Borneo » City Info » History

Borneo is the largest island in Asia and the third-largest island in the world. It is located at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia. The island is politically divided among Malaysia and Brunei in the north and Indonesia to the south.

Approximately 73% of the island is Indonesian territory. In the north, the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak make up about 26% of the island. Additionally, the Malaysian federal territory of Labuan is situated on a small island just off the coast of Borneo. The sovereign state of Brunei, located on the north coast, comprises about 1% of Borneo's land area.

For most of the millennium, Borneo remained secluded from the rest of the world. Its location further than any other Indian trade route 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' Suvarnabhumi' meaning 'Land of gold'. The Portuguese named Borneo 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 became 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.

During World War II, Japanese forces gained control and occupied most areas of Borneo from 1941 to 1945. Indonesia became a foreign state in 1947, and Malaysia gained independence in 1957.

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

Borneo has a diverse variety of tribes, distinguished from each other by dwellings and culture. These tribes were often in 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 on the island today.