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Royal Standards (Brunei)

Last modified: 2011-02-19 by ian macdonald
Keywords: brunei | royal |
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Gaceta de Banderas no. 68, April 2001, contained a brief article by Michel Lupant with images by Jorge Hurtado about royal flags of Brunei, apparently the first of a series. Eight flags were illustrated, without any description apart from the title, in Malay(?) and English, of each position. According to Tomás Rodríguez, SEV Secretary, the article is based on observations by Michel Lupant and Scott Guenter during a visit to Brunei. I requested Jorge Hurtado the original vector files, which he kindly sent me, and which I have exported to GIFs.

I have e-mailed Michel Lupant in case he can provide any more details on the sources, specifications, adoption dates etc. of these flags. Maybe he could also explain their meaning and patterns, for instance:

  • are swallowtailed flags always used for children, flags with flyside-triangles for grandchildren etc.?
  • what identifies/differentiates the flag of an illegitimate child?
and so on. Perhaps somebody with a better knowledge of Malay than me can confirm/improve the English translations.

It would also be interesting to know what is the relative status of each of these positions, for instance does the Bendahara Vizier occupy a higher-ranking position to that of the Chief Vizier and/or Temenggong Vizier or a lower one, etc. Again, maybe somebody could provide approximate Western equivalents (I dare not say translations) of these positions (i.e. crown prince, prime minister etc.).
Santiago Dotor
, 17 April 2001

I discovered around 120 flags during my 1999 trip to Brunei. Part of these appeared in a 1968 book on the Sultan's coronation, which both Scott Guenter and I had. Scott handed over his copy to W[hitney] Smith whom he met at Victoria [ICV Congress?]. Scott stayed some months in Malaysia and can translate Malay to a certain extent. The other flags are at the Royal Museum. Furthermore the flags I have just published are new flags I have discovered in a local book.

I have tried to translate the title of each prince or chief. According to an answer of the [Bruneian] Embassy [in Brussels], this is impossible since they are local titles with no English equivalent. The yellow colour stands for the sultan and his family. I believe there are four local families, in this order [from higher to lower rank?]:

  1. Pengiran Bendahara: white colour
  2. Pengiran Di-Gadong: green colour
  3. Pengiran Pemancha: black colour
  4. Pengiran Temenggong: red colour
As I said before, I have seen around 120 flags, some of them are the same, some princes use the same flag. [See Anak Duli Pengiran Perdana Wazir Yang Tidak Gahara.]

I know there have been some changes after 1968, but I do not have all of these new flags.

Anak means child, chuchu grandchild, piut great-grandchild and anak gahara child of high caste. Flags for Anak Gahara's and Anak's are swallowtailed, whereas those for Chuchu's and Piut's are rectangular with a triangle on the fly. The colour of each family dominates in each flag. The whole thing is quite complicated!
Michel Lupant
, translated by Santiago Dotor, 27 April 2001

The following issues of Gaceta de Banderas, nos. 69, 70 and 71 (May, July and August 2001) contain further images of these royal standards, made by Jorge Hurtado upon Michel Lupant's notes. Jorge Hurtado has kindly sent me the original files, and I have exported them to FOTW-standard GIFs.

The situation with these flags is even worse, since for all but five of them Gaceta de Banderas does not even provide an approximate translation of the Malay title. Maybe Herman Felani, Tom Koh and Andrew Yong could give better translations and explanations about these positions in Bruneian royalty and government. In any event, there is some Bruneian royalty glossary in this webpage.
Santiago Dotor
, 13 September 2001

I have tried my best in defining the Malay terms for Bruneian Royalty forwarded by Santiago Dotor. However please take note of these few points first:

