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Negeri Di Bawah Bayu
(Land Below The Wind)
Flag of Sabah
Coat of arms of Sabah
Coat of arms
Motto: "Sabah Maju Jaya"
"Let Sabah Prosper"
Anthem: Sabah Tanah Airku
(Sabah My Homeland)
<span style=   '''Sabah''' in    ''''''" src="" width="250">
   Sabah in    Malaysia
Capital Kota Kinabalu
 • Yang di-Pertua Negeri Juhar Mahiruddin
 • Chief Minister Musa Aman (BN)
 • Total 73,631 km2 (28,429 sq mi)
Population (2010)[1]
 • Total 3,117,405
 • Density 42/km2 (110/sq mi)
Demonym Sabahan
Human Development Index
 • HDI (2010) 0.643 (medium) (14th)
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
Postal code 88xxx to 91xxx
Calling code 087 (Inner District)
088 (Kota Kinabalu & Kudat)
089 (Lahad Datu, Sandakan & Tawau)
Vehicle registration SA,SAA,SAB (Kota Kinabalu & Kota Belud)
SB (Beaufort)
SD (Lahad Datu)
SK (Kudat)
SS (Sandakan)
ST (Tawau)
SU (Keningau)
Former name North Borneo
Brunei Sultanate 15th century[2]
Sulu Sultanate (Eastern Part) 1658
British North Borneo 1882
Japanese occupation 1941–1945
British Crown Colony 1946
Self-government 31 August 1963[3][4]
Malaysia Agreement[5] 16 September 1963a[6]
a Despite the fact the foundation of the Federation of Malaysia is completed only on 16 September 1963, 31 August is celebrated as the Independence day of Malaysia. A similar observance can be found on many unified countries, including Tanzania, where the independence day was celebrated on 9 December (following the Independence of Tanganyika in 1961), even though Tanzania only came into existence in 26 April 1964 by joining Tanganyika and Zanzibar (which known as Union Day in Tanzania), despite the fact that Zanzibar had already earlier gained its independence from the British on 10 December 1963.[7][8] While in Yemen, where the independence day is still celebrated on 30 November (based on the South Yemen independence from the United Kingdom on 1967). Even though the foundation of present-day Yemen was created by joining together Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) only on 22 May 1990 (which is celebrated as Unity Day In Yemen), in spite of North Yemen had earlier being granted its independence from the Ottoman Empire on 1 November 1918.[9][10][11] Equivalently in Malaysia, 16 September is recognised as Malaysia Day, a patriotic national-level public holiday to commemorate the foundation of Federation of Malaysia that joints North Borneo, Malaya, Sarawak and (previously) Singapore.[12][13]

Sabah (Malay pronunciation: ) is Malaysia's easternmost state, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. It is located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo and known as the second largest state in the country after Sarawak, which it borders on its southwest. It shares a maritime border with the Federal Territory of Labuan on the west and with the Philippines to the north and northeast. While a land border is also shared with the province of North Kalimantan of Indonesia in the south. The capital of Sabah is Kota Kinabalu, formerly known as Jesselton. Sabah is often referred to as the "Land Below The Wind", a phrase used by seafarers in the past to describe lands south of the typhoon belt.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Early history 2.1
    • Bruneian Empire and the Sulu Sultanate 2.2
    • British North Borneo Company 2.3
    • Second World War and occupation 2.4
    • Self-government and the Federation of Malaysia 2.5
    • Territorial dispute 2.6
    • Impact from Mindanao conflict 2.7
  • Geography 3
  • Demographics 4
    • Population 4.1
    • Language and ethnicity 4.2
    • Religion 4.3
  • Economy 5
    • Agriculture 5.1
    • Tourism 5.2
    • Manufacturing 5.3
    • Urban centres and ports 5.4
  • Government 6
    • Executive 6.1
    • Legislature 6.2
    • Politics of Sabah 6.3
    • Administrative districts 6.4
  • Education and culture 7
    • Universities 7.1
    • Colleges 7.2
    • Communication 7.3
    • Movies and TV 7.4
    • Sports 7.5
    • Literature 7.6
    • Ethnic dances 7.7
  • Notable residents 8
  • Places of interest 9
    • Conservation 9.1
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13


