The island is divided among three countries: Brunei and Malaysia on the north, and Indonesia to the south. Approximately 73% of the island is Indonesian territory. In the north, the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, along with the federal territory of Labuan, make up about 26% of the island. The sovereign state of Brunei, located on the north coast, comprises about 1% of Borneo's land area. Borneo is home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world.
With an area of 743,330 square kilometres (287,000 sq mi), it is the third-largest island in the world, and is the largest island of Asia (the largest continent). Its highest point is Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, with an elevation of 4,095 m (13,435 ft).
Borneo has significant cave systems. Clearwater Cave, for example, has one of the world's longest underground rivers. Deer Cave is home to over three million bats, with guano accumulated to over 100 metres (330 ft) deep.
Before sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age, Borneo was part of the mainland of Asia, forming, with Java and Sumatra, the upland regions of a peninsula that extended east from present day Indochina. The South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand now submerge the former low-lying areas of the peninsula. Deeper waters separating Borneo from neighboring Sulawesi prevented a land connection to that island, creating the divide between Asian and Australia-New Guinea biological regions, known as Wallace's Line.
The Borneo montane rain forests lie in the central highlands of the island, above the 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) elevation. The highest elevations of Mount Kinabalu are home to the Kinabalu mountain alpine meadow, an alpine shrubland notable for its numerous endemic species, including many orchids.
The island historically had extensive rainforest cover, but the area was reduced due to heavy logging for the Malaysian and Indonesian plywood industry. Half of the annual global tropical timber acquisition comes from Borneo. Palm oil plantations have been widely developed and are rapidly encroaching on the last remnants of primary rainforest. Forest fires of 1997 to 1998, started by the locals to clear the forests for plantations were exacerbated by an exceptionally dry El Niño season, worsening the annual shrinkage of the rainforest. During these fires, hotspots were visible on satellite images and the resulting haze affected four countries: Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.
According to ancient Chinese, Indian and Javanese manuscripts, western coastal cities of Borneo had become trading ports by the first millennium. In Chinese manuscripts, gold, camphor, tortoise shells, hornbill ivory, rhinoceros horn, crane crest, beeswax, lakawood (a scented heartwood and root wood of a thick liana, Dalbergia parviflora), dragon's blood, rattan, edible bird's nests and various spices were described as among the most valuable items from Borneo. The Indians named Borneo Suvarnabhumi (the land of gold) and also Karpuradvipa (Camphor Island). The Javanese named Borneo Puradvipa, or Diamond Island. Archaeological findings in the Sarawak river delta reveal that the area was a thriving trading centre between India and China from the 500s until about 1300 AD.
Dayaks, the natives of Borneo in their traditional war dress. Headhunting was an important part of Dayak culture.
By the 14th century, Borneo was under the control of the Majapahit kingdom based in present-day Indonesia. Muslims entered the island and converted many of the indigenous peoples to Islam.
During the 1450s, Shari'ful Hashem Syed Abu Bakr, an Arab born in Johor, arrived in Sulu from Malacca. In 1457, he founded the Sultanate of Sulu; he titled himself as "Paduka Maulana Mahasari Sharif Sultan Hashem Abu Bakr". The Sultanate of Brunei, during its golden age from the 15th century to the 17th century, ruled a large part of northern Borneo. In 1703 (other sources say 1658), the Sultanate of Sulu received the eastern part of North Borneo from the Sultan of Brunei, after Sulu sent aid against a rebellion in Brunei.
Dutch and British control
The Sultanate of Brunei granted large parts of land in Sarawak in 1842 to the English adventurer James Brooke, as reward for his having helped quell a local rebellion. Brooke established the Kingdom of Sarawak and was recognized as its rajah after paying a fee to the Sultanate. He established a monarchy, and the Brooke dynasty (through his nephew and great-nephew) ruled Sarawak for 100 years; the leaders were known as the White Rajahs.
Raden Demang Béhé, head of the Ot-Danom-Dayaks in Ambalu (Upper-Melawi river), Central-Borneo. Photographed between 1890 and 1920.