  • Most of the Royal terms are in Classical/Archaic Malay. Some of the words do not appear any longer on a modern Malay dictionary. For these problems, I consulted my older family members and friends.
  • The Malay Language has variants in use throughout the Malay Archipelago, be it Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore or Brunei. Therefore, do not be surprised if the titles have a different meaning when the Brunei Royal Titles are deemed different to the Malaysian Royal Titles.
  • So too are differences in spelling. Temenggong = Temenggung = Temanggong.
Some brief essential facts (as far as I can remember, please correct me if I am wrong) about the Sultan and the immediate Royal family:
  • Since Islamic Saryiah Law allows a male to have 4 wives, the Sultan currently has 2 wives. Customarily the 1st wife is the Queen (Raja Isteri) based on order of marriage, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th are otherwise known as 'Consorts' (Pengiran Isteri) for simplicity.
  • Children from the 1st wife (the Queen) are known with the addition ...yang Gahara, i.e. '...of descent from the Queen'.
  • Children from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th wives (the Consorts) are known with the addition ...yang tidak Gahara i.e. '...not of descent from the Queen'. Please note that they are not illegitimate. They are legitimate children of the Sultan!
  • All other members of the Royal family are titled Pengiran (something like 'the Royal Member' so and so).
  • Temanggong, unlike Malaysian usage is the title for the Princes and who are accredited to be heads of districts (e.g. Prince of Wales)
  • Wazir [vizier] by definition are ministers.

Herman Felani, 14 September 2001

The Bruneian royalty glossary I mentioned earlier differences instead between "Royal Consort: Raja Istri" and "Junior Consort: Pengiran Istri" or "commoner wives". Which translation into English would be more correct — "consorts", "junior consorts" or "commoner wives"?
Santiago Dotor
, 17 September 2001

A few facts to simplify things about Brunei:

  1. Society is divided into three: A) Royalty B) Male line descendents of Sultans (known collectively as the Pengirans, from the Sanskrit word meaning Prince) and C) Everybody else.
  2. All titles except that of Sultan are non-hereditary. Therefore, the flag of, say, the Grand Vizier, will be passed on to the next Grand Vizier, who may not necessarily be his son, nor even directly related to him. Hence the flags for the sons/grandsons of (insert post here).
  3. Brunei, as far as I know, is the only country where, no matter how loyal or patriotic you are, once you have been granted the use of your personal standard, it then becomes an offence to fly the national flag in the country no matter the occasion.
  4. Rough translation:
    a) Perdana Wazir: Grand/Chief Vizier (white). Function: Head of the Viziers
    b) Pengiran Bendahara: Prime Minister (white). Function: Chief of Staff (now ceremonial), Deputy Sultan (now taken by the Crown Prince)
    c) Pengiran Di-Gadong: Minister of Trade (Green): Function: Minister of Trade (now defunct)
    d) Pengiran Pemancha: Minister of the Interior (black): Function: Minister of the Interior (now defunct)
    e) Pengiran Temenggong: Minister of War (Red): Function: Commander of the Army (now ceremonial)
  5. Raja Isteri: Queen Pengiran Isteri: Royal Consort who is not queen. May or may not be of Royal blood.
  6. Manteri/menteri does translate as minister, but not in the modern usage. "Menteri" is minister in the modern usage, no problem there. "Manteri" (archaic spelling) are divided into two, Pehin Manteri (Life Peers/Lords) and Manteri Darat, which, in practical terms would be like sheriffs, place wardens, feudal vassals, things of that ilk. The important difference is that the Pehins are defined by their job description, and are thus mobile, whereas the Manteri Darat, as their name implies (Darat = Land) are tied to a particular place, and have the same jobs, basically i.e. representative of the Sultan.
  7. Only a Pengiran may be a vizier (and are usually of the Royal Household anyways). The Nobles below the Vizier are styled the Pengiran Cheterias. These are pengirans that have an additional title including their hereditary title of Pengiran. This second title, the Pehin Manteris, allude to their job description, and entitles them to the use of a flag.
  8. A Pehin cannot be a Pengiran, and vice-versa.

Fawzie Kefli, 3 November 2010


According to the drawings in Gaceta de Banderas nos. 68-71, all flags have a ratio 1:2 and, except where indicated:

  • cantons are half the flag's height and 1/3rd the flag's length;
  • top and bottom stripes are each 1/8th the flag's height;
  • swallowtail cuts are as deep as half the flag's length;
  • flyside triangles are as deep as 1/5th the flag's length;
  • flyside chevrons are as deep as 1/5th the flag's length and do not touch the top or bottom sides.
Also, 'yellow arms' in my descriptions means the Bruneian coat-of-arms with inverted colours.

Please note that my descriptions are based on Jorge Hurtado's vector images which, if I understand correctly, are based on Michel Lupant's descriptions. What this means is that these dimensions should not be at all considered official or usual.
Santiago Dotor, 13 September 2001