The origin of the name Sabah is uncertain, and there are many theories that have arisen. One theory is that during the time it was part of the Bruneian Sultanate, it was referred to as Saba because of the presence of pisang saba, a type of banana, found on the coasts of the region. Due to the location of Sabah in relation to Brunei, it has been suggested that Sabah was a Bruneian Malay word meaning upstream[14] or the northern side of the river.[15] Another theory suggests that it came from the Malay word sabak which means a place where palm sugar is extracted. Sabah ('صباح') is also an Arabic word which means sunrise. The presence of multiple theories makes it difficult to pinpoint the true origin of the name.[16]

It has been said that Sabah was once referred to as Seludang in a 1365 Javanese text known as Nagarakretagama written by Mpu Prapanca.[17]


Early history

Earliest human migration and settlement into the region is believed to have dated back about 20,000–30,000 years ago. These early humans are believed to be Australoid or Negrito people. The next wave of human migration, believed to be Austronesian Mongoloids, occurred around 3000 BC.

Bruneian Empire and the Sulu Sultanate

Flag of the Bruneian Empire.

During the 7th century CE, a settled community known as Vijayapura, a tributary to the Srivijaya empire, was thought to have been the earliest beneficiary to the Bruneian Empire existing around the northeast coast of Borneo.[18] Another kingdom which suspected to have existed beginning the 9th century was P'o-ni. It was believed that Po-ni existed at the mouth of Brunei River and was the predecessor to the Sultanate of Brunei.[19] The Sultanate of Brunei began after the ruler of Brunei embraced Islam. During the reign of the fifth sultan known as Bolkiah between 1473–1524, the Sultanate's thalassocracy extended over Sabah, Sulu Archipelago and Manila in the north, and Sarawak until Banjarmasin in the south.[20] In 1658, the Sultan of Brunei ceded the northern and eastern portion of Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu in compensation for the latter's help in settling a civil war in the Brunei Sultanate, but many sources stated that the Brunei did not cede any parts of Sabah to the Sultanate of Sulu.[21]

British North Borneo Company

Board of directors of the North Borneo Chartered Company in 1899.
(Left) The first concession treaty was signed by Brunei Sultan, Abdul Momin on 29 December 1877.[2]
(Right) Sultan Jamalalulazam of Sulu signed the second concession treaty on 22 January 1878.[21]

In 1761, Alexander Dalrymple, an officer of the British East India Company, concluded an agreement with the Sultan of Sulu to allow him to set up a trading post in the Sulu area, although it proved to be a failure.[22] In 1846, the island of Labuan on the west coast of Sabah was ceded to Britain by the Sultan of Brunei and in 1848 it became a British Crown Colony while the territory of Sabah ceded through an agreement on 1877, the territory on the eastern part were also ceded by the Sultanate of Sulu on 1878.[23][24][25] Following a series of transfers, the rights to North Borneo were transferred to Alfred Dent, whom in 1881 formed the British North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd (predecessor to British North Borneo Company).[26] 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 and in 1885, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany signed the Madrid Protocol, which recognised the sovereignty of Spain in the Sulu Archipelago in return for the relinquishment of all Spanish claims over North Borneo.[27] North Borneo became a protectorate of the United Kingdom in 1888.

Second World War and occupation

An aerial view of the Sandakan POW Camp, once an experimental farm for the British North Borneo Company but later turned into a prisoner-of-war camp by the Japanese.[28]

As part of the Second World War, Japanese forces landed in Labuan on 1 January 1942, and continued to invade the rest of North Borneo. From 1942 to 1945, Japanese forces occupied North Borneo, along with most of the island. Bombings by the allied forces devastated most of the towns including Sandakan, which was razed to the ground. In Sandakan, there was once a brutal POW camp run by the Japanese for British and Australian POWs from North Borneo. The prisoners suffered under notoriously inhuman conditions, and Allied bombardments caused the Japanese to relocate the POW camp to inland Ranau, 260 km away. All the prisoners, then were reduced to 2,504 in number, were forced to march the infamous Sandakan Death March. Except for six Australians, all of the prisoners died. The war ended on 10 September 1945. After the surrender, North Borneo was administered by the British Military Administration and in 1946 it became a British Crown Colony. Jesselton replaced Sandakan as the capital and the Crown continued to rule North Borneo until 1963.

