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Template:Infobox States of Malaysia

Sabah is a Malaysian state located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo. It is the second largest state in Malaysia after the state of Sarawak which it borders with on its south-west. It also borders on with the province of East Kalimantan of Indonesia in the south. Sabah used to be a British crown colony known as North Borneo prior to joining the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 and currently its state capital is Kota Kinabalu, formerly known as Jesselton. Sabah is sometimes 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 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 was purported to have given the north-east portion of Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu as a "gift" in return 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 attempt 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 after this failure and control over most parts of north Borneo seem 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 had set up a base and settlement in Kimanis but this too turned out to be a failure due to financial reasons. The rights of the trading company was 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 was 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 producing timber. 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 Bajau leader Mat Salleh from 1894 to 1900, and another led by the Muruts which is known as the 'Rundum resistance' in 1915.<ref name="multiple"/>

Second World War and the road to independence

From 1942 to 1945 the occupation and control over North Borneo was taken over by the Japanese forces in the Second World War. The Japanese forces landed in Labuan on January 1, 1942 and assumed control over North Borneo. Bombings during the war resulted in the devastation of most towns in North Borneo, including Sandakan, which was totally destroyed. When Japan lost the war North Borneo was administered by the British Military Administration and in 1946 it become a British Crown Colony. Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) was chosen to replace Sandakan as the capital of British North Borneo. The Crown continued to rule North Borneo until 1963. On August 31, 1963 North Borneo attained self-government and independence from the British. 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.<ref name="multiple">"Sabah's Heritage: A Brief Introduction to Sabah's History", Muzium Sabah, Kota Kinabalu. 1992</ref>

Philippine claim

Main article: Sabah dispute

The Philippines claims the east part of Sabah as part of its territory, based upon the Sultanate of Brunei's cession of its north-east territories to the Sultanate of Sulu in 1703, because of military assistance given by the latter to the former. However, as the Philippines government itself does not currently acknowledge and recognize the sovereignty of the Sultanate of Sulu, their claim has been drastically weakened. Today quite a significant number of the population are Filipinos, but most of them are refugees who arrived in Sabah in the 70s, and the others are recent migrants seeking a better life. Some Filipino residents have assimilated into Sabahan society. At one point President Ferdinand E. Marcos ordered that all Philippine maps should include Sabah, but this may have been a mere political statement.

See also: History of Malaysia and History of Brunei


File:Northern Tip Of Borneo.jpg
The northern tip of Borneo at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau

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 second highest in Southeast Asia after Puncak Jaya in Indonesia. While the government of Malaysia officially considers it the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, there are counterclaims that Puncak Jaya, the highest mountain in Western New Guinea of Indonesia is the tallest one instead. The argument centers around whether New Guinea could be considered a part of Southeast Asia. So far there is no precise consensus on this, and the view that Mount Kinabalu is indeed the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia is more prevalent. The jungles of Sabah are classified as rainforests and this forest climate provides a vast array of animal and plant species thriving in the jungles of Sabah. 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.[1]

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.[2]

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 remain sparsely populated with only villages, and the occasional small towns or townships.

Beyond the coasts of Sabah lies a number of islands and coral reefs, including the largest island in Malaysia, Pulau Banggi. Other larger islands include, Pulau Jambongan, Pulau Balambangan, Pulau Timbun Mata, Pulau Bumbun, and Pulau Sebatik. Other popular island mainly for tourism are, Pulau Sipadan, Pulau Selingan, Pulau Gaya, Pulau Tiga, Pulau Layang-Layang, and many more.

Government and politics

State government structure

Kota Kinabalu, the state capital of Sabah

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 and 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.[3]

The political climate

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 Bajaus 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.

Sabah, along with the state of Kelantan, are the only two 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 have been 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, whom 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.

Chief Ministers of Sabah

Year Chief Minister Party
1963-1964 Tun Fuad Stephens United National Kadazan Organization (UNKO) - BN
1965-1967 Datuk Peter Lo Sui Yin Sabah Chinese Association (SCA) - BN
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
1994-1995 Tun Sakaran Dandai UMNO - BN
1995-1996 Datuk Salleh Mohd Said UMNO - BN
1996-1998 Datuk Yong Teck Lee SAPP - BN
1998 Tan Sri Bernard Dompok (now UPKO) Parti Demokratik Sabah (PDS) - BN
1999 Datuk Seri Osu Haji Sukam UMNO - BN
2001 Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat LDP - BN
2003-present Datuk Seri Musa Aman UMNO - BN

Administrative divisions

Sabah consists of five administrative divisions, which are in turn divided into a total of 24 sub-divisions or districts.

