Affairs of the heart in Brunei

I often say, “Fairy tales do come true.” In Brunei, they still do. This thought was further validated when I recently attended the book launch of the fashion doyenne of Brunei, Dayang Anyati Abdullah Orcullo. She launched her book Brunei Malay Wedding in festive ceremonies at her family-owned Rizqun International Hotel at the heart of  Abdul Razak Complex in Gadong, Brunei.

Beautiful photographs of real Brunei-Malay weddings and personal accounts of Anyati’s beginnings and her journey in her most illustrious career were highlighted. These stunning life-size photographs that looked more like oil paintings displayed in the executive floor of the Rizqun Hotel come from her vast repository of distinguished clients whose royal ensemble Anyati lovingly and magnificently created.

This multi-talented lady is not just a book author and a fashion designer but also a lady who cooks and bakes very well for family and friends on special occasions. Anyati loves to prepare beautiful table arrangements and hosts the most gracious parties. She is also in the process of completing her lifestyle cook book, which will feature not just amazing recipes but will also give advice on how to prepare the most simple to the most elaborate party or event settings.

A former English teacher at Western Mindanao State University, Anyati hails from Zamboanga and Davao and has ingenuously integrated into the Brunei-Malay culture yet cherishes her Filipino ancestry as well.

Her lavish book launch was attended by her guest of honor, Brunei’s Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Datin Paduka Dayang Hajah Adina binti Ohtman, among numerous ambassadors, high-placed officials, uppity clients and well-meaning friends from Manila. Anyati shared that the new coffee table book is in line with the ratification of the UNESCO convention for the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011 and the commitment to protecting cultural and natural heritage.

The Deputy Minister further said that this coffee table book is a “national treasure” with its priceless documentation of the rich ancestry and heritage of Brunei Darussalam – known as the Abode of Peace. “Preserving tangible works like these is not just for posterity but also for the continuous survival of these cultural practices,” he said. The book showcased the traditional Malayan wear with a special and ingenuous twist that only Anyati can think of.

It is a very engaging book that features not just stunning gowns, but also instills in the reader the beauty and glory of this very rich culture. Anyati’s fabulous collections of Brunei Malay wedding dresses, Baju Kurung and Baju Kebaya, are, in her words, fashionably rich in traditional heritage yet designed to remain classic in a society where cultural values require modesty. She encourages everyone to experience a kaleidoscope of colors in traditional wedding ensembles, priceless jewels and exquisitely hand-woven Tenunan, embellished with a fusion of embroidery and bead works. Truly, this book proves that Anyati is a fashion designer who has a deep comprehension and respect for tradition and culture.

The photos showcased fairytale weddings that many dream of. Anyati shared that in the past, couples would get married at least eight times in very lavish ceremonies. Today, couples renew their vows regularly.

She mentioned in a very poignant video presentation the uniqueness of Brunei’s identity and highlighted the need to preserve and safeguard the continued tradition of Malay weddings.

Anyati thanked her gorgeous brides and other clients who collaborated with her in creating her coffee table book and lending their wedding gowns to be exhibited. She cited their valuable contributions, which will be remembered throughout history. She said, “Your beautiful images captured by our very talented local photographers, enhanced by the creative hands of the makeup artists, are together frozen in time, encapsulated in one collection that tells a story of traditions, culture and heritage. Be proud of your heritage, be proud of your identity, and be proud of being a Bruneian.”

After attending the book launch of Anyati, our Miladay creative consultant Mike Mina, who used to work for Brunei’s six-star Empire Hotel where we first met him, dear friends Carlo Rojas and Vernon Prieto and I embarked on a tour around Brunei to discover this nation’s beauty and culture furthermore.

For the uninitiated, Brunei is just an hour and a half away by flight from Manila. A country rich in culture and heritage, it is a small, peaceful, prayerful and prosperous kingdom on the southern shore of the ecologically rich and island of Borneo. The oil-rich country invites one and all to discover its unexpected treasures.

Brunei is best known as an oil producing country whose history dates back more than 1,500 years. Today, it remains the world’s only Malay Islamic monarchy with an unbroken royal lineage that has ruled the nation for the past 600 years.

Stunning attractions include the Omar “Ali” Saifuddien Mosque, an iconic landmark completed in 1958; Istana Nurul Iman, which is the official residence of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the Royal Sultan and his family. It is only open to the public during the Raya Aidil Fitri. With its golden domes and vaulted roof, it resembled a magical fairyland that glistened under a bright full moon. The Royal Regalia Building is home to a collection of royal regalia including the royal chariot in gold and silver armory. It also houses jewel-encrusted crowns used during the coronation.

Where in the world will you find a nation with approximately 450,000 people and 600,000 cars, where each citizen is cared for by the Sultan who provides for housing, schooling and even health care? If there is no doctor who can attend to your specific illness, the government will send you to any part of the world where your specialist can be found. The Sultan sends the citizens of Brunei to where they wish to pursue further studies in the field of medicine; engineering and the like provided they return to their country to give back what they have learned.

Aboard Royal Brunei Air en route to Hong Kong, prayers on the video screen were dedicated to travellers – those left behind, those who would be met along the way. It is touching that this airline has prayers before takeoff. I gently turned the glorious pages of the Brunei-Malay Wedding book and fell in love with this rich culture of beauty and diversity.

Indeed, I will always associate the majestic kingdom of Brunei with dreamy weddings, new beginnings and happy endings. Anyati has captured and celebrated several “I do” ceremonies where life and love take center stage.

After all, fairy tales do come true, in the coffee table book Brunei-Malay Wedding, you will witness vicariously that they still do.

By Christine S. Dayrit Updated Sunday March 23, 2014 – 12:00am