Sultan's Bling


The Sultan of Brunei (or Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddie as he is often called) may no longer be the world’s richest man, but his presence dominates every facet of life in this small nation on the west coast of Borneo.





A photo of a Sultan and a separate frame of his first wife, both dressed in his favourite colour gold, hang in a prominent place in many houses. The lavishly-decorated mosque, constructed for his Silver Jubilee in 1992 is one of the highlight of any tour of the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. And while the royal palace with its 1788 rooms and garage holding over 600 Rolls-Royces and 400 Ferraris may be out of bounds to the average visitor, even the view of its golden dome and enormous flagpole from the river provide a sense of the scale of what lies within.




For those spending a day in Brunei a visit to the Royal Regalia Building, known locally as the Sultan’s Museum, is normally the only way to see at first hand how the Sultan likes to flash his cash. The museum is home to a variety of objects used during the coronation of the present Sultan in 1968 as well as his Silver Jubilee celebrations. Somewhat incongruously the building used to house the collection that was previously the Churchill Museum, set up by the previous Sultan to commemorate the life of his British hero.




Dominating the main entrance hall is a giant gold-plated chariot, used to carry the new Sultan to his coronation ceremony. Around the chariot are hundreds of shields, swords, drums – all specially made for the occasion and never used again. The ‘single use only’ rule applies in every room of the museum, with gold-plated clothes for the Sultan and his wives, more chariots, soldiers’ uniforms and even a pure golden arm on which the Sultan could rest his chin during the lengthy coronation ceremony.



Pictures of happy crowds cover the walls of the exhibition rooms. There are cheering Bruneian families dressed in colourful outfits and every colour except yellow (people were told to avoid wearing yellow as this would clash with the Sultan’s outfit). There is even a middle-aged British tourist couple, looking marvellously out-of-place and unsure of what they are doing there. I wonder if they know even now that they have been immortalised in this Brunei museum?




While a few minutes of inspecting the Sultan’s bling was more than enough, perhaps the most interesting section was the collection of gifts to the Sultan from the world’s heads of state. What do you give a man who has everything and who, in many cases, holds more wealth than your entire nation? It seems intricate models of mosques are a safe bet; crystal, jade and gold would probably have featured on his gift list, while an impressive replica of Angkor Wat from Cambodia was particularly eye-catching. And of course the dinner sets on display were evidence that some had left it up to a clueless man to sort out the present buying.


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