Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien III, remembered as the “Architect of Modern Brunei” was the 28th Sultan of Brunei. Al-Marhum ruled Brunei from 1950 until he abdicated in 1967. His great determination and dedication which have been accorded international recognition helped to build the infrastructure, society and economy of modern Brunei.
Al-Marhum was born on 23rd September 1914 in Kampong Sultan Lama which was a ward of the famous Kampong Ayer (Water Village) in Brunei Town.
Al-Marhum underwent a traditional Islamic education in the palace. It was an informal education based on reading and memorising the Holy Quran. Classical literary texts of ‘hikayat’ and ‘syair’ especially with historical and didactic themes were also taught.
Al-Marhum Omar Ali Saifuddien received his formal education from 1932-36 in the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, Malaya (now Malaysia).
When Al-Marhum returned from his studies in Malaya, he entered the state administrative service with the encouragement of R. E. Turnbull. His first appointment was as a cadet in the Forestry Department stationed in Kuala Belait. After a year he joined the Judiciary as a cadet. Here he was able to learn aspects of the Civil Procedure Code and the Criminal Procedure Code from the Assistant Resident Hughes Hallet. The young prince also attended court proceedings to acquire a practical knowledge of law.
In 1941, until the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945, Al-Marhum worked with Enche Ibrahim bin Muhammad Jahfar, as an administrator in the office of the British Resident. In February 1942, he was appointed to the State Council and at the request of the Japanese Sub-district Commander, Kimura, he began work at the Japanese Governor’s office.
Apart from working in the civil service, Al-Marhum was also active in the nationalist movement in Brunei. Al-Marhum was the president of the Kesatuan Melayu Brunei (KMB) which was set up in 1939. He was a strong supporter of Barisan Pemuda.
Al-Marhum Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien was installed as Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Seri Paduka Pengiran Bendahara Seri Maharaja Permaisura by his brother Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin in 1947. Shortly afterwards, he was appointed chairman of the Syariah Court. Al-Marhum was the first member of the royal family to suggest fact-finding visits to the villages. This demonstrated Al-Marhum’s early commitment to improving the socio-economic standards and welfare of the people.
Accession To The Throne
On 4 June 1950 Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin died, leaving no male heir to succeed him. He was succeeded by Duli Pengiran Bendahara Omar Ali Saifuddien who was proclaimed the 28th Sultan on 6 June 1950. The coronation took place at Lapau DiRaja (The Royal Ceremonial Hall) on 31 May 1951.
It was during this ceremony that Al-Marhum was awarded the British medal, the Champion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG). When he visited London in 1953 to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England, he was awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George which gave him the title ‘Sir’.
On 6 September 1941, Al-Marhum Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien married Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Anak Damit binti Pengiran Bendahara Pengiran Anak Abdul Rahman, the grand-daughter of Al-Marhum Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin.
The royal couple had four sons and six daughters. The eldest son, KDYMM Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah is the present Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Negara Brunei Darussalam. His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed Bolkiah, the second son, is the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
When Al-Marhum was young he liked many games such as top spinning, ‘tarik kalat’ (tug of war), ‘pancak silat’, ‘kuit’ and ‘tatak garis’. This showed his penchant for the traditions and culture of Brunei. Al-Marhum always made sure to win and this helped him to develop a strong sense of determination. Later, Al-Marhum took a keen interest in football, hockey, squash and badminton. Besides playing games, he collected different types of kris and walking sticks.
Al-Marhum Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien had a considerable literary talent as well. Al-Marhum wrote a number of poems. Among them are ‘Syair Perlembagaan Negeri Brunei Darussalam’ which expresses his ambitions for Brunei to be a sovereign nation with full independence and ‘Syair Asli Rajang Hari’ which describes his hopes for his nation and his experience of hardship and pain. Other notable poetic works are ‘Syair Nasihat’, ‘Syair Perkakas Perkarangan’, ‘Rampaian Laila Syair’, ‘Syair Laila Cinta’, ‘Syair Laila Jenaka’ and ‘Syair Kemerdekaan’. Each of these poems is unique in conveying Al-Marhum’s vision for the future and his plans, advice and guidance. For Al-Marhum’s contributions in the field of literature he was honoured with the title of ‘The Royal Poet’.
On his accession to the throne, Al-Marhum set out to work for an improved standard of living for all his people. His seventeen years of rule (1950-1967) witnessed economic, social and political development that took Brunei confidently as a modern country into the twentieth century.
Al-Marhum Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien’s concern for his people found expression in the First and Second Five Year Development Plans. The Plans provided for considerable expansion of the education system throughout the state. English schools were built, scholarships to overseas institutions were provided and school children were assured of at least one free meal a day. Religious schools were given utmost priority.
Hospitals, clinics were set up and dental services to schools were provided. Other improvements included programmes for the eradication of dysentery and malaria. The plan also covered a system for state electrification, development of roads and telecommunication systems, swamp reclamation and resettlement.
New industries proposed included manufacturing industries based on petroleum, natural gas, silica sand and forest products.
The Religious Affairs Department was established in 1955 and by the 1959 Brunei Constitution, Islam was made the official religion of Negara Brunei Darussalam. The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, an exquisite example of Muslim architecture, was built in the capital in 1958.
The Royal Brunei Malay Regiment (presently known as the Royal Brunei Armed Forces) was set up in 1961. The Currency Board was established in 1967.
Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien’s reign also marked significant changes in Brunei’s political development. Before the written Constitution was drawn up, the administration was in the hands of the British Residents. After consistent planning and effective diplomacy with the Colonial Office in London, he signed the first written constitution with Sir Robert Scott at the Lapau on 29th September 1959. By this Constitution, Brunei was responsible for its own internal administration. Thus ended the Residential System in Brunei.
Another important aspect of his rule was the 1961 Nationality Enactment. For the first time, law was written on national status so nationals could be registered.
One of the most important decisions made by Al-Marhum during his reign was to maintain and strengthen Brunei’s sovereignty, and he decided not to join the Federation of Malaysia on 8 July 1963.
On 4 October 1967, Al-Marhum Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III voluntarily abdicated in favour of his eldest son, Yang Teramat Mulia Duli Pengiran Muda Mahkota Hassanal Bolkiah.
After the abdication, Al-Marhum was then known as Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Maulana Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien. His Royal Highness continued to be active and supportive, both as a father and as a statesman. He was untiringly involved in council meetings and discussions, especially those concerning the independence treaty.
At midnight on 31 December 1983, when Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah proclaimed the Declaration of Independence, the people joined Paduka Seri Begawan in chanting “Allahu Akbar”.
In 1984, when the Cabinet was established Al-Marhum became the Minister of Defence
Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien III passed away peacefully on 7 September 1986 and was laid to rest in the Royal Mausoleum bringing to an end an era of transition in Brunei. He had promoted peace, security and well-being among his people. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah provided a fitting eulogy, “His name will be a source of national pride and he will be talked about through the ages”. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II described his death as a “sad loss for Britain”. Other heads of state also remarked on Al-Marhum’s vision, foresight and generous service to his people.
During his reign, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien managed to achieve extraordinary objectives and ensured the preservation of an independent Malay Muslim Monarchy in the modern world. He proved that small nations could survive. To commemorate the Sultan’s rule, Brunei Town was renamed Bandar Seri Begawan
1. Leading The People to Happiness Forever.
2. Penyair Diraja – Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien; Brunei History Centre, 1987.
Researched & Compiled by:
Mrs. Shanta Singh