BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – A scaled-down National Day parade did not deter crowds from gathering in Taman Hj Sir Muda Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien to salute frontline workers as Brunei put up a show of unity and resilience towards post-pandemic recovery.

The stands were filled with Bruneians waving mini flags as they witnessed the country’s first major national celebration in almost a year.

Some 2,800 people were involved in the 37th National Day parade on Tuesday, but was a far cry from the 26,000 people who participated in last year’s procession.

Dressed in the Royal Brunei Armed Forces’ Supreme Commander uniform, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah and other members of the royal family also joined in the festivities.

With most COVID-19 restrictions lifted and no community transmission for nearly 300 days, the government said it remained vigilant, requiring performers and visitors to undergo temperature checks and then log on to the contact-tracing app BruHealth before being allowed entry to the padang.

“Brunei may be the only country to celebrate National Day if we look at the global situation… this is thanks to the country’s efforts in curbing the spread of COVID-19,” the minister of culture, youth and sports said in an interview with The Scoop.

YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan POKSMDSP Hj Abidin said the parade is testament that celebrations can be held under the new normal, and that it is necessary to comply with the government’s standard operating procedures.

The public taking in the atmosphere at Taman SOAS during Brunei’s 37th National Day on February 23, 2021. Photo: Faiq Airudin/The Scoop

Asked if this means Brunei will continue to hold national events in the near future, the minister said, “I believe the benchmark from this event can serve as a guide in organising future activities. The main thing is we cannot be complacent in whatever we are doing”.

YB Dato Hj Aminuddin said the process of making the celebration a success “is not as easy as it seems”, in terms of logistics and ensuring everyone adheres to social distancing measures.

Performers had less than a month to rehearse instead of the usual two months. Each group also learned the choreography at different venues and only came together to rehearse as a group on three occasions.

Parade pays tribute to frontline workers

Against the backdrop of a billboard bearing a giant portrait of the sultan and the number 37, the scaled-down march past featured only eight contingents.

In the past, as many as 138 groups representing all sections of society participated in the parade.

Marching to the beat of drums and the singing of patriotic melodies from the choir, the eight groups synchronised their walk past the royal dais where the monarch stood to salute the contingents.

A special round of applause was also reserved for 100 COVID-19 frontline workers who joined the procession.

Before the march past began, His Majesty inspected the guard of honour mounted by 409 members of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces and Royal Brunei Police Force.

The hour-long parade also saw 37 individuals reciting the National Day oath, led by Pengiran Dr Muhammad Nadzir Pengiran Mohd Juanda, a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Gleneagles JPMC.

Chants of “Allahu Akbar” then broke out in unison, a tradition that has been practised since Brunei proclaimed independence at the same venue.

From martial artists showcasing their skills to youth performing cultural dances, the four-segment performance highlighted the importance of human resource development in “realising the national vision”, the theme of the 37th National Day celebration.