Pride and discovery in Brunei

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

I recently visited Brunei Darussalam which is, compared to its neighbors, a relatively young nation. I visited its Royal Regalia museum, which is quite simple and subdued. But as the name suggests, it is a repository of everything “royal” in Brunei. Much of the museum is about His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his reign. In one gallery, gifts that world leaders gave to the sultan during official visits are displayed. Arrays of jaw-dropping antique vases, intricate and accurate miniature models of the visiting country’s heritage structures (like Angkor Wat of Cambodia), and priceless gold, silver, and bronze objects. Among these objets d'art were three items from the Philippines: a flower handicraft encased in a glass dome, a glass miniature of the iconic jeepney, and a trinket box made of Capiz shell with a padlock bearing the Philippine presidential seal.

Compared to the solid gold artworks, intricate miniatures, or antique Ming vases, our gifts pale in comparison. But I was proud of these three gifts. These were memorable and representative of our people, but not senselessly expensive. Brunei does not need more expensive gifts from us. We cannot afford to spend millions on gifts to a country a hundred times richer than we are. It would be the height of pretentiousness and an insult to the millions of Filipinos who can barely eat once a day if we wasted taxpayers’ money on such frivolity.

One interesting old book displayed was the Silsila Brunei, an official documentation of the Silsila (genealogy) of the Bolkiah dynasty. Unknown to many, the sultan of Brunei is related to the Macapagals of Pampanga and the various royal families of Sulu and Maguindanao. I was able to definitively trace former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo back to Brunei when in 2018 I accidentally stumbled upon a late 16th-century church record that connected a genealogy client’s family to Lakan Dula. From PGMA, we count back six generations to Don Jose Macapagal, and eight more generations back to Don Carlos Lacandola, the Christian name given to Lakan Dula, making PGMA his 14th-generation descendant.

Lakan Dula was the grandson of Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei and Princess Leila Menchanai (or Menjanai) of Sulu. Princess Leila Menchanai was the granddaughter of Sultan Sharif al-Hashim, the founder of the Sultanate of Sulu. Tracing the genealogy further, Sultan Sharif al-Hashim was said to be the son of Shariff Ali Zainal Abidin, considered the father of Shariff Muhammad Kabungsuan, the founder of the Sultanate of Maguindanao. Thus, as a descendant of Sultan Bolkiah, President Arroyo is a 14th cousin once removed of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.

The tarsila of the Sultans of Maguindanao shows that Shariff Abidin, the father of Shariff Muhammad Kabungsuan, was descended from Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, PGMA may also be the 34th generation descendant of Muhammad. Many Muslim royal and religious families claim direct descent from the Prophet, but of course like many Descent From Antiquity (DFA) claims, this should be taken with a grain of salt.

We have a very long history with the Sultanate of Brunei, even kinship. That kinship between the Bruneians and the Filipinos is still clearly seen today. Everyone I met and interacted with in my short visit to the country was welcoming. In many restaurants and shops, I often heard staff speaking in Cebuano and Tagalog, which makes sense as there were approximately more than 23,000 Filipino residents and workers in Brunei as of 2023. In 2023, Vice President Sara Duterte Carpio joined the Filipino community to commemorate the 125th Philippine Independence, where in her address to hundreds of Filipinos she emphasized the importance of taking pride in being Filipino in a nation that provided thousands of Filipinos a second home.

History shows us that our relationship with many nations stretch back centuries. We must always practice tolerance and openness in dealing with our neighbors, to allow us a more peaceful and meaningful relations with other countries.

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