Sabah is a Malaysian state located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo. It is the second largest state in Malaysia after Sarawak, which it borders on its south-west. It also shares a border with the province of East Kalimantan of Indonesia in the south. In spite of its status as a Malaysian state, Sabah remains a disputed territory, the Philippines has a dormant claim over the territory. The capital of Sabah is Kota Kinabalu, formerly known as Jesselton. Sabah is known as Sabah, negeri di bawah bayu, which means 'Sabah, land below the wind', because of its location being just south of the typhoon prone region around the Philippines.
Sabah or North Borneo was part of the Sultanate of Brunei around the early 16th century. This was during the period when the Sultanate's influence was at its peak. In 1658 the Sultanate of Brunei ceded the north-east portion of Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu in compensation for the latter's help in settling a civil war in the Brunei Sultanate. In 1761 an officer of the British East India Company, Alexander Dalrymple, concluded an agreement with the Sultan of Sulu to allow him to set up a trading post in the region. This together with other attempts to build a settlement and a military station centering around Pulau Balambangan proved to be a failure. There was minimal foreign interest in this region afterward and control over most parts of north Borneo seems to have remained under the Sultanate of Brunei.
In 1865 the American Consul of Brunei, Claude Lee Moses, obtained a 10-year lease over North Borneo from the Sultan of Brunei. Ownership was then passed to an American trading company owned by J.W. Torrey, T.B. Harris and some Chinese merchants. They set up a base and settlement in Kimanis but this too failed due to financial reasons. The rights of the trading company were then sold to Baron Von Overbeck, the Austrian Consul in Hong Kong, and he later obtained another 10-year renewal of the lease. The rights were subsequently transferred to Alfred Dent, whom in 1881 formed the British North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd.
In the following year, the British North Borneo Company was formed and Kudat was made its capital. In 1883 the capital was moved to Sandakan to capitalise on its potential of vast timber resources. In 1888 North Borneo became a protectorate of Great Britain. Administration and control over North Borneo remained in the hands of the Company despite being a protectorate and they effectively ruled until 1942. Their rule had been generally peaceful except for some rebellions, including one led by the Suluk-Bajau leader Mat Salleh from 1894 to 1900, and another led by the Muruts which is known as the Rundum resistance in 1915.
From 1942 to 1945 during the Second World War, Japanese forces occupied North Borneo. The Japanese forces landed in Labuan on January 1, 1942, and continued to invade the rest of North Borneo. Bombings by the allied forces devastated of most towns including Sandakan, which was totally razed to the ground. Resistance against Japanese occupation were concentrated on the west and north coast of North Borneo. The resistance in Jesselton was led by Albert Kwok and Jules Stephens of the Kinabalu Guerillas. Another resistance was led by Panglima Alli from Sulug Island, off the coast of Jesselton. In Kudat, there were also some resistance led by Tun Datu Mustapha. On October 10, 1943, the Kinabalu Guerrilas together with followers of Panglima Alli staged a surprise attack on the Japanese. The attack however was foiled. The 324 local residents who participated in the attacks, including Albert Kwok and Panglima Alli, were detained in Petagas and later executed on January 21, 1944. The site of the execution is today known as the Petagas War Memorial.
When Japan surrendered at the end of the war, North Borneo was administered by the British Military Administration and in 1946 it became a British Crown Colony. Jesselton was chosen to replace Sandakan as the capital. The Crown continued to rule North Borneo until 1963. On August 31, 1963 North Borneo attained self-government. There was a call for complete independence on that date by it was denied by the British Governor who remained in power until Malaysia Day. The intention had been to form Malaysia on August 31 but due to objection from the Philippines and Indonesia, the formation had to be postponed to September 16. On September 16, 1963, North Borneo together with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore formed the Federation of Malaysia and from then on, it became known as Sabah and declared independent from British sovereignty. To safeguard the interest of North Borneo in the new federation, a 20-point agreement was entered into between the federal and the state government.
