Article by Arif Zainal (Brunei Darussalam)
Blog Correspondent of ASEAN-Korea Centre
On the 21st January 2012 was a memorable day for Brunei as the revival of the Brunei’s boat racing legacy called the Regatta Brunei Darussalam. The venue for the event is the Brunei River. Many senior citizens came to the event while reminiscing the golden years of the Regatta which happens in the fifties throughout the seventies. Many say that traditional regatta should be preserved as part of Brunei’s history and future generations to come.
A little history on Brunei’s Regatta that it is used to be called ‘Berjanawari’. Bruneian folks said that the word comes from the month January and it is a festive month. Hence, people who are celebrating the festival are called ‘berjanuari’. However when Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien became the sultan, the regatta was moved to September as it was his birthday month. In time, the word ‘berjanawari’ is not appropriate anymore. In the 1950s, it was said that the British who practiced Regatta to celebrate new years.
Brunei’s Regatta is a unique festival. The river is always jam packed with boats. Spectators from all of Brunei and even neighboring countries came to flock Brunei River to watch the Regatta. Some boats are even dressed up for the occasion.
In the old days, there would be a series of rowing boat races. The races would finish in front of the Brunei Customs wharf in Bandar Seri Begawan. The categories included single rowers, pair rowers, 20-men rowing team and 30-men rowing team. The more people in the team, the further are the distance from the starting line to the finish line.
The late Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien (bottom right). Photo courtesy of Brunei History Centre
In the rowing team, there are two important people; ‘Pencaruk’ and ‘Pengemudi’. Pencaruk is the one who is sitting in front of the boat and giving the encouragement to the rowers. Pengemudi is the on sitting at the back and steers the boat on the right course. Elderly said that the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien was a famous Pencaruk but he had a difficult task as to shout words of encouragement, lead rower and maneuver the boat all at the same time. From the books of Dr Muhammad Hadi Muhamad Melayong in ‘Memoir Seorang Negarawan’, Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien was a keen sportsman. He designed his boat himself and assisted in construction. His boat won many races and he called it, “Seri Gudam”.
Nowadays, since the development of marine technologies, more categories are included in the Regatta. These included Powerboat Race, Traditional Water Taxi Boat Race and Jet-ski. This year, there were a total of 23 events contested. Teams came from the ministries, local companies as well as neighboring countries from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Other than the finals of the Regatta, another main event was the participation of His Royal Highness His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzadin Waddaulah and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam with royal family members in the Regatta. His Majesty led the Regatta Brunei Darussalam team, HRH Prince Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah led the Permanent Secretaries and Deputy Permanent Secretaries’ team, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah led the Pehin-Pehin Bergelar team and HRH Prince ‘Abdul Malik led the Penghulu and Head Villages team. They all participated in the 15 Rowers Special Boat Race. Team from HR Prince ‘Abdul Malik won the event while His Majesty’s team came in second. Third goes to Crown Prince’s team while fourth goes to Prince Mohamed’s team. Their presence added lustre to the colorful Regatta Brunei Darussalam.
Here is a video courtesy of The Brunei Times.
The eve of the Regatta, there are a number of activities on the river banks. In the old days, there were stage performances such as “Bangsawan Seri Norain” and “Bangsawan Si Bakir”. Performances came from Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. Even now, there were performances by local dancers performing various ethnic Brunei dances and songs. Entrepreneurs also took the opportunity to sell variety of food, beverages and local delicacies.
Many who came hoped that Regatta Brunei Darussalam will be a yearly event. While preserving the culture and heritage of Brunei for the future generations, it is the also to live up Bandar Seri Begawan as well as putting Brunei on the map for tourism.