Brunei Darussalam, a tiny Muslim nation in Southeast Asia, has a long history with the United Kingdom. It used to be under British rule before and after the Japanese Occupation. The past relationship between Brunei and the United Kingdom is now kept alive inside Bubungan Dua Belas, the oldest surviving building in Brunei’s capital city.
The country’s capital is the rich and modern city of Bandar Seri Begawan. The capital city is home to a number of important traditional, religious and historical buildings other than Bubungan Dua Belas. Perhaps one of the most mesmerizing sites is “Kampong Ayer” or “Water Village” in English. Both local and foreign tourists make it a point to visit this authentic local village when in the city. The well-preserved houses-above-water stand on stilts and stretch to almost 8 kilometers, providing an awesome attraction along the Brunei River. There are more than 30,000 residents in this village that is more than 1,000 years old. A well-known European traveler, Antonio Pigafetta, who used to travel with Ferdinand Magellan, described Kampong Ayer as the “Venice of the East”.
Meanwhile, two of the most stunning structures in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan are the Istana Nurul Iman (the sultan’s palace) and Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. These are exquisitely designed political and religious structures that are laden with pure gold, Italian marble and other precious materials. Most official and important national functions take place inside the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. The sultan’s palace, on the other hand, is not accessible by the public except during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri Muslim festival that celebrates the end of Ramadan once a year. “Istana Nurul Iman” means Palace of the Light of Faith.
In addition to these three national treasures, the capital city is home to a number of museums. They include the Brunei Stamp Gallery, Arts and Crafts Center, Brunei History Center, Royal Regalia Building, which highlights artifacts and documents pertaining to the sultan, and Brunei Museum, which is the national repository of treasures. Brunei Museum is composed of the Islamic Gallery, Petroleum Gallery, Traditional Culture Gallery, Natural History Gallery, and the Exhibition of Archeology and History.
Bubungan Dua Belas is a museum of sorts. The name translates to the “House of Twelve Roofs”, which used to be the official residence of high British and local officials. It was built in 1906 and today is considered a well-preserved specimen of a rare type of wooden architecture. The roof is made of wooden shingles, the floor of Kapor wood and the entire house of timber that was imported from Sandakan, Sabah. Located about 3 kilometers away from the capital city, the wooden house was strategically built on top of a hillside for a majestic view of Brunei River and Kampong Ayer.
Today, the house exhibits old photographs, documents and artifacts that represent past relationships with the British, which date back to the 19th century. The oldest photographers on display where taken in 1907 and 1914. They prove that the house had gone through very little changes through the years. The original Bubungan Dua Belas only had two rooms. Historical records reveal that small changes were done in 1920, 1926, 1927 and 1940.