Although the majority of Brunei’s population of 322,000 is Malay, the Chinese community which makes up about 20 percent of the people dominates the business scene. The remaining seven percent of the population is made up of indigenous tribes such as Kedayan, Belait, Tutong, Bisya, Murut and Dusun. The natives of Brunei may be ethnically and spiritually related to Indonesia and Malaysia, but they have many linguistic and cultural differences from their Southeast Asian neighbors.
The hereditary nobility of Brunei carries the title ‘pengiran’. The sultan occasionally awards the pehin title, which is similar to a lord, to commoners. The sultan’s subjects can also be given the titles dato or datin, which are similar to knighthoods in the UK. Residents of Brunei use many titles and full names when referring to each other. Those who have made the haj pilgrimage to Mecca can call themselves haji or hajah.
The most densely populated area is Brunei-Muara, where the capital Bandar Seri Begawan is located. Nearly 70 percent of the population lives here. Belait, where a major oil refinery is located, has the second highest population at 20 percent. Brunei has a fairly young population, with more than 50 percent under the age of 24.
Just less than 10 percent of Brunei’s population is made up by ethnic minority groups. These indigenous tribes live mostly outside of Brunei’s main society and follow their own religious, social and cultural practices.
There are six main tribal groups in Brunei, namely the Kedayan, Belait, Tutong, Bisya, Murut and Dusun. These groups all live in small communities within the jungles of the Temburong district.
Perhaps the most known about is the Kedayan tribe, who are believed to have Javanese origins. Kedayan people tend to live close together, building their houses inland and making their living off the land from fishing or rice farming. They are also known for using tonics and medicines made from special plants to treat ailments.
The Belait ethnic group can be found in the Belait region of Brunei. These people have their own language and mostly follow the Muslim faith. Despite having their own language, the Belait people are often categorized as Malays by the Brunei government.
The Tutong people live in Brunei’s Tutong district and speak their own language, which is usually referred to as Tutong. The Tutong people are also called Sang Keluyoh by the Dusun people as they have been found living near Sungai Keluyoh.
Although the Bisaya tribe mainly lives in Sabah a few small communities can be found in Brunei as well. The Bisaya tribe has their own special traditional dances, which are known as Liliput and Tumutu. These dances reflect the culture and identity of the Bisaya tribe and portray the ritual and worldview of Bisaya society.
Often found in the northern inland regions of Borneo, the Murut people also reside in small numbers in Brunei. The literal translation of the word murut is ‘hill people’ and this tribe can be found in the Temburong district of Brunei. The Murut people once supplied military support to the sultans of Brunei and are presently cultivators of tapioca and they hunt for food using a blowpipe.
A small minority of the Dusun tribe can be found in Brunei and are often classed as one of the seven Bumiputera groups. Traditionally the Dusun are a fishing community and use various methods of fishing, including extracting the juice of the roots of a plant they call tuba and using it to poison the fish in rivers.
However, despite largely following their own customs, all of Brunei’s ethnic groups officially fall under the rule and authority of the Sultan of Brunei.