Sabah (then North Borneo), the second largest state in Malaysia, is located on the northern part of Borneo Island, the world's third largest island. Sabah covers an area of 75,500 square kilometres with a coastline of 14,400 kilometres long washed by the South China Sea in the west, the Sulu Sea in the north east and Celebes Sea in the south east.
Sabah, known as the "Land Below The Wind" is rich not only in natural beauty and resources, but also in the historical and cultural heritage of its people.
Flora and Fauna
Sabah is a mountainous country. Its mountainous area is crisscrossed with rivers which run through the valley to fertile land. In this State is located the majestic and highest mountain in Borneo, Mount Kinabalu which is 4,101 metres high.
Sabah is a botanical paradise. The world's largest flower, Rafflesia whose huge red bloom can grow up to a metre in diameter, is found in Sabah. Many species of orchids, pitcher plants and rhododendrons are endemic to Sabah.
Panoramic view of Mt. Kinabalu
The lush greenery provides home for wildlife such as the Sumatran Rhinoceros, Orang-Utan, Elephant, Mousedeer, Monkey, Flying Squirrel, Barking deer and Birds.
Sabah is endowed with a heterogenous population where its people are as diverse in their cultural background as they are linguistically. Based on their languages, the indigenous population is made up of some 50 ethnic groups and not less than 80 sub-groups, namely, Ambai, Pingas, Alumbia, Rumanau, Baukan, Rungus, Bisaya, Selungai, Bonggi, Sembakung, Bundu, Serudung, Dumpas, Sinambu, Dusun, Sinandapak, Gana, Sinorupu, Garo, Sonsogon, Gonsomon, Sukang, Idahan, Sukpan, Kadazan, Sundayo, Kalabakan, Sungai, Kavananan, Tagahas, Kedayan, Tagalong, Kimaragang, Tagol, Kolobuan, Talantang, Kolod, Tangara, Okolor, Tatana, Lingkabau, Tidung, Liwan, Timugon, Lobu, Tinagas, Kwijau, Tindal, Lotud, Tobilung, Liba, Toliting, Lundayo, Tombonuo, Makiang, Tuhawan, Malapi, Tutong, Begahak, Bajau, Minokok, Balangingi/Balanguingui, Murut, Cocos, Naaboi, Iranuns, Nulu, Cagayan, Paitan, Suluk, Paluan and Bruneis.
The KadazanDusun - Contestants of the "Unduk Ngadau" (Beauty Queen contest), the highlight of the Harvest Festival which are celebrated in May each year.
The Rungus inhabit the northern part of Sabah, Kudat district. Their costumes are predominantly dark or black in colour and worn with beautiful ornaments, accessories and headdresses.
The Bajaus in traditional costumes. On the west coast of Sabah, they are farmers as well as fishermenm and are well known for their expert horsemanship.
They are traditional practising wet rice or hill rice cultivation with some hunting and riverine fishing. On the coastal area, they are traditional fishermen.
Some indigenous communities still practise the traditional way of life as farmers and fishermen, though many are now involved in various occupation such as white collar workers, that is, busnessmen, civil servants and successful politicians.
The Chinese forms the largest non-indigenous group in Sabah. They have settled in the state over the past century.
Headhunting was practised by the interior indigenous people of Sabah such as the Murut and the Kadazandusun. However, this activity was not practised rampantly as was among the Sawarakian tribes. It was held to confer benefits both on the individual taker of the head and on the community to which the taker belonged.
The taking of his first head denoted a youth's entry into manhood. It proved him to be a tried warrior and he was then entitled to receive his first tattoo marks. The possession of a head also enabled him to win the favour of the young woman of his choice and to press a suit which would have been less successful had he been unable to show any such material proof of his prowess. Besides that, the souls of those whose heads had been taken were believed to follow thier victors to the spirit world; and naturally the greater number of heads a man obtains the greater respect was he likely to win from his fellows both in this life and the next.
Under the British North Borneo Chartered Company, law was imposed by the British on the headhunting activities. This caused a decline in practising headhunting among the indigenous people of Sabah. Now, the headhunting in Sabah was regarded as a nostalgia of the past.
History of Sabah
28,000 years ago, a lava flow from the now extinct Mostyn volcano dammed the Tingkayu River, causing a lake to form. Fine stone-age tools were found on the old lake bed, now covered with oil palms, which is believed to be a stone-tool factory site. The tools, said to be among the finest of its kind in Southeast Asia, indicate the presence of settlers on the lake shores between 28,000 - 18,000 years ago.
Based on archaeological findings, Sabah was inhabited by man at least 28,000 - 18,000 years ago at the Darvel Bay area in the east coast. These early communities lived in caves in the east coast of Sabah, namely the Tingkayu area, the Baturong cave, the Madai cave, the Tapadong cave and Gomantong cave.
The modern history of Sabah began with the barter trade relation; ceramic wares from China were exchanged for spices and other jungle produce with the local people. It was believed to have happened in the 10th century during the Sung Dynasty.
