THE ROARING 20’s in the Land of Dreams, America… Thousands of miles away across the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, the Abode of Peace was still a very backward Malay village community on stilts on the Brunei River.
Brunei then was a tiny patch of territorial anonymity amongst the most virgin jungle-covered land on the Borneo Island (said to be the third-largest island in the world). Of the few thousand inhabitants then, only a handful of Bruneians had the opportunity to get truly proper formal education. And even then the things they learned by rote on stone tablets were leaning more toward Islamic religious education rather than a secular one.
In 1929, the first oil for the country was struck by the then British Malayan Petroleum Company in Seria. The same year that the Great Depression set in over the horizon in the United States. That was one of the gloomiest economic situations in the American history and also in the history of the rest of the world.
For an undeveloped economy like Brunei, 1929 marked the turning point in its history because of the discovery of the ‘black gold’ which would later shape the country into one of the richest oil and gas producers, many years and decades to come.
Now almost 80 years after Brunei had largely derived economic gains from its oil and natural gas production, a similar US recession is rearing its ugly head when some of its biggest financial firms are filing for bankruptcy. Its rippling effect has been spreading like wildfire all across the globe!
As a means of escaping from the harsh realities of the so-called global financial meltdown, most people would turn to the entertainment industry to lift up their de-motivated, hopeless spirits…
During the roaring ’20s and rolling ’30s, a God-given talented iconic legend by the name of Charlie Chaplin must have cheered up and made stressed and depressed world citizens then laugh and smile to a multitude of frenzy silent films of his slap-stick comedy trademark! Amongst Charlie Chaplin’s greatest movie-making and acting feats was his top box-office film, “Modern Times”, in which he composed this theme song with great lyrics to move the down-hearted to tears:
tho’ your heart is aching
even tho’ it’s breaking
when there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
smile through your fear and sorrow
smile and maybe tomorrow
you’ll see the sun come shining thru for you.
Light up your face with gladness
hide ev’ry trace of sadness
altho’ a tear maybe ever so near
that’s the time you must keep on trying
what’s the use of crying
you’ll find that life is still worth while
if you’ll just smile.
Still, Brunei Darussalam and the Asian region were hardly affected by the 1929 economic debacle in the US. It was a great coincidence, though, that one of the legendary icons in the Malay film industry, the multi-talented Tan Sri P Ramlee was born on March 22, 1929.
Like Charlie Chaplin, P Ramlee was the most popular actor, director and songwriter to have made millions of his fans in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and even Indonesia laugh and cry with his unique, versatile and class-act performances on and off-screen. The late P Ramlee died on 29 May 1973 (when the oil boom reached its peak which had benefitted the Malay world economies since Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei were producers and exporters of the ‘black gold’).
I’m digressing from the 1929 US economy depression topic but the thing is how recession-proof is our national economy in Brunei Darussalam was what I should’ve asked rhetorically in view of the current global economic outlook? Will the recession pose little or no effect to our country’s economy? Maybe our oil and gas exports are not so badly affected, I guess…
2009 is now the year of the ‘Great Recession’ as opposed to the ‘Great Depression’ year of 1929.
Incidentally, my late father was also born in 1929. He did have a colourful life, albeit in poverty, but rich in his kindness toward his kindred. May Allah bless the souls of those who have passed away… Amin Ya Rabbal Alamien — AL-FATIHAH.