Brunei is made up of two distinguishable sections, an estimated of 30km (19 miles) apart. Both areas are bordered by the South China Sea to the north, and by the Malaysian province of Sarawak all around the other sides.
The Eastern Brunei consists of a coastal plain rising to a height of 1841m (6038ft) at Bukit Pagon while Western Brunei is composed of hilly lowlands. A majority of Brunei is still covered by dense jungle. Only 15% of the country is cultivated, resulting in Brunei having to import 80% of its food requirements.
Brunei does not have significant wet and dry seasons. Rainfall occurs throughout the year; heaviest between September and January.
Temperatures are consistently between 24°C (75°F) and 31°C (88°F) with an average humidity of 79%. These features contribute to making Brunei a pretty warm and sticky place to stay in.
68% of the population in Brunei consists of the Malays while the other indigenous group make up five percent. Chinese are just over eighteen percent, Indians and others are the remaining eight per cent.
Half the population is under the age of 20. Males slightly outnumber females, making up 51.6% of the population.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Brunei was considered as one of the regional great powers, controlling Borneo and substantial parts of the Philippines as well.
The Spanish and the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive, but it was the British, who arrived in the region in the 17th and 18th centuries, who began to erode Brunei's influence. Sarawak was ceded to the British in the 19th century and a series of 'treaties' were forced on the Sultan as James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, consolidated his power base. In 1888, the sultanate became a British protectorate.
Brunei was gradually whittled away until, with a final dash of absurdity, Limbang was ceded to Sarawak in 1890, thus dividing the country in half. In 1929, just as Brunei was about to be swallowed up entirely, oil was discovered. British plans to make Brunei a part of the Malaysian Federation were upset by a revolt in 1962. The Sultan suspended the constitution and opted for independence. The country has been under emergency laws ever since and mooted elections have never eventuated.
In 1984, Brunei became completely independent, and underlined its new independence from Britain by joining ASEAN. Since then, it has moved towards Islamic fundamentalism. In 1991, the sale of alcohol was banned and stricter dress codes have been introduced.
Brunei Darussalam is one of the oldest kingdoms of the region, and Islam has a great influence on the culture, customs and manners in Brunei (very similar to those of Peninsular Malaysia).
The Ministry of Religious Affairs fosters and promotes Islam. Nevertheless, the constitution does allow for other religions to be practiced. Gentleness, politeness, decorum and hospitality are important elements in Malay culture. In normal day-to-day social interactions, a Bruneian is expected to be polite, trustworthy, tolerant, kind and understanding.
Normally, Bruneians shake hands lightly and bring their hand that shakes the other person's hand to the chest to show their greetings are from their hearts. It is not customary to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex. One should not point with the index finger, as it is considered rude; instead one should use the thumb.
To beckon someone with repeated downward wave of the hand, as in the western way, can be considered disrespectful. The proper thing to do is to call politely by name or title or by appropriate questions or requests.
In Brunei, it is customary to pass gifts, food, or any article with the right hand, although the left hand can be used to support by placing it under the right hand.
When visiting a person's house or mosques, one should remove one's shoes and leave them outside at the steps. Especially in the mosques one should not pass in front of a person at prayer, or touch the Qur'an while women should cover themselves from head (with a veil), arms, body and knees.
The traditions are highly valued in the Bruneian society, and they are still very much a part of every Bruneian's life. One should see the colorful and friendly ceremonies of engagements, weddings, investitures or other traditional occasions.
The people believe in working together to accomplish a certain feat. As such, it is normal to see big groups of people at these celebrations, doing their bits to help the host.
Dances are a form of traditional amusement and recreation in the old days. They normally tell the society a story of the Malay legends and mythos, always accompanied by graceful and fluid movements in harmony with traditional music.
The official language is Malay but English is widely spoken. Chinese and a number of local dialects are also spoken.
The government of Brunei consist of a constitutional sultanate, Administrative divisions has 4 districts (daerah, singular-daerah), Belait, Brunei, Muara, Temburong,and Tutong.
The official religion of Brunei is Islam, with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan as head of the faith in the country. Islamic pratice is actively promoted by the goverment through religious programmes that are broadcast on radio and television. Religious education in Islam is a compulsory for all Muslim children. Other than the Islam religion, other faiths such as Christianity and Buddhism are also practised.