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History of Brunei

Early History

Historians believe that there was a forerunner to the present day Brunei Sultanate. One possible predecessor state was called Vijayapura, which possibly existed in northwest Borneo in the 7th century AD. It was probably a subject state of the powerful Srivijaya empire based in Sumatra. Another possible predecessor state was called Po-ni. Chinese and Arabic records indicate that this trading kingdom existed at the mouth of the Brunei River as early as the 7th or 8th century AD. By the 10th century Po-ni had a close mercantile relationship with first the Song and later the Ming Dynasty and at some point even entered into a tributary relationship with China. By the 14th century Po-ni also fell under the influence of the Javanese Majapahit Empire. The book of Nagarakertagama canto 14 written by Prapanca in 1365 mentioned Berune as a vassal state of Majapahit. However this may have been nothing more than a symbolic relationship, as one account of the annual tribute owed each year to Majapahit was a jar of areca juice obtained from the young green nuts of the areca palm. The relationship with mainland China nevertheless continued, culminating in 1408, when the Po-ni ruler Abdul Majid Hassan visited China and died there. Around the same time, the Chinese admiral Zheng He visited the region and found a large trading port with numerous Chinese traders carrying on business with the mainland. In 1424, the Hongxi Emperor ended China's maritime program, and the mainland's relationship with Po-ni effectively ended. Some historians and archaeological evidence suggest that Po-ni was heavily influenced by Hindu civilisation, as transmitted by Hindu culture in Java and Sumatra, and not directly from India. The system of writing used was a Hindu script, and discovered artifacts include elephants, bulls and yonis. There was also a heavy Chinese influence, with Chinese coins dating from as early as the 7th century being found in present-day Brunei.

Islam and The Golden Age

The later history of Po-ni, or Brunei, remains somewhat obscure. By the middle of the 15th century, the state had entered into a close relationship with the Muslim kingdom of Malacca. This era also saw the origin of the ruling dynasty, which continues to this day. According to the Syair Awang Semaun (also spelled Simawn), Brunei's national epic poem, the present-day sultanate originated when Dewa Emas Kayangan descended to earth from heaven in an egg. He had children with a number of aboriginal maidens, and one of these children converted to Islam and became the first sultan. However, the state continued to be multicultural. The second sultan was either Chinese or married a Chinese woman. The third sultan was said to be part Arab, who are seen in South and Southeast Asia as the descendents of Muhammed. The sultanate oversaw a gradual expansion of the state's influence and borders. This was accelerated with the conquest of Malacca by the Portuguese in 1511. Brunei benefited from the scattering of Muslim merchants and traders who were forced to use other ports. These merchants probably also helped to speed the conversion of the general population to Islam.

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