The contract between Sri Paduka Maulana Al Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam, representing the sultanate as owner and sovereign of Sabah on one hand, and that of Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent representing the North Borneo Company, on the other as lessees of Sabah, was executed on January 22, 1878. The Lease prohibits the transfer of Sabah to any nation, company or individual without the consent of His Majesty’s Government (“Government of the Sultan of Sulu”).. Although it is mentioned to be a permanent lease, it is contrary to international law, which states that the terms for a lease contract can only be for 99 years, as in the case of Hong Kong and Macau when these were leased to Great Britain and Portugal respectively, by China and subsequently returned after the expiration of the lease. This would make the lease on Sabah overdue by 130 years.
Less than a decade later, the Sultanate of Sulu came under the control of Spain and in 1885, Spain relinquished all of its claim to Borneo to the British in the Madrid Protocol of 1885.
In spite of that, in 1906 and 1920 the United States formally reminded Great Britain that Sabah did not belong to them and was still part of the Sultanate of Sulu on the premise that Spain never acquired sovereignty over North Borneo to transfer all its claims of sovereignty over North Borneo to Great Britain on the Madrid Protocol of 1885. This is so because the Sultan of Sulu did not include his territory and dominion in North Borneo in signing the treaty of 1878 recognizing the Spanish sovereignty over “Jolo and its dependencies.” North Borneo was never considered a dependency of Jolo. However, the British Government ignored the reminder and still annexed the territory of North Borneo as a Crown Colony on July 10, 1946. This was in spite of the fact that the British Government was aware of the decision made by the High Court of North Borneo on December 19, 1939, that the successor of the Sultan in the territory of Sabah was the Government of the Philippine Islands and not Great Britain.
On September 12, 1962, during President Diosdado Macapagal's administration (the father of the present Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), the territory of North Borneo, and the full sovereignty, title and dominion over the territory were ceded by the then reigning Sultan of Sulu, HM Sultan Muhammad Esmail E. Kiram I, to the Republic of the Philippines. The cession effectively gave the Philippine government the full authority to pursue their claim in international courts. The Philippines broke diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the federation had included Sabah in 1963. It was revoked in 1989 because succeeding Philippine administrations have placed the claim in the back burner in the interest of pursuing cordial economic and security relations with Kuala Lumpur. To date, Malaysia continues to consistently reject Philippine calls to resolve the matter of Sabah's jurisdiction to the International Court of Justice.
The western part of Sabah is generally mountainous, containing the three highest mountains in Malaysia. The most prominent range is the Crocker Range which houses several mountains of varying height from about 1,000 metres to 4,000 metres. At the height of 4,095 metres, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia and the mountain is the fourth tallest in Southeast Asia behind Hkakabo Razi of Myanmar (5881 m), Puncak Jaya (4884 m) and Puncak Trikora (4750 m) of Papua, Indonesia . The jungles of Sabah are classified as rainforests and host a diverse array of plant and animal species. Kinabalu National Park was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2000 because of its richness in plant diversity combined with its unique geological, topographical, and climatic conditions.
Lying nearby Mount Kinabalu is Mount Tambuyukon. At a height of 2,579 metres, it is the third highest peak in the country. Adjacent to the Crocker Range is the Trus Madi Range which houses the second highest peak in the country, Mount Trus Madi, at a height of 2,642 metres. There are lower ranges of hills extending towards the western coasts, southern plains, and the interior or central part of Sabah. These mountains and hills are traversed by an extensive network of river valleys and are in most cases covered with dense rainforest.
The central and eastern portion of Sabah are generally lower mountain ranges and plains with occasional hills. Kinabatangan River begins from the western ranges and snakes its way through the central region towards the east coast out into the Sulu Sea. It is the second longest river in Malaysia after Rejang River at a length of 560 kilometres. The forests surrounding the river valley also contains an array of wildlife habitats, and is the largest forest-covered floodplain in Malaysia.
Other important wildlife regions in Sabah include Maliau Basin, Danum Valley, Tabin, and Sepilok. These places are either designated as national parks, wildlife reserves, virgin jungle reserves, or protection forest reserve.
