Borneo Island - Sarawak, Sabah, Brunei, Kalimantan

Borneo Travel Blog

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General Layout of West and East Malaysia. Easy & cheap flights via KL, Senai & Singapore by Air Asia, Tiger Air, MAS and SQ

Borneo Island

This is the 3rd largest island after Greenland and New Guinea. There are 3 different countries who make up this large island. They are : Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia.

The Malaysian section consists of Sabah and Sarawak State which make up East Malaysia, while the Indonesian section is referred to as Kalimantan (consisting of North,South, East & West Kalimantan)

Early History : 

The last major recorded empires were based in the Brunei Sultanate till sometime in the 19th century. Before that it was the Srivijaya and subsequently Majapahit empires which dominated. Influences from China and the far east were already part of life, these stemmed from merchant trading and labour migration.

When did Borneo first meet the white man ? The Portugese were the early western settlers in South East Asia (S.

Map of Tourist Attractions for Sabah. What were you expecting ? Detailed locations of submarine bases, missile silos and jungle training camps ??
E.A) and did arrive in Borneo in the 1500's. They also settled in Melaka ( Malacca) in Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia). But, I guess the Spanish on the way (and back) to the Philippines stopped by and traded some shots with them. Why pay for goods and the use of the port facilities when you can capture it instead ? Hah ! Take that, you land lubbers !

Brunei was the main port in that region during those early days, being a natural sheltered harbour of sorts There are still sunken wrecks in the waters around Brunei. One of the most prized imports was Chinese blue and white porcelain. Other good stuff included spices, sandalwood, perfumes, pigments & silk : Vanity ware rules !

The poor Sultanate (and Sultan) was pretty busy rebuilding things each time these people decided to trade shots they met. Raiding parties were not uncommon (under auspices of privateering/ mercenary work). The control over the general population thus waned. I mean if your boss is busy fixing up things during a shootout, what's the issue with starting your own fiefdom ? It's not like he can just walk down the road, he would take weeks to sail over to you each time. As such, the individual towns & settlements had more & more autonomy and the the Sultanate had less & less taxes.

Ship Ahoy !

The court appointed envoys didn't get a good reception with the general population.

Map of Tourist Attractions for Sarawak. (I took these from the official tourism portal, TB has better site availability than them....)
The further away, the worse I can imagine. I don't know how many heads the Sultan got in return instead of taxes when he sent his men out each time. Thus it was James Brooke who sailed into the Sarawak river during these tumultuous times, smack into an uprising and meeting the sultan's consort who needed to quell the uprising. I mean, why the heck were these people uprising about ? What's wrong with being sent to work in mines, taxed to death and having your women & children enslaved ? Sheesh.... ungrateful brats.

  With some quick & deft work, James Brooke squished the uprising. Some say peacefully (yeah,right) Would you put down your arms just because somebody from someplace across the world told you to ? Thus, he was awarded the title of 'Rajah' -meaning king/ruler, of Sarawak. And... his family ruled for 3 generations.

With his initial display of prowess, James Brooke, now known as Rajah Brooke was 'da man' as far as the Sultan was concerned when it came to quelling rebellions, piracy etc. Effectively, each area Brooke 'pacified' became his. I mean, 'if you don't want to give it to me, you can bloody settle it yourself' - that would have been my argument. And Sarawak state became bigger & bigger in days to come. Jack Sparrow couldn't have done it better !

These expeditions of removal of piracy and restoration of law & order did get brutal enough to warrant outcry from the British government. But.... not enough to get anything more than admonishment (tsk.. tsk.. my boy, you really shouldn't do such nasty stuff in public. And wtf did you leave survivors for ?) This may sound familiar to those who get caught in pacification programs and end up being collateral damage.

It could have been easily another Henry Morgan, Edward Teach Thatch( aka Black Beard), William Kidd or maybe even Jack Sparrow who ran the place.  Fortune favours the bold and also those who aren't squeamish. Those were the days.... oh, wait a minute isn't this happening in the Middle East now ?