Self-government and the Federation of Malaysia

Tun Fuad Stephens (left) declaring the forming of the Federation of Malaysia at Padang Merdeka, Jesselton on 16 September 1963. Together with him is the Deputy Minister of Malaya Tun Abdul Razak (right) and Tun Mustapha (second right).

On 31 August 1963, North Borneo attained self-government.[4] The Cobbold Commission was set up on 1962 to determine whether the people of Sabah and Sarawak favoured the proposed union of the Federation of Malaysia, and found that the union was generally favoured by the people. Most ethnic community leaders of Sabah, namely, Tun Mustapha representing the native Muslims, Tun Fuad Stephens representing the non-Muslim natives, and Khoo Siak Chew representing the Chinese, would eventually support the union. After discussion culminating in the Malaysia Agreement and 20-point agreement, on 16 September 1963 North Borneo, as Sabah, was united with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore, to form the independent Federation of Malaysia.[29][30][31]

From before the formation of Malaysia till 1966, Indonesia adopted a hostile policy towards the British backed Malaya, and after union to Malaysia. This undeclared war stems from what Indonesian President Sukarno perceive as an expansion of British influence in the region and his intention to wrest control over the whole of Borneo under the Indonesian republic. Tun Fuad Stephens became the first chief minister of Sabah. The first Governor (Yang di-Pertuan Negeri) was Tun Mustapha. Sabah held its first state election in 1967. Until 2013, a total of 12 state elections has been held. Sabah has had 14 different chief ministers and 10 different Yang di-Pertua Negeri as of 2013. On 14 June 1976 the government of Sabah signed an agreement with Petronas, the federal government-owned oil and gas company, granting it the right to extract and earn revenue from petroleum found in the territorial waters of Sabah in exchange for 5% in annual revenue as royalties.[32]

The state government of Sabah ceded Labuan to the Malaysian federal government, and Labuan became a federal territory on 16 April 1984.[33] In 2000, the state capital Kota Kinabalu was granted city status, making it the 6th city in Malaysia and the first city in the state. Also in the same year, Kinabalu National Park was officially designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, making it the first site in the country to be given such designation. In 2002, the International Court of Justice ruled that the islands of Sipadan and Ligitan, claimed by Indonesia, are part of Sabah and Malaysia.[34]

Territorial dispute

Map of the British North Borneo with the yellow area covered the Philippine claim to eastern Sabah, presented by the Philippine Government to ICJ on 25 June 2001.[35]

Sabah has seen several territorial disputes with Malaysia's neighbours Indonesia and the Philippines. In 2002, both Malaysia and Indonesia submitted to arbitration by the International Court of Justice on a territorial dispute over the Sipadan and Ligitan islands which later won by Malaysia. There are also several overlapping claims over the Ambalat continental shelf in the Celebes (Sulawesi) Sea. Malaysia's claim over a portion of the Spratly Islands is also based on sharing a continental shelf with Sabah.

The Philippines has a territorial claim over much of the eastern part of Sabah, the former North Borneo. It claims that the territory, via the heritage of the Sultanate of Sulu, was only leased to the North Borneo Chartered Company in 1878 with the Sultanate's sovereignty never being relinquished. Malaysia however, considers this dispute as a "non-issue," as it interprets the 1878 agreement as that of cession and that it deems that the residents of Sabah had exercised their right to self-determination when they voted to join the Malaysian federation in 1963.[36][37]

Impact from Mindanao conflict

A numbers of stateless Pala'u (Bajau Laut) kids in east coast Sabah. The UMS has been proposed by the citizen of Sabah to conduct a full study on this community as their population number was increasing rapidly due to a possible infiltration by Pala'u from the Philippines into the local community.[38][39]