Over three quarters of the human population inhabit the coastal plains. Major towns and urban centers have sprouted along the coasts of Sabah. The interior region remains sparsely populated with only villages, and the occasional small towns or townships.
Beyond the coasts of Sabah lie a number of islands and coral reefs, including the largest island in Malaysia, Pulau Banggi. Other large islands include, Pulau Jambongan, Pulau Balambangan, Pulau Timbun Mata, Pulau Bumbun, and Pulau Sebatik. Other popular islands mainly for tourism are, Pulau Sipadan, Pulau Selingan, Pulau Gaya, Pulau Tiga, and Pulau Layang-Layang.
Sabah has a democratic political system with universal suffrage. The Yang di-Pertua Negeri sits at the top of the hierarchy followed by the state legislative assembly and the state cabinet. A general election for state and federal level officials is held every five years. The state parliament or the state legislative assembly meets at the state capital, Kota Kinabalu. The state is divided into 25 parliamentary constituencies and 60 state assembly districts where each is represented by an elected Member of Parliament (MP) and Member of the State Legislative Assembly respectively.
The present elected state and federal government posts are held by Barisan Nasional (BN), a coalition of parties which includes United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (UPKO), Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA).
The last state election was in 2004 and as of 2006, the state legislature has 60 members. It comprises 59 BN state legislature members (Ahli Dewan Undangan Negeri) and a single independent. Of this, 32 are from UMNO, 13 from PBS, 5 from UPKO, 4 from the SAPP, 3 from LDP, and one each from MCA and PBRS.
Prior to the formation of Malaysia in 1963, the then North Borneo interim government submitted a 20-point agreement to the Malayan government as conditions before Sabah would join the Federation. Sabah entered Malaysia as an autonomous state with a Christian Kadazan-Dusun chief minister, but soon succumbed to Kuala Lumpur's vision of a one-party unitary Islamic state dominated by the indigenous Muslim Bajau and Brunei Malay people. This has created considerable friction and even occasional calls for secession. These tensions are further inflamed by Kuala Lumpur's colonial mentality towards Sabah, wherein 95% of the profits from Sabah's immense natural resources are taken by the federal government, leaving the state government with only 5%. Aside from nominally separate immigration controls, little evidence remains of Sabah's theoretical autonomy.
Until the Malaysian general election, 2008, Sabah, along with the states of Kelantan and Terengganu, are the only three states in Malaysia that had ever been ruled by opposition parties not part of the ruling BN coalition. Led by Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, PBS formed government after winning the 1985 elections and ruled Sabah until 1994. Due to certain internal troubles, BN took over the government in 1994 despite PBS winning the elections. PBS subsequently joined the BN coalition in 2002.
A unique feature of Sabah politics was a policy initiated by the BN in 1994 whereby the chief minister's post is rotated among the coalition parties every 2 years regardless of the party in power at the time, thus theoretically giving an equal amount of time for each major ethnic group to rule the state. This extremely weakens the executive branch of the state government, which was formerly much at odds with the federal government in Kuala Lumpur. It also serves to give a disproportionate power to the indigenous Muslim Bajau ethnic group, at the expense of the mainly Christian indigenous Kadazan-Dusun, the largest ethnic group. This practice has since stopped with power now held by majority in the state assembly by the UMNO party, which also holds a majority in the national parliament.
There has been a conspiracy theory that the chief minister post rotation system was implemented to allow UMNO to control the post permanently by abolishing the whole system once it was UMNO's turn to hold the post. It has never been proven but it is considered impossible for UMNO to get a hold of the post through any other method. The conspiracy theory was brought up once again when a division from UMNO proposed to implement the same rotation system in Penang, one of the two states which is currently not controlled by UMNO but is under BN rule (the other state being Sarawak). The proposal was raised even though UMNO abolished the system in Sabah by declaring it a failure.
