Brunei Chinese Temple

It was only slightly over 100 years ago that the capital of Brunei was on land. Prior to that, Bandar Seri Begawan or Pekan Brunei as it was then known, was a city on water.Peter Blundell in his book City of Many Waters (published in 1923) stated that the "town was unique, the only one in the world built almost entirely over the water, and the Brunei(an)s were justly proud of it. They were folks who live a semi-aquatic life, and their methods of living, household arrangements, family life, and town government, adapted as they had been to life over the water.When did the capital move to dry land? The official record was that of the first British Resident, McArthur, who wrote in his report the following words, "I want a clean, dry village with suburbs of kampong houses. I also want to discourage building on dry land. However it took a cholera epidemic and a smallpox epidemic in 1902 and 1904 with many people dying before Bruneians then would consider moving themselves away from their traditional way of life over the water.Peter Blundell in that same book also bluntly wrote that it was "apparent that the cramped conditions under which the inhabitants lived, the damp, the lack of exercise, and the germs in the filth and mud under the huts could not but affect unfavourably the health of all the inhabitants".The government persuaded a group of Pengirans to move out to dry land and to build their houses in the Tumasek area. His Majesty Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam built the first Istana on dry land in 1909. This was followed by some of the populace who started to build their houses in the Kianggeh and Sumbiling areas.The Chinese community:A group of Chinese businessmen moved out from Kampung Pekan Lama (then known as Kampung Bakut China) which served as the central business area in Kampong Ayer, and started to build their shops on dry land. In 1910, there were six shops, the year after, in 1911, there were 26 shops and just before the Second World War in 1941, that number has increased to more than 80 shops.The Chinese community in Kampong Ayer then was mostly Hokkiens from the Island of Quemoy. They were engaged in "revenue farms" — agricultural areas let by the British Resident to grow cash crops such as tobacco and opium as well as do business including spirits, kerosene and matches.They were also engaged in amassing land especially rubber plantations and also rice plantations. So, it was a prosperous time for the community.It was not just the Chinese from Quemoy that were in Brunei. According to "The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas" published by Harvard University Press in 1999, the "Chinese community in Brunei is made up of those who were from Quemoy (Jinmen), Cantonese, Hakkas, Hainanese, Teochius, Henghua (Xinghua) and others. As in other overseas Chinese communities, these different groups are located in different areas"The Quemoy Hokkiens are located in Brunei-Muara District while the Hakkas, Cantonese, and Hainanese are located in the Belait District. Separation among these groups is further reinforced by the different associations that cater to them."Examples of such associations are Belait District Hainanese Association, the Brunei Hainan Huiguan, the Belait District Fuzhou Association, the Belait District Hakka Association, the Brunei Guangdong-Huizhou-Zhaoqing Association, the Brunei Dabu Association and the Chinese Taipei Sojourners Society.Wherever they were, the Chinese communities in Brunei Town then needed a place for them to perform their religious duties. Hitherto, all their religious festivals then were celebrated in opera performances held in open areas. An important place for them was a permanent temple.

The first temple:According to a research paper written by Carrie C Brown and published in a collection of articles entitled "From Buckfast to Borneo", this first Chinese Temple was built in 1918.This temple where the Chinese perform their religious practices is the Buddhist Tengyun Temple. It was built by the Quemoy Hokkiens.As the First World War raged on in Europe, apparently times were good for the Chinese towkays in Brunei.The Chinese businessmen were among the first to heed the British Resident's call to set up shops away from the Kampong Ayer.In 1918, Dato Cheok Boon Siok was the Dato Temenggong and he owned land and shophouses up and down the street now known as Jalan Sultan. In the Brunei Annual Report of 1909, Cheok Boon Seok was described as the holder of the Chandu, Gambling License and Pawnbroking Farms and that he paid the rents regularly. It was not surprising that he had the wealth.The site chosen in front of Brunei River was geomatrically suitable and owned by him which he donated to the building of that first temple.The temple when it was built was considered as a remarkable piece of architecture and cost around $8,075.50 (Straits Dollar) which is a considerable sum in those days.The money came from donations from shops and individuals in Labuan, Limbang and Brunei as well as levies on tobacco and white rice imports. The top contributor was a shop named Choon Guan.

The temple was named Teng Yun Temple (Temple of Flying Clouds) but it became better known as Twa Pa Kung Temple (Great Uncle Temple).The new temple in Jalan Kianggeh is also known officially as the Hall of Flying Clouds.After the temple was built, a plaque was put up with the list of people who donated towards the construction.The plaque was made of wood, roughly three foot high and eight foot wide and inscribed with the names of donors and the amount of their largesse in Chinese and cut into the wood with a blade.Years later, apparently there was a bitter dispute and someone took a saw and cut away a chunk of the plaque. The plaque is now tucked away in a quiet corner of the current temple.The temple survived the bombings of the Second World War. In photographs taken by the Allied Forces, it can be clearly seen that the temple was the only large building standing after the bombardments of Brunei Town in the Second World War, first by the Japanese and later by the Allies.Many people were shocked that after the bombings, an unexploded bomb was found in the middle of the temple courtyard. Luckily the bomb remained intact and the temple survived.However, despite surviving the aerial bombardments and the rigors of war, the temple had to be demolished.By the 1950s, the expansion of the Brunei Town, the development boom of the post world war led to more materials and goods coming into Brunei.The need of the expanding port led the government to acquire the area of the temple.By the 1950s, the temple found itself next to the Customs Building on its right and the government rest house on its left.The temple was demolished and a customs warehouse was built on top of the old temple site.A new Chinese temple was built facing Sungai Kianggeh where it is located currently. The government provided $45,000 to the building of the new temple in 1960.