Beginning in 1970, Filipino refugees from Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago began arriving in Sabah as a result of the Moro insurgency taking place in that region.[40] Their migration has led to major problems in the state,[41] especially on social problem and some of them allegedly stealing Sabahan native land.[42] The state economy has been impacted, as many of the illegal immigrants have been involved in crimes such as theft and vandalism and have become the main cause of solid waste pollution in marine and coastal areas.[43] Apart from that, the immigrants have destroyed many mangrove in the forest reserve areas to give way to build their illegal houses.[44] Their poverty condition had became one of the main cause the state been labelled as the poorest state in Malaysia.[42][45] In 1985, the town of Lahad Datu was attacked by Moro Pirates from the Southern Philippines, killing at least 21 people and injuring 11 others.[46][47] On May 2000, the Abu Sayyaf militant group from southern Philippines arrived on the resort island of Sipadan and kidnapped 21 people consisting of tourists and resort workers for ransom. Most hostages were rescued on September 2000 following an offensive by the Philippine army. The tragedy in late February 2013 has make it much worse when the Sabah village of Tanduo in the Lahad Datu region was occupied by several armed Filipino supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu, calling themselves the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo which were sent by Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimant to the throne of the sultanate. His stated goal is to assert the Philippine territorial claim to eastern Sabah as part of the North Borneo dispute.[48][49][50] In response, Malaysian security forces surrounded the village. After several negotiations with the group and by the Philippine and Malaysian governments to reach a peaceful solution were unsuccessful, the standoff escalated into an armed conflict which ends with 68 of the self-proclaimed Sultanate followers died and the others been captured by the Malaysian authorities.[51][52][53] The Malaysian side also suffers 10 life lost because of the conflict with most of them are the security forces including other two civilians.[54][55] In the same year, a group believed from Abu Sayyaf militants raided a resort on the island of Pom Pom in Semporna.[56][57] During the ambush, a couple from Taiwan were on the resort when one of them was shot dead by the militants while the second victim was kidnapped and taken to the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines.[56] The victim was later freed in Sulu Province with the help of the Philippines security forces.[58]

An illegal settlement in Lahad Datu. The east coast of Sabah are known for a large numbers of water villages and illegal settlements. Since 2013, shortly after the 2013 invasion, several illegal settlements have been demolished by the Malaysian security forces.[59] Such as this, it had become the main cause of solid waste pollution in marine and coastal areas.[43]

In early 2014, an attempt of further intrusion was already thwarte­d by the Malaysian security forces.[60] Soon, a group of armed men believed to be from Abu Sayyaf militants attack a resort off Semporna.[61][62] During the raid, a Chinese from Shanghai and one Filipino were kidnapped and taken to the Sulu Archipelago.[61][63] The two hostages was later rescued with a collaboration by the Malaysian and the Philippines security forces.[64][65] In May, five gunmen believed from Abu Sayyaf raid a Malaysian fish farm in Baik Island near the shores of Silam and kidnap the fish farm manager.[66] The hostage was later taken to the Jolo island in the Sulu Archipelago.[67] He was later freed on July with the help of Malaysian negotiators.[68] In June, two gunmen believed from Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped a Chinese fish farm manager and one Filipino in Kampung Air Sapang, Kunak, Sabah.[69][70] One of the kidnap victim who is a Filipino fish farm worker managed to escape and goes missing.[71][72] While the fish farm manager has been taken to Jolo.[73] The Malaysian authorities have identified the Filipinos five "Muktadir brothers" who lived in Semporna are behind in all of the kidnappings cases before they sell their hostages to the Abu Sayyaf group.[74] In early July, an attempt of seven armed men to abduct a cage-fish farmer off Bangau-Bangau Island was already failed when the entrepreneur was not at his farm during the incident.[75] However, this soon never stopped when eight gunmen wearing army fatigues from the southern Philippines barged into Mabul Island and killed one policeman and kidnapped another during a shootout at a resort on the island.[76]