Then, during the Ming Dinasty (14th century), it was believed that one expedition led by Ong Sum Ping sailed out to North Borneo via the Sulu Sea. This expedition sailed upriver to what is now known as Kinabatangan and made a settlement there.
Magnificent archaeological artifacts from Tingkayu site.
A Vietnamese drum or known as "Dongson Drum" which had existed between 2,500 - 2,00 years ago, decorated pottery container and sherds which are found at the Bukit Timbang Dayang, Banggi
The existence of the Chinese settlement however remains a mystery as there has not yet been any archaeological evidence to identify the settlement on the Kinabatangan. Nevertheless, the name "Kinabatangan" was said to have connection with the existence of this early settlement.
Towards the end of the 14th century, it was believed that Islam was first introduced in Sabah. This is based on a Jawi manuscript in the Idahan language dated 1408 A.D., which gives an account of an Idahan man named Abdullah in Darvel Bay who embraced Islam.
In the early 16th century, Sabah came under the de'facto rule of Brunei Sultanate. A century later, Sabah was ruled by two de'facto powers; the Brunei sultanate in the west coast area and the Sulu Sultanate in the east coast area.
Relations of Sabah with Britian begun in 1763 when the British East India Company made a settlement on Balambangan Island and later on Labuan Island in 1846.
The American Trading Company later made a settlement in Kimanis in 1865. In 1881, Sabah was administered by the British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBCC), a hierarchical system of administration.
Under the BNBCC, Sabah underwent numerous development. Overall the administration was smooth and peaceful, though there existed some opposition. Taxes introduced by the British on land, head and boat caused anger among the local people. This led to the emergence of local warriors who opposed the British. Among them were Mat Salleh, Mat Sator, Syerif Osman, Antenom, Si Gunting, Pak Musa and others.
Hj. Saman and his men attacking the British at membakut, 1846.
Datu Paduka Mat Salleh was a prominent warrior in a series of uprising against the British, 1894 - 1900.
In the 1880s and 1900s, the opening up of commercial estates was accelerated and assisted in uplifting the socioeconomy of Sabah i.e. railway services.
On 1st January 1942, the Japanese army landed on Labuan Island. The mission to capture Sabah was rapid. On 16th May 1946, Sabah was completely under the Japanese rule. Sabah was divided into two divisions, the West Coast including the interior and Kudat was named "Sheikai Shiu" and the East Coast was called "Tokai Shiu".
The Japanese occupation was resisted by guerilla groups i.e. the Kinabalu Guerrillas led by Albert Kwok at West Coast and another led by Datu Mustapha at the northern part of Sabah. However, the Kinabalu Guerrillas movement ended with the mass killing of Kwok and its members in Petagas on 21st January 1944.
The liberation of Sabah began on 9th June 1945 when the 9th Australia Imperial Force Division attacked the Japanese location on Labuan Island.
The war in Sabah ended with the official surrendering by Lieutenant General Masao Baba on Labuan Island on 10th September 1945, Colonel Elimus in Papar on 15th September 1945 and Major Akashi in Beaufort on 17th September 1945. This was the result of the combined bombing of the Allied Forces (Australia, British, United States and New Zealand) which in the process also devastated Sandakan, Jesselton and Labuan.
After the Second World War, Sabah was administered by the British Military Administration until 15th July 1946 when civil rule was resumed.
Sabah was made a British Crown Colony as the British North Borneo Chartered Company was not able to redevelop the devastated Sabah as the result of the Second World War. The British Government reorganised and redeveloped the administration system which was planned/implemented by the British North Borneo Chartered Company. Jesselton was made the new state capital as Sandakan was almost totally ruined by the War.
The wind of change began to be felt in many countries in Southeast Asia after the war. The spirit of nationalism and the wish to be independent became more conspicuous.
The announcement by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj on 27th May 1961 on the possibility of creating a Malaysia Federation which comprised Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore had greatly boosted the spirit and hope of the North Borneo people to attain independence.
Various negotiations were held and oppositions were faced in the process of Sabah being granted independence. Finally, the Malaysia Federation was formed on 16th September 1963 without Brunei and North Borneo was renamed Sabah. Spectacular and memorable events were held at Jesselton Town Padang to mark this day. Before that day, North Borneo was granted self rule by the British on 31st August 1963.
Through the Federation, Sabah had undergone rapid development in various aspects.
Donald Stephens, Chief Minister of Sabah, reading the proclaimation of Independe of Sabah through Federation of Malaysia on 16th September 1963 at Padang Merdeka, Kota Kinabalu. With him are Tun Mustapha bin Datu Harun, the Head of State of Sabah and Tun Abdul Razak, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaya, representing the Federal Bovernment of Malaysia.
Kota Kinabalu (then Jesselton) was the third capital of Sabah after Kudat and Sandakan. The town of Jesselton, named after the Vice Chairman of the Brtisih North Borneo Chartered Company, Sir Charles Jessel. On 30th September 1967, Jesselton was given its new name, Kota Kinabalu.
In Kota Kinabalu, there are three remaing pre-war structures - the Old Post Office Building, the Atkinson Clock Tower and the Old Welfare building. All three have been gazetted as historical buildings