If you visit Brunei in February, you’ll probably see flocks of summer-yellow flags flapping from houses, shops and even people’s cars. That’s because Brunei National Day is on the horizon!
Although it gained independence from the British on 1st January 1984, Brunei traditionally celebrates National Day on 23rd February, in the very place that it was declared independent: the padang, or stadium, in the capital Bandar.
2016 marked the 32nd National Day, and you may have spotted its official hashtag “#hk32” on Twitter (hk stands for “hari kebangsaan”, or “national day”).
From early in the morning, students holding flags or traditional hadrah drums – like tambourines – stood waiting for the Sultan, who arrived in his ceremonial black Rolls Royce with other members of the royal family, and dressed in the dark khaki uniform of the Supreme Commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.
As is customary, the crowd sung the national anthem Allah Peliharakan Sultan (Allah Bless His Majesty), after which the Sultan climbed the royal dais to inspect the guard of honour, made up of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) and Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF). Onlookers then settled in the grandstand to watch the procession of troops, officers, school students and countless other organisations, in fact up to 21,000 people took part this year!
After the procession, the National Day pledge was recited to the crowd, led by Finance Minister Hj Abdul Hafiz Hj Md Daud. Selected from hundreds of participants as chief oath reader, he was only told about his responsibility a week before!
The National Silat Association then closed the celebration with a lively and colourful performance. Silat is a Malay self-defence art, but is also used as ceremonial dance when accompanied by drums. After watching their shifting domino pattern of dark green, crisp white, dusky purples and midnight blues, the Sultan visited the crowds thanking them for their performance, and then celebrations wound down around noon.
Despite the procession of armed and camouflaged troops (and even a hazmat squad!), the National Day parade in Brunei is incredibly peaceful and inspires a feeling of awe.
For the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, YB Pehin Dato Hj Awang Halbi , the celebrations are important for helping young Bruneians feel “a strong sense of identity that will aid the youth in the development and growth of the country”. Bruneian blogger Maurina Hamid praised “blessed, peaceful Brunei”, pointing out that it’s “one of the rare countries in the world that can have this kind of parade without a riot or a demonstration happening at the same time.” The #hk32 hashtag also saw many a Bruneian tweeting their national pride and celebrating their identity.
And for tourists on the ground? For German visitor Nadine Schubert , “…everyone here has welcomed us with open arms, and we even got to take pictures with some of the locals who dressed up for the parade”, and for Londoner Kryss Katsiavriades, it was one of the highlights of his trip.
Until next year!
This article was originally published on 23rd February on Brunei tourism website Freme.