It was later revealed that the Filipino immigrants in Sabah becoming an insider spy and helping their foreign relatives to do the criminal and militant activities.[41][77] This has been proved by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) Security Coordinating Intelligence Officer Hassim Justin who blamed on the corruption, illegal issuance of identity cards and the local authorities who did not taking any action to combat the squatter colonies before which now has contributed to the high increase of the illegal immigrant population in Sabah, he also mention about the culture of these immigrants; 72% of Sabah prison inmates are also Filipinos, which constitute the highest in the state than any other nationalities.[79] A Sabah MP, Rosnah Shirlin has called for the closure of the Filipino refugee camp in Kinarut, saying it is a threat to security in Papar. She quote;

The view supported by the OIC countries.[87] The former MNLF leader also dissatisfied when the Malaysian government backing for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.[88] This view have been supported by the Minister of Home Affairs, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who cite Misuari is involved in all of the conflicts.[89] The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad has suggested the government of Sabah to demolished all the water villages in eastern Sabah and resettle only the local peoples there as the era of the water villages has passed and the lifestyle of the villagers there who live in the sea is not appropriate for the modern way of life in Malaysia as the nation aims for Vision 2020.[90] While the Minister of Transport, Liow Tiong Lai has proposed to extend the area of ESSCOM and ESSZONE to cover the whole Sabah as also been proposed by Yong Teck Lee.[88][91] The Malaysian government later decide to impose a curfew on eastern Sabah waters to prevent any further intrusion and started to use a radar to detect any suspicious activities on every tiny settlements along the east coast.[92][93]


Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malay Archipelago.

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 Malay Archipelago (excluding New Guinea) and the 10th highest mountain in political Southeast Asia. The jungles of Sabah are classified as tropical 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.[94]

Highway 22 section from Ranau to Kota Kinabalu in Kundasang.

Lying nearby Mount Kinabalu is Mount Tambuyukon. With 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, with 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 Rajang 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.[95]

The northern tip of Borneo at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau.

Other important wildlife regions in Sabah include Maliau Basin, Danum Valley, Tabin, Imbak Canyon 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 centres 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.



Population in North Borneo – 1960 Census[96]
(now Sabah and Labuan)
Population Percent
Brunei Malay
Other Muslim groups
Sources: British North Borneo (1961)

Sabah’s population numbered 651,304 in 1970 and grew to 929,299 a decade later. But in the two decades following 1980, the state’s population rose significantly by a staggering 1.5 million people, reaching 2,468,246 by 2000. As of 2010, this number had grown further to 3,117,405, with foreigners making up 27% of the total [97] The population of Sabah is 3,117,405 as of the last census in 2010 which showed more than a 400 percent increase from the census of 1970 (from 651,304 in 1970 to 3,117,405 in 2010).[98] and is the third most populous state in Malaysia after Selangor and Johor.

Sabah has one of the highest population growth rates in the country as a result of legal and purportedly state-sponsored illegal immigration and naturalisation from elsewhere in Malaysia, Indonesia and particularly from the Muslim-dominated southern provinces of the Philippines who were awarded Malay stock and granted citizenship.[99][100] As a result, the Bornean Sabahan, most of whom are non-Muslim, have become minorities in their own homeland and these problem has became the main cause of ethnic tension in Sabah.[96][101] Therefore, on 1 June 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak of the Malaysia announced that the federal government has agreed to set up the Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah to investigate.[102]

Population in Sabah – 2010 Census[103]
Population Percent
Brunei Malay
Other bumiputra[104]
Other non-bumiputra
Non-Malaysian citizen
Sources: Department of Statistics, Malaysia.
  • Kadazan-Dusun: 17.82% (555,647)
  • Bajau: 14% (436,672)
  • Brunei Malay: 5.71% (178,029)
  • Murut: 3.22% (100,631)
  • Other bumiputra:[104] 20.56% (640,964) – which consists of Rungus, Iranun, Bisaya, Tatana, Lun Bawang/Lun Dayeh, Tindal, Tobilung, Kimaragang, Suluk, Ubian, Tagal, Timogun, Nabay, Kedayan, Orang Sungai, Makiang, Minokok, Mangka’ak, Lobu, Bonggi, Tidong, Bugis, Ida’an (Idahan), Begahak, Kagayan, Talantang, Tinagas, Banjar, Gana, Kuijau, Tombonuo, Dumpas, Peluan, Baukan, Sino, Jawa
  • Chinese (majority Hakka): 9.11% (284,049)
  • Other non-bumiputra: 1.5% (47,052)
  • Non-Malaysian citizens (Filipino, Indonesian): 27.81% (867,190)

