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Borneo » City Info » History

For most of the millennium, Borneo remained secluded from the rest of the world. Its location further than any other Indian trade routes, made it not the most sought out destination for trade routes. However, by Indian, Chinese and Javanese manuscripts, it is derived that the western coastal cities of Borneo had gained prominence as ports and were essential to trade. Items such as tortoise shells, dragon’s blood, rattan, beeswax, camphor and gold were treasured items from Borneo. The Indians named Borneo as ‘Suvarnabhumi’ meaning ‘Land of gold’. The Portuguese named Borneo as Puradvipa which means ‘Diamond Island’.

The James Brooke dynasty gradually overtook the Sultanate in the western part of Borneo. The Brooke dynasty ruled over Sarawak in the 19th century and came to be known as the white rajahs.

The emissaries of Spain and Portugal reached Borneo in the 16th century. They were soon followed by the British and the Dutch. The Dutch and the British rooted power in Borneo from the 17th century till the modern era.

The Malay and Sea Dayak pirates looted on the maritime borders between Singapore and Hong Kong from their haven on Borneo.

The island was held by Japan during World War II from 1942 to 1945.

Indonesia became a foreign state in 1947 and Malaysia gained independence in 1957.

Today, Borneo comprises mostly of Islamic Malays and non-Muslim Dayaks along with the Chinese and the Europeans.

A diverse variety of tribes, distinguished from each other, by dwellings and culture, feature in inland Borneo. These tribes were often at conflict with each other before contact was made with the West. However, these tribes possess a lot of similarities too. The Ibans are the largest indigenous group in the island today.