UMNO had a quick rise to power since its entry into Sabah in 1991 where before that both eastern Malaysian states were not penetrated by the party, whose president is the de facto leader of the ruling coalition BN and automatically the Prime Minister of Malaysia. This has given rise to dissent as the chief minister rotation system was halted just as UMNO was holding the post. Thus the 2004 general elections saw widespread disillusionment, coupled with an ineffectual opposition. The state assembly is now dominated by the ruling party BN with only one seat held by an opposition politician who is an independent candidate. This was caused by a general sentiment where a number of voters were reluctant to cast votes for BN whose victory was almost assured but did not trust the opposition parties, most of which were not vigorously active before the election. Therefore many cast votes for independent candidates.
Sabah politics, as are Malaysia's, is very much based upon party lines. An effort by PBS, a component party of BN, to hatch a co-operation with the one opposition candidate within the state assembly, who conversely was a former UMNO member competing independently because he was not nominated for the constituency by his party, in an unprecedented attempt at bipartisanship, was harshly criticized by UPKO, another component party of BN.
|1963-1964||Tun Fuad Stephens||United National Kadazan Organization (UNKO)|
|1965-1967||Datuk Peter Lo Sui Yin||Sabah Chinese Association (SCA)|
|1967-1975||Tun Mustapha Datu Harun||United Sabah National Organization (USNO) - BN|
|1975-1976||Tun Said Keruak||USNO - BN|
|1976 (44 days)||Tun Fuad Stephens||Berjaya - BN|
|1976-1985||Datuk Harris Mohd Salleh||Berjaya - BN|
|1985-1994||Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan||PBS - Opposition (In partnership with BN in 1986-1990)|
|1994-1995||Tun Sakaran Dandai||UMNO - BN|
|1995-1996||Datuk Salleh Mohd Said||UMNO - BN|
|1996-1998||Datuk Yong Teck Lee||SAPP - BN|
|1998-1999||Tan Sri Bernard Dompok (now UPKO)||Parti Demokratik Sabah (PDS) - BN|
|1999-2001||Datuk Seri Osu Haji Sukam||UMNO - BN|
|2001-2003||Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat||LDP - BN|
|2003-present||Datuk Seri Musa Aman||UMNO - BN|
These administrative divisions are, for all purposes, just for reference. During the British rule until the transition period when Malaysia was formed, a Resident was appointed to govern each division and provided with a palace (Istana). This means that the British considered each of these divisions equivalent to a Malayan state. The post of the Resident was abolished in favour of district officers for each of the district.
|Division Name||Districts||Area (km²)||Population (2006)|
|1||West Coast Division||Kota Belud, Kota Kinabalu, Papar, Penampang, Putatan, Ranau, Tuaran||7,588||953,900|
|2||Interior Division||Beaufort, Nabawan, Keningau, Kuala Penyu, Sipitang, Tambunan, Tenom||18,298||420,800|
|3||Kudat Division||Kota Marudu, Kudat, Pitas||4,623||189,500|
|4||Sandakan Division||Beluran, Kinabatangan, Sandakan, Tongod||28,205||676,000|
|5||Tawau Division||Kunak, Lahad Datu, Semporna, Tawau||14,905||756,800|
The population of Sabah was 2,449,389 in 2000 and was the third most populous state in Malaysia after Selangor and Johor. It is estimated that Sabah's population has exceeded that of Johor with an estimated population of 3,400,000 in 2007. Sabah indeed has one of the highest population growth rates in the country.
The people of Sabah are divided into 32 officially recognized ethnic groups. The largest non-indigenous ethnic group is the Chinese. Most Chinese people in Sabah are concentrated primarily at Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, and Tawau. Kota Kinabalu has the highest concentration of Chinese people in Sabah, followed by Sandakan (second highest) and Tawau (third highest). The largest indigenous ethnic group is Kadazan-Dusun, followed by Bajau, and Murut. There is a very small number and proportion of Indians and other South Asians in Sabah compared to other parts of Malaysia. Collectively, all persons coming from Sabah are known as Sabahans and identify themselves as such.
Malay is the national language spoken across ethnicities, although the spoken Sabahan dialect of Malay differs much in inflection and intonation from the West Malaysian version, having more similarity in pronunciation to Indonesian. English, Chinese Mandarin as well as the Chinese dialects of Hakka and Cantonese are widely understood. In addition, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau, Murut and other minor races also have distinct ethnic languages. Sabah also has its own unique Sabahan-slangs for many words in Malay.
