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Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) Day 2018 and 2019

The Anniversary of Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF Day) in Brunei is held every May 31st.

201831 MayThuRoyal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) Day
201931 MayFriRoyal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) Day
1 JunSatRoyal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) Day Holiday

This holiday commemorates the formation of the Royal Brunei Malay Regiment on that day in 1961. Sultan Omar Ali, who first organised the unit, at first called it simply the “Brunei Malay Regiment.” The adjective “Royal” was added by the same sultan four years later. Finally, in 1984, when Brunei officially gained full independence from the U.K., the name was again changed to “Royal Brunei Armed Forces.”

When first formed, Brunei’s army had only 60 soldiers, but today, it has some 9,000 members. The RBAF began with land forces only, but today, it includes naval and air forces as well. Only those of Malay descent are allowed to join the armed forces, and all members have joined voluntarily. The RBAF’s military equipment is mostly imported, the U.K., France, and the U.S. being its major suppliers.

The official name of Brunei is “the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace.” Brunei is one of the smallest nations in the world geographically, and its population was estimated at only 415,000 in 2013. Brunei is essentially a city-state that is surrounded by, and divided in half by, the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the northern coast of the island of Borneo. While small, it has a high per capita GDP for the region at $36,900, and on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, per capita GDP reaches to $54,500. Brunei’s wealth stems largely from offshore oil and natural gas wells first developed in the 1950s.

Brunei has a long history of independence, and it was once the centre of the Bruneian Empire in the 16th Century. At its height, this empire included most of the Borneo coastal areas, the Sulu Archipelago just north of Borneo, and even a “puppet state” called “Seludong” in the area of modern-day Manila. When Spain began to conquer the nearby Philippines after Magellan’s round-the-world expedition of 1521, tensions grew between Spain and Brunei. In 1578, during the Castilian War, Spain temporarily captured the city of Brunei. This weakened Brunei and led to the decline and loss of its empire.

In the late 1800s, Brunei gave, and later sold, some its final possessions to a James Brooke for his help in putting down a rebellion within Brunei. This territory of Brooke’s and his successors, who became known as the “White Rajahs,” corresponds to the modern Malaysian state of Sarawak. Finally, Brunei signed a treaty with Britain to guarantee that no more of Brunei could be ceded to “foreign powers” without permission from the British government. Brunei also became a protectorate of Britain. Despite the treaty, the Pandaruan district was transferred to Sarawak in 1890, dividing the small nation into two pieces. A step toward independence came with a new constitution in 1959, but it was not until 1984 that Brunei became completely autonomous.

One step along the path to independence, and a key element in maintaining it, was the formation of the RBAF on May 31st, 1961. This day is a public holiday on which most businesses and public buildings close. Military parades take place on RBAF Day every year, and there are air, artillery, and parachuting demonstrations.

Some activities those in Brunei on RBAF Day may wish to take part in include:

  • Attend the official celebration in the main city, where you will see a military parade, a mock battle, and other demonstrations. There are also smaller parades in other localities in the country.
  • Visit the Brunei Museum, where you will see art and cultural exhibits as well as an extensive History Gallery. The section on the history of the Bruneian Empire and the conflicts with Spain and Portugal is especially interesting.
  • Visit the Malay Technology Museum, right next to the Brunei Museum. Here, you will get a taste of how ancient Bruneians lived in their daily lives. There are exhibits on boat-making, metalworking, fishing, and more.

If in Brunei for Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day, you will get a chance to learn about the military, culture, and history of this tiny nation. After that, you may also want to seek recreation at the Jerudong amusement park or see a soccer game in Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium. There will be much to do that will be memorable.