At Wit's End

Eventually the British got the north and the Dutch got the south. Effectively double ended, the Brunei empire was lucky to have any territory to call their own. If you look at the map carefully, you will find that Brunei today is not a whole chunk of territory by itself. It is split into 2 parts by Sarawak state.

So... it continued.

Romance of  3 more Kingdoms

James Brooke -->Charles Brooke --> Charles Vyner Brooke-->Anthony Brooke

Somehow, Charles Vyner Brooke found that it was a little awkward to be holding so much power and cooperated with the Supreme council there.

What was he thinking ??? Couldn't he just have given it to my ancestor ?? Anyway, his successor to be, Anthony Brooke got pissed off enough to make a complaint to Singapore HQ, the Gibraltar of the East. (that's another one of the great wonders of British military power. Will tell you the story another time)

until the day the Japanese arrived in 1941. Banzai !!! Merry Christmas to you !

And so during the Japanese occupation, the British and Allied troops started using the tribal groups (whom they these brutally suppressed under British rule) against the Japanese. Even headhunting was encouraged again. Shows you the real value of friends. 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend' (for now)

Shit Happens, you know......

After serious fighting and towns such as Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) and Sandakan were blown to bits, these areas under Sabah were also transferred to British control. Sabah was earlier under the British North Borneo Company (BNBC) and now became British Protectorate of North Borneo. Both Sabah and Sarawak states became British Crown Colonies after WW II until 1963.

So Long and Thanks !

The shout of Merdeka ! (Independence) rang out in 1957 for Malaya. The 1st prime minister , Tunku Abdul Rahman lobbied for inclusion of Singapore, Brunei, Sabah & Sarawak to join the newly independent Malayan States.

In 1963, Sabah & Sarawak joined the federation and obtained independence from foreign rule.

Later, in 1965, Singapore left the federation of Malayan States to chart her own path to nationhood and subsequent development.

What's Up Doc ?

Brunei kept herself out of the federation of Malayan states and obtained sovereign rule in 1984. I imagine they were extremely wary of such deals of joint cooperation after being shafted really badly by both the British and Dutch. From having an island the size of Borneo and being reduced to 2 small territories certainly leaves an impact on your notions of charity by foreign parties. But, they had the last laugh ! They kept the super oil rich areas and today.... they have more money than they can stuff their pillows with. Ha ha ha ha ha

Currently, Sarawak & Sabah administered by a Chief Minister respectively and are part of Malaysia. Each also has the' Yang di-Pertua Negeri ' officially as the head of state (in a ceremonial role) If you follow East Malaysian politics locally, then you may find that the Rajah legacy is 'not quite dead.' But, as a tourist, it doesn't come into play, just enjoy yourself. If you want to do anything more than be 'just a tourist' in Sarawak,  let me know , I'll put you in touch with some folks there.

As states voluntarily joining the Malaysian Federation, Sabah & Sarawak maintain a large degree autonomy and say in how they do things. West Malaysians have to present passports to enter & leave East Malaysia. So, I queue up in the same lane as you ' foreigners' when at customs. Ha ha ha. They may even dislike me more than you as they see West Malaysia taking too much of the oil & resource revenues.

ctjevans says:
that's an interesting history lesson, well told.

do you happen to know the most affordable means of transportation from West Malaysia to East Malaysia? I will be arriving in KL, plan to travel through West Malaysia, and then want to head for Borneo, but I can't find any information on ferries. Even considering flights, it looks like Malaysian Airlines only flies out of KL.
Posted on: Jan 22, 2010
sylviandavid says:
very informative...
Posted on: Oct 02, 2009
borneoboy says:
Very informative post !
Posted on: Sep 30, 2009
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General Layout of West and East Ma…
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Map of Tourist Attractions for Sab…
Map of Tourist Attractions for Sa…
Map of Tourist Attractions for Sar…
Map of Tourist Attractions for Sa…
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