Sabah's economy was traditionally heavily lumber dependent, based on export of tropical timber, but with increasing depletion of the natural forests and ecological efforts to save remaining natural rainforest areas, palm oil has emerged as a more sustainable resource. Other agricultural products important in the Sabah economy include rubber and cacao. Tourism is currently the second largest contributor to the economy. There are other exports like seafood and vegetables.
In 1970, Sabah ranked as one of the richest states in the federation, with a per capita GDP second only to Selangor (which then included Kuala Lumpur). However, despite its vast wealth of natural resources, Sabah is currently the poorest of Malaysia's states. Average incomes are now among the lowest in Malaysia, and with a considerably higher cost of living than in West Malaysia. In 2000 Sabah had an unemployment rate of 5.6 per cent, the highest of any Malaysian state and almost twice the national average of 3.1 per cent. The state has the highest poverty level in the country at 16 per cent, more than three times the national average. Part of the problem is the inequitable distribution of wealth between state and federal governments, and large numbers of illegal immigrants from Indonesia, the Philippines, even East Timor, whose population was estimated to be in the region of half a million people. In 2004 the poverty level worsened to 22 per cent.
The recent tabling of the Ninth Malaysia Plan has allocated RM16.908 billion for Sabah, the second highest state allocation after Sarawak's but it is still only 8% of the total national budget for a population of Sabah of more than 13%, and an area of more than 25%. This is clearly discriminatory and has contributed to the State of Sabah having the largest number of people below the poverty line in Malaysia, and lower than the Indonesian national poverty rate and in the same level as Aceh and Myanmar based on 2004 United Nations figures. ,,,.
The fund is pledged to improve the state's rural areas, improve the state's transportation and utilities infrastructures, and boost the economy of Sabah. The government has placed its focus on three major areas of the economy which have the potential to be Sabah's growth engine. These are agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.
When this discriminatory budget against Sabah and Sarawak was pointed out, the allocation for Sabah was increased from the earlier figure of 15.7 billion RM while there is none for Sarawak. The reason given to Sarawak's Chief Minister, as reported by Borneo Post (11th Nov. 2007) is that it is not economical to develop Sarawak. Sarawak is to be the source of renewable resources for Malaya. This situation applies to Sabah as well except that Sarawak's renewable resources are not even meant for Sabah. The percentage of the total budget is still much less than Sabah's population and area burdens, and this is a classic example of too little and too late.
There are currently 7 ports in Sabah: Kota Kinabalu Port, Sepanggar Bay Container Port, Sandakan Port, Tawau Port, Kudat Port, Kunak Port, and Lahad Datu Port. These ports are operated and maintained by Sabah Ports Authority. The major towns and city are:
Tourism, particularly eco-tourism, is a major contributor to the economy of Sabah. In 2006, 2,000,000 tourists visited Sabah and it is estimated that the number will continue to rise following vigorous promotional activities by the state and national tourism boards and also increased stability and security in the region. Sabah currently has six national parks. One of these, the Kinabalu National Park, was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2000. It is the first of two sites in Malaysia to obtain this status, the other being the Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. These parks are maintained and controlled by Sabah Parks under the Parks Enactment 1984. The Sabah Wildlife Department also has conservation, utilization, and management responsibilities.
Mat Salleh was a Suluk-Bajau who led a rebellion against British North Borneo Company administration in North Borneo. Under his leadership, the rebellion which lasted from 1894 to 1900 razed the British Administration Centre on Pulau Gaya and exercised control over Menggatal, Inanam, Ranau and Tambunan. The rebellion was by Bajaus, Dusuns and Muruts.
Another notable Sabahan is Donald Stephens who helped form the state of Sabah under the UN appointed Cobbold commission. He was an initial opponent of Malaysia but was persuaded by Lee Kuan Yew with an offer of 8 university places for Sabahan students at the University of Malaya, Singapore.
