Brunei has enforced a 3-day rule on the lion dance performances starting this year, placing limits on the tradition of celebrating Chinese New Year with dragon and lion dance performances with loud beats of drums and deafening sounds of cymbals.
The three-day ruling for public performances of lion and dragon dance during Chinese New Year has disappointed many people, said a team leader of a lion dance troupe yesterday.
Speaking to The Brunei Times, the team leader who wished to remain anonymous, said that they have only been permitted a three-day approval by the government to perform and collect donations in conjunction with their lion dance performances compared to previous years which was allowed throughout the 15-day festival.
He said the ruling meant that some members of the Chinese community are not able to enjoy the traditional performance. “The impact is that a lot of people who want to celebrate the lion dance performance in their house were unable to because we have to turn them down,” he said.
Brunei’s prime shopping district, Gadong
The team leader said his dance troupe were only able to cater to those who had made advanced booking to be performed during the first three days of Chinese New Year. The team leader added that the restriction also meant a drastic drop in income for the dance troupe which charges a certain fee and collect donations in the form of ang pows (money packets).
The money received, he said, will go to a reserve fund that will be used to promote educational purposes such as scholarships and building facilities. He stressed that the money does not go to the performers themselves, who are volunteers, including himself who had taken three days off from work just to perform.
When asked how other dragon and lion dance troupes in the country had reacted to the three-day ruling, he commented they are “more or less in the same difficulty like us” and have to abide by the rule. Under the new ruling, dragon and lion dance troupes in the country are only permitted to perform in the first three days of Chinese New Year in selected places such as in Chinese temples and selected residences. The troupes are now required to report the specific residential areas in which they would perform in, and apply for the relevant permits.
According to the team leader, the cultural performance should not just be seen as a tradition and culture. Rather, he said, it had came to be recognized as a serious sport worldwide, adding that it has been accepted as a sport in most international games, “even in the Olympics”.
As such, he hoped a leeway could be given for lion dance performances to perform longer where “if two weeks is not possible, at least a week would be good”. Apart from performing during the Chinese New Year celebrations, lion dance performances are popular during events such as a shop openings, wedding receptions or product launchings.
Brunei has launched the “Wawasan 2035 Negara Zikir”, a national vision which intends it to be the purest Islamic state in the region by the year 2035. In 2008, Brunei raided an international hotel while it celebrated New Year’s Eve, drawing attention across world’s medias. In 2010, Brunei designated IRK (Islamic Religious Knowledge) as a compulsory core subject to be studied in schools by both Muslim and non-Muslim students, while in 2011 began drafting Sharia laws to be adopted and implemented across the country.
The country’s economy however, has stagnated. Brunei now recorded the lowest economic (Gross Domestic Product - GDP) growth in ASEAN, and also the lowest tourist arrivals among the 10 states that make up Southeast Asia. Foreign Direct Investment in non-petroleum sector has fallen considerably and real standard of living (adjusted to inflation) has plunged below 1985 level.
The Chinese population in Brunei amounted to a little over 40,000, with half of them being denied citizenship and are classified as stateless. Many Bruneian Chinese have migrated and their demographic composition is on the decline, being at around 18% of the country’s population in the 1990s, and 15% in 2001. The latest IMF reports put the Chinese population at 11.2% in 2010.
Starting out being the richest, the Sultanate has now fallen far behind the other 3 Asian wealthy microstates
Once the richest in Southeast Asia, oil-rich Brunei had a per capita GDP 3 times higher than Singapore in the 1960s. The lion city caught up with Brunei in early 1990s, and in 2010, Singapore had a per capita GDP 29% higher than Brunei. This lead has widened to 32.8% in 2011.
The country recently suffered another blow in economic ranking vis-a-vis Macau. Macau, a tiny enclave in China, is among the 2 Asian states with closest population to Brunei (the other being Maldives) In 2000, Brunei had a GDP per capita 2.5 times more than Macau, but the city experienced the fastest-growing economic growth on average (percentage) in the past 10 years. As of the year ended 2011, Macau per capita is Asia’s highest, at 70% more than Brunei.