SKETCHES OF BRUNEI'S FUTURE
HJ MOHAMAD Matusin is a master loom maker, one of a few who sustain Brunei's handmade brocade industry. Years ago, a visitor from the United Kingdom talked to him about the prospect of automating brocade making. Hj Mohamad said that would put many people's livelihoods in jeopardy.
Maybe the visitor had a point in modernising an industry to raise productivity and make it build economies of scale to effectively penetrate overseas markets. But to the expert loom maker, it's the end of a tradition. Besides, Brunei's kain tenunan (brocade) is known for craftsmanship that cannot be matched by machines.
Traditions play a role in a people's identity. It helps to hold the fabric of society together. Guarding tradition from being displaced by economic pursuits is Hj Mohamad's bigger loom.
His is one of many stories that deepen the meaning of each celebration of the National Day.
Some old folks who were around in the first few years after independence find the National Day performances in recent years to be wanting in the qualities that characterised those that were staged back then. Unseen during these performances, however, are the many stories of individuals and groups of people, young and old, who work hard on their aspirations to make a difference for the country.
These are stories of people who value the country's independence beyond remembering the past; they help the country to forge ahead in ways that their situations allow -- devoid of fanfare.
Brunei Darussalam is a nation of fewer than half a million people, and (as The Brunei Times reporters found upon researching stories for the National Day Supplement) it has no shortage of Hj Mohamads and individuals who have the passion to help move the Sultanate forward. Not all of them have the same fervour toward things traditional. They nevertheless aim to work on Brunei's collective pride.
Entrepreneur Foo Boon Seng is in a cadre of technopreneurs who are pushing to weave excellence in the ICT service industry into Brunei's tapestry of pride. His company recently signed with Korean partners a deal that will pave the way for the export of software from the Sultanate. He looks at technology export as another "oilfield" for Brunei.
Click the Audio below to hear Hj Mohd Rozan Dp Hj Mohd Yunos' story from Brunei's independence in 1984.
Over the last decade, the drive to turn science and technology into a path for excellence has intensified.
Science, Technology and Environment Promotion Centre or STEP is trying to make a difference in the education community through the annual Brunei Robotic Olympiad that gathers select schoolchildren dabbling in science and technology. These students, says Sarimah Abu Bakar, acting head of centre, "in the long term … will become the nation’s human resources … and contribute their knowledge, expertise and dedication towards the country’s social economic development’’.
Ambitions abound. Individuals raring to give back to the country. Some are so young they may not be that conversant of the events in the years preceding independence, but their dedication to their professions or vocations is no less important.
Muhd Zuhairi Hj Ahmad wants to serve the country as a form of gratitude to His Majesty's Government that made it possible for him to study in the UK and later get introduced to his passion: physiotherapy. ‘‘The experience and skills I gained as a student in the UK will become tools I can use to help Brunei’s ongoing development in health and rehabilitation,’’ he says.
Some find meaning in helping others help themselves. Their work finds significance in getting more people to learn to depend on themselves and be better prepared to be productive Bruneians.
Click the audio below to hear Abdoh Hj Damit's story.
There's a project run by three women that uses recyclable materials in handcrafting bags and decor in traditional designs. Pioneered by Siti Zaharah, it works with single mothers, needy families, teenagers and senior citizens to churn out handicrafts. She says it is a means to make them less dependent on others.
‘‘I wanted to prove that they can also contribute to the family and society in their own way… It is important not only to empower yourself, but for you to empower other women regardless of what your careers are.’’
Another group is driving home the point of self-reliance while instilling environment-friendly habits among villagers.
The Society for Community Outreach and Training groups seven young people who recently graduated from university. They educate both villagers and volunteers to exchange ‘‘trash for cash’’ to benefit the community. ‘‘The crux of the project is exchanging recyclable goods. Anything you can find at home which you don’t want. It is basically trash and you don’t need it. So why not exchange it for something?’’
Such stories of individuals doing their bit for the country abound. Many have yet to be told.
Theirs are stories that raise the value of the past without dwelling in them.
Many of these individuals don't make it to the colourful parades. Many don't land plum roles in the awaited pageantry. But in the continuing story of Brunei's journey, they play roles no less important than the spectacle at Taman Soas.
Thousands congregated at Taman Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien for the proclamation of Brunei's independence on January 1, 1984. The proclamation, which was read by His Majesty Sultan Hj Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, states that "Brunei shall be forever a sovereign, democratic and independent Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay Islamic Monarchy) philosophy based on the teachings of Islam according to Ahli Sunnah wal-Jema'ah...".
It was the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien who secured independence from the 96-year British protection. Celebrations began with the official opening of the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium on September 23, 1983. That date coincided with the 70th birthday of the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien.