Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohd Yunos is the newest addition to our group of writers with two of his books, From Kianggeh to Weston, From Italy to America : 400 Years of Brunei History and Monsters, Dragons & Fairies. Currently a lecturer at UBD, he is one of our local pioneer bloggers and has also written columns for the Brunei Times. We met with Mr Rozan a few weeks ago at his residence to gauge his thoughts on his writing and his passion for local history. We arrived at a house that so clearly belonged to a history enthusiast. It had shelves upon shelves stacked of antiques and artefacts. His home was a perfect reflection of his character – warm, welcoming, and brimming with stories.
Edah : What is the intention behind your writing?
Rozan : Oh, that’s easy. I just want to talk about Brunei. When I originally started the Brunei Resources (his blog) , the government did not have a website yet. At that time, I was a middle-ranking officer and had access to information that the public would need to know. I would even scan documents page by page and put them up. The main intention of the blog originally was to distribute information and I would sometimes comment on it. And then eventually I thought to myself that it would be easier if I were just to write the whole thing myself. That’s how I ended up writing about it. I am a firm believer that everyone should get correct information so that they can make correct decisions.
Nadiah : We’ve gone through several of your books. And they really have a scholarly feel to them.
Rozan : These books are a collection of articles, and each and every single article was meant for a newspaper. If you look at my earlier books, it would be about 800 words at most. Because to editors, that’s the length an article can be without the reader getting bored. In some sense, it is meant to be casual reading. I sometimes write about folklore but I generally write about History which are based on facts. If you notice, I make references in my books sometimes too. That’s probably why it feels scholarly.
Nadiah : We also noticed that a lot of your writing circulates around the topic of Brunei. Is it because you were asked to write about Brunei by the newspaper? Or has the topic always been your general interest?
Rozan : I have to go way back much earlier than the newspaper to answer your question. Internet started in Brunei around 1995. At that point in time, a few of us were thinking that this was a good platform we could use to put Brunei things across. I started writing a blog and one day, the editor behind Muhibbah asked me to write a feature for them. I gave them a short article, got paid a lot for it and thought to myself that I should write more. Soon after that, the Brunei Times editor asked me to do a column for them about Brunei history as well and I kind of stuck to it (the Golden Legacy) and I did that for ten years. But I’ve always wanted to write about Brunei. I could write about other things, but I don’t want to.
Edah : Just wondering where that love to write about Brunei comes from. We’re Bruneians too but honestly have never really had the same thirst to do so much research into its history. Is it because your career with the government kind of brought you down that path? Or perhaps your upbringing?
Rozan : I guess I grew up with an unconventional educational background for my time. Growing up, I went to different schools in each district because of my father’s job. After that I went off to Singapore and then England. There were so little of us there, you rarely saw a fellow Bruneian back then.It’s not like today where there is a society of Bruneians abroad together. So I didn’t know much about Brunei because I was away for so long. And there was always that curiosity to know where things came from.
Edah : Maybe kids these days should travel more so that they can appreciate life here.
Nadiah : They do though.A lot of families travel with their children.
Edah: Maybe not enough. I always see kids caught up in their digital world. They’re more globalized rather than localized. That’s actually one of the reasons why we feel that these books are so important. So that the stories are documented and can always be told again.
Rozan : If you start doing research about Brunei, you will find that there aren’t that many books written about it. Or if there is, it tends to be written by an outsider. It’s difficult because then we only hear about the story from their perspective and from what they wanted to promote. Not many Bruneians tell their side of the story.
Edah : Sometimes I tell my niece about Brunei culture and she would ask me why she needs to know about these things. I’d explain to her that it’s her identity, but she still wouldn’t get it.
Rozan : It’s hard when you’re young. Even myself. I was interested about Brunei but not enough to do anything about it. Until I was picked as the leader for the Kapal Belia. In that programme you have to do a lot to showcase your culture and that’s when I realized how ignorant I was to not know these things about my own culture. It took me that long to realize it. Information was not as readily available back then. It was available but not easily accessible.
Nadiah : If it were, do you think the younger generation would be interested in taking a look at it?
Rozan : It’s not that hard really. I think we would need to present it in a way that is fun for them. We can’t force it on them or else it’s like a class lesson and won’t seem interesting to them. We tell them what to do but we don’t tell them why. It’ll just be about passing exams. I remember during my time, I was in Darjah 4, and I had a teacher – I still remember his name, it was Cikgu Sallleh. He was talking about history, and I remember being so interested in what he was saying.
Nadiah : What was it about him that made such an impression on you?
Rozan : He was a passionate man and teacher. He would go on and on. Now I hold my lectures and try to emulate that. I tell stories about Brunei in class too to the early birds before waiting for the rest to come in. Sometimes people come early for the stories. Nowadays, schools have targets that they need to achieve. We are living in a world where we are constantly chasing KPIs. Even if you are passionate about teaching, there is simply no time to be passionate. Everything seems like a chore now and the fun has gone out of it. Learning should be fun. Students know when they are forced to do certain things. And it also seems to me that there is a lot of focus on memorization and when that happens, students forget about everything else. We put so much emphasis on memorizing dates and years. That’s not where the fun is! I don’t remember the exact dates of historical events, but I remember what happened. This is why history so easily seems boring. Too much memorization.
Nadiah : Do you think it’s important for them to know?
Rozan : You’ve got to remember that the only thing that sets us apart from others is our culture. It is our manifestation and what makes us who we are. You could go to the Phillipines and no one would know that you are Bruneian. We all look somewhat similar. I mean in South East Asia alone, we all look pretty much alike. Perhaps we would be able to distinguish who comes from where simply because we know the little nuances, but a Westerner would have difficulty in exactly identifying us.
Edah : Back to associating cultural identity identity with the younger generation, we noticed that you also use social media as a channel to give out information and we find it so interesting! We saw the post on some sort of fashion clippers on collars. We can’t find those anywhere else, I only saw it on your channel.
Rozan :I visited my Dad and he was cleaning the store room and found those clips. We didn’t know what they were so I asked my group of collectors, and was told that it was actually a badge used and clipped on collar corners. Was popular about 30/40 years back.
Edah : We wish they would share these things. These are the little things that would spike interest, especially in fashion and such. It could even inspire new designs
After we stumbled upon the topic of the fashion clippers, Rozan gave us a tour of his house and showed us all his wonderful antiques. We dove deeper and deeper into the stories behind the many pieces strewn across his living room that we did not realize so much time has passed. We left his home enlightened, with our heads full of stories, and even a souvenir coin each!
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