Tun Datu Mustapha was a Suluk-Kagayan Muslim political leader in Sabah through the United Sabah National Organisation (USNO) party. He was a vocal supporter of Malaysia but fell out of favor with Malayan leaders despite forming UMNO branches in Saba and deregistering USNO. Efforts to reregister USNO have not been allowed, unlike UMNO that was allowed to be reregistered under the same name.
Former Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan is the current Huguan Siou and the President of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS). Pairin, the longest serving chief minister of the state and one of the first Kadazandusun lawyers, was known for his defiance of the federal government in the 1980s and 90s in promoting the rights of Sabah and speaking out against the illegal immigrant problems. Sabah was at the time one of only two states with opposition governments in power, the other being Kelantan. PBS has since rejoined BN and Datuk Pairin is currently the Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah.
The 8th and current Attorney General of Malaysia, Abdul Gani Patail, comes from Sabah.
Sabah has produced a fair number of well-known media figures. Noteworthy mentions include filmmaker Tony Francis Gitom; television presenter Daphne Iking; Guess model Amber Chia; JIAJA (Blast Off! Season 2 Champion; Band); actresses Fung Bo Bo, Chung Shuk Wai; and musicians Roger Wang, Pete Teo, Jerome Kugan, Mia Palencia, Yan Qing, Gary Cao , Maryanne Raymond (a.k.a. DJ Mary of TraxxFm), Constantine Anthony(a.k.a. DJ Constantine of TraxxFm), Shahrizan Ferouz(a.k.a. DJ The Shaz of TraxxFm), Fadhil bin Luqman (a.k.a. DJ Fad Da Dillio on TraxxFm), John Paul Lee (a.k.a. DJ Johnboy Lee of Hitz.FM & Bigfish Radio), Nikki Palikat (Malaysian Idol finalist), Richael Gimbang (Estranged), Felix Agus, Linda Nanuwil, Adam (KRU Artist), Stacy (Akademi Fantasia 6 Winner), Ayu (Winner OIAM season 2), Farish Aziz (Astro's Ronda 360 darjah and Fulus mania).
Matlan Marjan is a former player for Malaysia. He scored two goals against England in an international friendly on June 12, 1991. The English team included Stuart Pearce, David Batty, David Platt, Nigel Clough, Gary Lineker, was captained by Bryan Robson and coached by Bobby Robson. No other Malaysian player managed to achieve this. In 1995, he along with six other Sabah players, were arrested on suspicion ofmatch-fixing. Although the charges were dropped, he was prevented from playing professional football and was banished to another district. He was punished under the Internal Security Act (which allows for indefinite detention without any trial, despite being proven innocent, and even on non-security related issues).
Many Sabahans contestants have attained high-placing results on local shows such as Malaysian Idol, Akademi Fantasia, Gangstarz and Blast-Off. Some notable contestants are Nicolette Palikat, Adam from AF2, Marsha Londoh, Felix Agus, Norlinda Nanuwil, Rich of Estranged, Stacy of E-voke, Alvin of Infinatez and the band Jiaja. Sabah's first homegrown film was Orang Kita, starring Abu Bakar Ellah.
Some films and TV shows filmed in Sabah include the first season of reality show Survivor, The Amazing Race, Eco-Challenge Borneo, films Bat*21, and Sacred Planet, as well as a number of Hong Kong production films. Sabah was also featured in Sacred Planet, a documentary hosted by Robert Redford.
Daling-daling is now the preferred dancing routine among Sabahan Suluks and Bajaus. In its original form, it was a dance which combined Arabic belly dancing and the Indian dances common in this region, complete with long artificial finger nails and golden head gear accompanied by a Suluk song called daling-daling which is a love story. Its main characteristic is the large hip and breast swings but nowadays it is danced with a faster tempo but less swings, called Igal-igal.
American author Agnes Newton Keith lived in Sandakan between 1934-1952 and wrote several books about Sabah.
In the Earl Mac Rauch novelization of Buckaroo Banzai (Pocket Books, 1984; repr. 2001), and in the DVD commentary, Buckaroo's archenemy Hanoi Xan is said to have his secret base in Sabah, in a "relic city of caves."