Division Name Districts Area (km²) Population (2006)<ref name=stats07>"Monthly Statistical Bulletin, January 2007: Sabah", Department of Statistics Malaysia, Sabah.</ref>
1 West Coast Division Kota Belud, Kota Kinabalu, Papar, Penampang, 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
See also: Politics of Malaysia


The population of Sabah was 2,449,389 in 2000<ref>"Housing Census of Malaysia, 2000", Department of Statistics, Malaysia</ref> 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.[4] Sabah indeed has one of the highest population growth rate in the country. This is mainly due to lax in immigration controls resulting in the influx of immigrants from Philippines and Indonesia, both legally and illegally. Today, non-Malaysian citizens make up one-quarter of the total population. Official population estimate for the year 2006 is put at 2,997,000.<ref name=stats07 /> The composition of the population are<ref name=stats07 />:

The people of Sabah are divided into 32 officially recognized ethnic groups. The largest non-indigenous ethnic group is the Chinese. 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 also 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.

The federal government of Malaysia officially recognizes 28 ethnic groups as being indigenous or bumiputra in Sabah:


See also: Demographics of Malaysia


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.

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).<ref>"Outline Perspective of Sabah", Institute for Development Studies (Sabah). URL accessed May 7, 2006</ref> 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 the State and the Federal government, and large numbers of illegal immigrants from Indonesia, Philippines, even East Timor, whose population was estimated to be in the region of half a million people.

The recent tabling of Ninth Malaysia Plan has allocated RM16.908 billion for Sabah, the second highest state allocation after Sarawak's. The funds is pledged to improve the state's rural areas, improving the state's transportation and utilities infrastructures and boosting the economy of Sabah. The government has stated 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.

Urban centers and ports

There are currently 7 ports in Sabah: Kota Kinabalu Port, Sepanggar Port, Sandakan Port, Tawau Port, Kudat Port, Kunak Port, and Lahad Datu Port. These ports are operated and maintained by Sabah Ports Authority.[5] The major towns and city are:

Sandakan town
Rank City Population [6]
1 Kota Kinabalu 532,129
2 Sandakan 448,074
3 Tawau 349,962
4 Lahad Datu 119,938
5 Keningau 97,152
6 Semporna 71,157
7 Kudat 34,481


Tourism, particularly eco-tourism, is a major contributor to the economy of Sabah. In 2006, 2 million tourists visited Sabah and it is estimated that the number will continue to rise following rigorous promotional activities by the state and national tourism boards and also better stability and security in the region.[7] Sabah currently has 6 national parks. One of it, the Kinabalu National Park, was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2000. It is the first of two sites in Malaysia to obtain the status, the other being the Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. These parks are maintained and controlled by Sabah Parks as under the Parks Enactment 1984.

National Parks

Mount Kinabalu
The Orangutan can be found in Sepilok

Other popular tourist destinations

Notable Sabahans

The 8th and current Attorney General of Malaysia, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, comes from Sabah. In 2006, Tuaran born Datuk Richard Malanjum was appointed Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak and became the first Kadazandusun to hold such a post.

Sabah has produced a fair number of well-known media figures. Noteworthy mentions include filmmaker Tony Francis Gitom, television presenter Daphne Iking, model Amber Chia, and musicians Pete Teo, Jerome Kugan, Mia Palencia, and Atama. Atama (real name Andrew Ambrose Mudi) who was Sabah's first hip hop recording artist, has successfully fused hip hop and Kadazandusun tribal music. Atama's debut album My Tribal Roots was released on 30 May 2005.

Arts and entertainment

Many Sabahans contestants have attained high-placing results on local shows such as Malaysian Idol, Akademi Fantasia, and Blast-Off. Some notable contestants are Nicolette Palikat, Adam AF2, Lotter, 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's first established newspaper was the New Sabah Times. The newspaper was founded by Tun Fuad Stephens, who later became the first Chief Minister of Sabah.

American author Agnes Newton Keith lived in Sandakan between 1934-1952 and wrote several books about Sabah.


  • Gudgeon, L. W. W. 1913. British North Borneo. Adam and Charles Black, London.
  • Chin, Ung-Ho. 1999. 'Kataks', Kadazan-Dusun Nationalism and Development: The 1999 Sabah State Election (Regime Change And Regime Maintenance In Asia And The Pacific Series No 24, Department Of Political And Social Change, Research School Of Pacific And Asian Studies, Australian National University) (ISBN 0-7315-2678-3)


<references />

See also

External links

Template:Sabah Template:Malaysia

For Borneo Wildlife Images Land and Underwater please visit: Downbelow Land and Underwater Photography

Original Source

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