A large log being placed on a railroad car at Batottan, British North Borneo in 1926
In the early 19th century, British and Dutch governments signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 to exchange trading ports under their controls and assert spheres of influence. This resulted in indirectly establishing British- and Dutch-controlled areas in Borneo, in the north and south, respectively. The Malay and Sea Dayak pirates preyed on maritime shipping in the waters between Singapore and Hong Kong from their haven in Borneo.
During World War II, Japanese forces gained control and occupied Borneo (1941–45). They decimated many local populations and killed Malay intellectuals. Sultan Muhammad Ibrahim Shafi ud-din II of Sambas in Kalimantan was executed in 1944. The Sultanate was thereafter suspended and replaced by a Japanese council.[dead link] During the Japanese occupation, the Dayak played a role in guerrilla warfare against the occupying forces, particularly in the Kapit Division. They temporarily revived headhunting of Japanese toward the end of the war. Allied Z Special Unit provided assistance to them. After the fall of Singapore, the Japanese sent several thousand British and Australian prisoners of war to camps in Borneo. At one of the worst sites, around Sandakan in Borneo, only six of some 2,500 prisoners survived. In 1945 the island was liberated by the Allies from the Japanese.
Borneo was the main site of the confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia between 1962 and about 1969. The British Army was deployed against the Indonesians and communist revolts to gain control of the whole area. Before the formation of Malaysian Federation, the Philippines claimed that the Malaysian state of Sabah was within their territory. They based this on the history of the Sultanate of Sulu's leasing agreement with the British North Borneo Company.
Borneo has 19,800,000 inhabitants (in mid-2010), a population density of 26 inhabitants per square km. Most of the population lives in coastal cities, although the hinterland has small towns and villages along the rivers. The population consists mainly of Malay, Banjar, Chinese and Dayak ethnic groups. The Chinese, who make up 29% of the population of Sarawak and 17% of total population in West Kalimantan, Indonesia are descendants of immigrants primarily from southeastern China.
The religion of the majority of the population in Kalimantan is Muslim, and some indigenous groups continue to practice animism. But, approximately 91% of the Dayak are Christian, a religion introduced by missionaries in the 19th century. In Central Kalimantan is a small Hindu minority. In the interior of Borneo are the Penan, some of who still live as nomadic hunter-gatherers. Some coastal areas have marginal settlements of the Bajau, who historically lived in a sea-oriented, boat-dwelling, nomadic culture. In the northwest of Borneo, the Dayak ethnic group is represented by the Iban, with about 710,000 members.
In Kalimantan since the 1990s, the Indonesian government has undertaken an intense transmigration program; it financed the relocation to that area of poor, landless families from Java, Madura, and Bali. By 2001, transmigrants made up 21% of the population in Central Kalimantan. Since the 1990s, the indigenous Dayak and Malays have resisted encroachment by these migrants: violent conflict has occurred between some transmigrant and indigenous populations. In the 1999 Sambas riots Muslim Malays and Animist Dayaks joined together to massacre thousands of the Muslim Madurese migrants. In Kalimantan, thousands were killed in 2001 fighting between Madurese transmigrants and the Dayak people in the Sampit conflict.
The following is a list of 20 largest cities in Borneo by population, based on 2010 census for Indonesia and 2010 census for Malaysia. Population data signifies number within official districts and does not include adjoining or nearby conurbation outside defined districts - such as, but not limited to, Kota Kinabalu and Banjarbaru. In other instances, the district area is much larger than the actual city it represents thereby "inflating" the population by including the rural population living further outside the actual city - such as, but not limited to, Tawau and Palangkaraya.
1) Brunei: Census of Population 2001 2) islands administered as Borneo, geologically part of Borneo, on nearshore islands (2.5 km off the main island of Borneo) 3) Citypopulation.de reports on Official Decennial Censuses in 2010 for both Indonesia and Malaysia, independent estimate for Brunei.
Environmental Profile of Borneo – Background on Borneo, including natural and social history, deforestation statistics, and conservation news.