The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been recognizing a magnificent scale of landmarks and heritage sites all around the world. There is also no exception for the beautiful and dignified region of ASEAN (Association of the South East Asian Nations). UNESCO had inscribed several heritage sites across ASEAN, in countries such as Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. However, no landmarks were registered in Brunei Darussalam by the UNESCO. While Singapore has its iconic Singapore Botanic Garden and Cambodia has the ancient Angkor Wat as their own remarkable and prestigious world heritage site, places in Brunei Darussalam are yet to be included in the famous UNESCO list. Though there are none presently, however, there is potential the inclusion will happen in the near future. In this article, I will discuss the potential of one of Brunei Darussalam’s most symbolic and considered landmark that one day, might be able to achieve the “status” of a world heritage site.
The government of Brunei Darussalam is currently in discussion and reviewing process to propose several landmarks in Brunei Darussalam to UNESCO. There are four places currently in Brunei Darussalam that was being discussed, which are; Tasek Merimbun Park in Tutong, Abana Rocks Coral Reef Formation; the Brunei River and Industrial Heritage of Colliery in Muara. A workshop that was held in 2013 organized by Brunei Museum’s Department had conceptualized action framework in order to join or registers in the Tentative List World Heritage Nomination Procedure of UNESCO. In order to get recognized as a world heritage site, a landmark of a country basically needs an importance and certain degree ofsignificance culturally, historically or scientifically.
In my personal opinion, out of all the places or sites that had been proposed, Brunei River is the most promising to be nominated as a world heritage site. This is because Brunei River fulfills the most criteria to be recognized as a world heritage site. The Brunei River has played an important role in the development of Brunei Darussalam since the foundation of the country itself and will continue in being so to the modern advancement and expansion of Brunei Darussalam in the future. In the past, the first village of Brunei Darussalam is situated on the Brunei River itself. The village houses were built on stilts above the river before it spread out to the land. During that period, everything occurred on top of the Brunei River, whether it is administration, economics, entertainment and more. Until today, this village still exists and is called “Kampong Ayer” or the literal translation would be the “Water Village”. In 1521, Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian explorer dubbed the Brunei Water Village as the “Venice of the East” and also further described that “… the city is entirely built on salt water, except the houses of the king and certain chiefs. It contains twenty-five thousand hearths. The houses are all constructed of wood and built up from the ground on tall pillars. When the tide is high women go in boats through the settlement selling articles necessary to maintain life”. (Around Brunei, 2007)
Also, The Brunei government has also created a master plan that revolves around the Brunei River. There are currently 5 main areas in Brunei which is related to the Brunei River that are targeted for future development: The Water Village, The Airport Hub, Government Administrative Centre, Gadong & Kiulap lifestyle centre and lastly the Capital City Bandar Seri Begawan. It acts as the main agent as the capital city is just located next to the river. The Brunei River itself is also the main catalyst for the primary development plan such as the “Eco Corridor Project” along the river. In addition, Brunei River acts as a prospective transportation node that further emphasizes the efficiency of the connectivity of 5 main areas. The Brunei River has always been the backbone of the country. The development of the wonderful nation that I know today is built and founded by our ancestors on top of the Brunei River. The Brunei River will continuously provide improvements and advancements to the country in the future. As the Brunei River has massive significance culturally, historically and economically to Brunei Darussalam along the historical timeline and the future, it has the best possibilities to be recognized as a world heritage site in Brunei Darussalam.
Around Brunei. (2007) Tamu Kianggeh Bandar Seri Begawan. Retrieved December 20, 2016, from Around Brunei, http://around-brunei.blogspot.com/2012/12/tamu-kianggeh-bandar-seri-begawan-in.html
By Mohamad Akmal Fauzan ABU BAKAR, ASEAN Correspondent from Brunei Darussalam