said Rozan.
Now take a look at the main bus terminal. Did you know there was just a bus stop around here way back when?
#3. Bolkiah Cinema
Take a stroll down the street to check out the now-abandoned Bolkiah Cinema.
One interesting bit about the Bolkiah Cinema is that the Art Deco design is exactly the same as another theatre in Kuala Belait called ‘Capitol’. However, you won’t be able to find the Capitol theatre in KB Town these days, as it’s literally just grassland right now.
“Most people do not realise this but if you go to the front of Bolkiah Cinema, you’ll see a very nice Art Deco, which is located at the arch right where the entrance is,” said Rozan.
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#4. Kianggeh River
Take a look across the street from Bolkiah Cinema. This is Kianggeh. Did you know that in the 1820s, coal was found in the Kianggeh River?
Rozan talked about this in his blog citing a 2006 article – “Nationalist Science and International Academic Travel in the Early Nineteenth Century: Geological Surveys and Global Economics, 1800-1840” – written by Adam R Nelson.
“Britain’s demand for coal to run steam-powered vessels mounted steadily in the 1830s and became a strategic preoccupation of its geological surveys around the world. In this context, the British and the Americans frequently clashed over mineral deposits in far-flung places,” Adam wrote.
According to Rozan, the discovery of coal was what made Brunei a place of interest to many European countries. And that’s why Brunei had an agreement with the Americans in the 1850s.
“Remember, the only way for ships to move back then was using steam, and they had to burn coal. In fact, they needed coal centres everywhere,” he said. “It was never about oil. It was about the importance of coal.”
#5. Jasra Harrison “First Land Deed”
From the Bolkiah Cinema, take a short stroll down to the corner of Kianggeh to check out the Jasra Harrison building.
According to Rozan, this building that you see right before your eyes is of great significance because the first land deed was awarded to Jasra Harrison.
#6. Jalan McArthur
Did you know that a few streets in Bandar Seri Begawan were named in memory after the British Residents and officers in memory of their contributions to the country?
For instance, Jalan McArthur was named after Malcolm Stewart Hannibal McArthur, who was the first British Resident in Brunei (1906-1908).
According to Rozan, he was the one who basically “saved” Brunei from being “swallowed by Sarawak” by providing the Brunei Report of 1904 to the British.
Another was Jalan Stoney named after B. O. Stoney who was Acting Resident in 1909.
Jalan Pretty is named after E. E. F. Pretty who was Resident in 1923, 1926, 1928 and finally from 1948 to 1951.
Jalan Chevalier (today’s Jalan Pemancha) was named after H. Chevalier who was Resident in 1909 to 1913.
Jalan Cator was named after G. E. Cator who was Resident from 1916 to 1921.
Two other European named streets in Brunei – Jalan Roberts was named after E. Roberts, the first head of Public Works in 1906 and Jalan James Pearce was named after the first Director of Education in the 1950s.
#7. Customs Building
Take a stroll down Jalan McArthur (towards the Yayasan building). Did you know that this area used to be the centre of Brunei?
Rozan told Neue that the wharf in the capital used to be the main wharf before Muara. “This is why the commercial area near the wharf was very busy those days,” he said.
The Old Customs Building that you see standing today was among the first buildings constructed under the country’s first 5-Year National Development Plan.
Did you know that the old Chinese temple was also located somewhere around the waterfront area? The first Chinese Temple in Bandar Brunei was built in 1918, according to a research paper written by Carrie C Brown and published in a collection of articles entitled “From Buckfast to Borneo”.
“Surprisingly, the first Chinese temple survived the bombing,” said Rozan. “However, it was relocated because the wharf needed to be expanded.”
The new Chinese temple was built facing Sungai Kianggeh where it is located currently.
#8. Yayasan Shopping Complex
Did you know that Tamu Kianggeh that you know of today (near the Borneo Cinema) was never ever the “original” tamu?
“Tamu Kianggeh is not new per se,” said Rozan. “The original tamu was located where the air-con chillers for the Yayasan Shopping Complex are. This was where the big tamu was. In fact, the tamu expanded to the padang where Taman SOAS is now.”
In preparation for Brunei’s Independence, around 1980-1981 people started to make plans on how best to change the entire concept of Brunei town. And this was why tamu traders back then were moved out to Batu Satu (the area where Badiah Hotel is currently located) for about a year or two.
It was only when Kianggeh Tamu was constructed (across Borneo Cinema that we know of today) that tamu traders moved back. “So a lot of people may think that Kianggeh Tamu has been there for years. It hasn’t been there for years. It was from 20 over years ago,” Rozan said.
Fun fact: Did you know that prior to the construction of the Yayasan Shopping Complex, this entire stretch was where people from the water village resided? What you see here today is all reclaimed land.
#9. Jalan Roberts (Colourful Buildings / Borneo Cinema)
Did you know that before the First World War, there was one cinema but it was destroyed during the war?
“It was rebuilt as the Boon Pang and later on in Bandar, there were three – the Boon Pang, the Bolkiah and the Borneo, the latter two built in the 1950s. The Boon Pang is now gone and replaced by the BIBD building,” Rozan said in his ‘Brunei Resources’ blog.
As you walk past the now-abandoned “Panggong Borneo” Cinema, try picturing all these ‘lorongs’ (alleys) near the New Hong Kong Salon (which was featured in our last article – “A Walk Through Historical Bandar Brunei”) – filled with food stalls.
“In the 1960s, people would usually check out these food stalls before or after catching a movie,” said Rozan. “You have to remember … back then, if you wanted to go to town, this was basically it.”
However, by the 1970s, there were all gone.
Rozan recalled that there was “The Sun Theatre” just immediately after the war.
“Before the war, there was actually a very nice cinema which was built with 1930s Art Deco style and so on. But that got bombed by the Allied Forces,” he said. “So they built a temporary one called ‘The Sun Theatre’, which was at the padang.”
#10. Former Secretariat Building (Jalan Elizabeth)
Take a stroll along Jalan Elizabeth as you walk past the giant mural at the Language & Literature Bureau and the former Secretariat Building.
Fun fact: This road was named after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate Her Majesty’s visit to Brunei in 1972. To be exact, it was at 9.30am on February 29, 1972 that HMY Britannia berthed alongside the new Muara Port.
Here’s another fun fact: Did you know that the shape of this former Secretariat Building is the letter “E”?
Why the letter E, you ask? Yeap, you guessed correctly. It stands for Queen Elizabeth.
This building has since been occupied by RTB.
The former Secretariat Building was one of the many buildings built during the British colonial times. It’s indeed a beautiful building built in 1952 as the main seat of the Brunei Government, designed in a Western or colonial style of architecture.
Pay close attention to the beautiful carvings at the top front side of the building that display the traditional way of life of the people in Brunei back in the day.
Oh! And on that note, when the Churchill Building was designed it was built in the shape of the letter ‘C’. That building has since been demolished and is now home to the Royal Regalia.
We want to hear from you!
We hope you enjoyed this very special edition of Neue Routes. Perhaps you could wrap up your visit to BSB with a photo-taking session at one of the interesting spots mentioned in this article? We highly recommend snapping some photos with your family and friends at the Chinese Temple.
Did we miss something out in this tour? Drop a comment below and tell us what you think.