Bandar Seri Begawan - As everyone stood rapt to attention at the Taman Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Saadul Khairi Waddien to the national anthem being played, the 21 cannon volleys reverberated throughout Bandar Seri Begawan, marking the beginning of His Majesty The Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei‘s birthday celebrations.
The firing of the cannons by the country‘s Armed Forces is a centuries-old tradition, adopted not just in Brunei but throughout the world.
Not everyone knows the origin of the gun salutes _ and why 21?
It is said that the origin of gun salutes is usually attributed to soldiers demonstrating their peaceful intentions by intentionally placing their weapons in a position that rendered them ineffective.
One way to render cannons "ineffective" was to fire them, as reloading cannons in ancient days was a very difficult affair. Originally, at sea, seven shots were the norm due to superstition and mysticism about the number seven.
However, on land, with more supply of gunpowder, they could fire three guns for every one shot from a ship, so a salute from a ship of seven guns would be answered by a salute from the shore batteries of 21 guns.
With improving gunpowder technology and storage, everyone adopted the 21-gun salute including us in Brunei Darussalam.
Likewise, not everyone knows that cannons were already being manufactured in Brunei at least 500 or 600 years ago. Many cannon moulds have been found at archaeological sites throughout the country.
Historical records also indicate that cannons had been used in Brunei. The historical records of Antonio Pigafetta when he was in Brunei as Magellan‘s chronicler in 1521 stated that "in front of the Sultan‘s palace, there was a thick wall of bricks, with towers in the manner of a fortress on which mounted fifty-six brass and six iron cannons".
!The Bruneian cannons, known in the Brunei vernacular as bedil, are used not just on land but also on board Brunei ships. A record of the Spanish attacks on Brunei stated that the Brunei ships used cannons.
!The origin of the cannons is unknown, they were most probably of Chinese and European origins. The first cannon in Europe probably appeared during the Islamic era in Spain. Brunei cannons probably are more influenced by our relationship with the Chinese Empire.
!In Brunei, the art of casting metals had been in existence for many centuries. As far back as 1225, a visiting Chinese official, Chau Ju Kua, found that the Bruneians had been carrying swords and metal armour made of bronze when attending funerals. It was said that during the era of Sultan Bolkiah, the fifth Sultan, 40 Javanese metal craft experts had been brought back to teach Bruneians their craft.
Cannons played important roles in Brunei‘s history. They were used as Brunei‘s main defences and a good number were positioned at the mouth of the Brunei River and were placed there until the British came to Brunei in 1846.
Some famous cannons bore names, such as Si Tunggal and Si Dewa. These two were taken by the Suluks during the Brunei civil wars and were later taken to Manila. Another well-known cannon during Sultan Bolkiah‘s reign was Si Gantar Alam which was used during the attacks on Luzon and Manila.
The Brunei cannons had their own attributes. In the manufacture of the cannons, the local craftsmen would pay attention to eight main parts of the cannons known locally as the batang (barrel), muncung (mouth), kancing lumba-lumba (trigger), pistaran (sightscope), sumbu dan gargasa (ignition), gamban (barrel end), gaganok (holder) and sangka (holder).
Each part would be intricately designed with Bruneian motifs, thus distinguishing Bruneian cannons from other cannons in the world.
Cannons are not just used for defensive purposes but play important role in the royal courts.
Cannon shots are fired on many important royal events, with different numbers for each event. The highest are obviously events connected to His Majesty the Sultan and Her Majesty Raja Isteri, with 21 shots.
Other events feature 17 shots (for a circumcision ceremony), 16 (for the opening of the nightly vigil ceremony or the anointment of Wazirs) and 7 (for the births of Princes and Princesses).
Royal Wedding ceremonies feature 12 shots fired to mark the beginning of the Royal wedding ceremonies and 17 during the nikah and other occasions.
Brunei cannons were also used in the economy as monetary tokens for payments and the remittance of fines.
A number of exhibits at the Currency Gallery of the Brunei Currency and Monetary Board are miniature cannons between 6 inches and 12 inches long which were used as currency in Brunei in place of coins and other monetary tokens. It was said that the value of these miniature cannons could be as high as $30 (straits dollar) each.
Cannons were used as part of the dowry to be paid. In Belait, a groom had to send a cannon among other items to the bride‘s family. Cannons were also used as tribute payments. When an ‘Orang Kaya‘ - a titled local minister died, landowners had to pay a tribute of a cannon. Cannons were also accepted as replacement of other punishments in some Brunei ethnic cultures.
One interesting use of a Brunei cannon had been found used to mark a grave in Rangas.
Brunei cannons are unique and it is one of our few remaining historical assets.
The author runs a website on Brunei at bruneiresources.comThe Brunei Times
Source: www.bruneitimes.com (23 Juli 2007)