Language and ethnicity

Malay language is the national language spoken across ethnicities, although Sabahan creole is different from the Standard West Malaysian dialect of Johor-Riau.[105] Sabah also has its own slang for many words in Malay, mostly originated from indigenous words and to an extend Indonesian and Bruneian Malay. In addition, indigenous languages such as Kadazan, Dusun, Bajau, Brunei and Murut have their own segments on state radio broadcast as well as English.

The people of Sabah are divided into 32 officially recognised ethnic groups, in which 28 are recognised as Bumiputra, or indigenous people.[3] The largest non-bumiputra ethnic group is the Chinese (13.2%). The predominant Chinese dialect group in Sabah is Hakka, followed by Cantonese and Hokkien. Most Chinese people in Sabah are concentrated in the major cities and towns, namely Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau. The largest indigenous ethnic group is Kadazan-Dusun, followed by Bajau, and Murut. There is a much smaller 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.

Sabah demography consists of many ethnic groups, for example:

Other inhabitants:


Since independence in 1963, Sabah has undergone a significant change in its religious composition, particularly in the percentage of its population professing Islam. In 1960, the percentage of Muslims was 37.9%, Christians - 16.6%, while about one-third remained animist.[108] In 2010, the percentage of Muslims had increased to 65.4%, while people professing Christianity at 26.6% and Buddhism at 6.1%.

Religion in North Borneo - 1960 Census[108]
(now Sabah and Labuan)
Religion Percent

In 1973, USNO amended the Sabah Constitution to make Islam the religion of State of Sabah. USIA vigorously promote conversion of Sabahans natives to Islam by offering rewards and office position, and also through migration of Muslim immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia. Expulsion of Christian missionaries from the state were also performed to reduce Christian proselytisation of Sabahan natives.[109] Filipino Muslims and other Muslim immigrants from Indonesia and even Pakistan were brought into the state with instruction from the USNO chief at the time Tun Mustapha and been giving identity cards in the early 1990s to help topple the PBS state government and to make him appointed as the state governor, however his plan to become the state governor were unsuccessful but many illegal immigrants has changed the demography of Sabah.[110]

These policies were continued when Sabah was under the BERJAYA's administration headed by Datuk Harris, in which he openly exhorted to Muslims of the need to have a Muslim majority, to control the Christian Kadazans (without the help of the Chinese minority).[111]

Religion in Sabah - 2010 Census[101]
Religion Percent
No religion

As of 2010 the population of Sabah follows:

  • 2,096,153 Muslim
  • 853,726 Christian
  • 194,428 Buddhist
  • 3,037 Hindu
  • 2,495 Confucianism/Taoism
  • 3,467 followers of other religions
  • 9,850 non-religious
  • 43,586 unknown religion


A paddy field in Tambunan where the battle of Tambunan took place which ended the Mat Salleh Rebellion in 1900, paddy are part of the state agriculture economy.
The Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal (SOGT) operated by Petronas in Kimanis.
Fishery activities in Sandakan.

Sabah economy relies on three key development sectors; agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. Petroleum and palm oil remained the two most exported commodities. Sabah imports mainly automobiles and machinery, petroleum products and fertilizers, food and manufactured goods.[112] In the 1970s, Sabah was ranked second behind Selangor including Kuala Lumpur as the richest state in Malaysia.[113] As of 2010, Sabah is the poorest state in Malaysia. GDP growth was 2.4%, the lowest in Malaysia behind Kelantan.[114] Proportion of population living below US$1 per day declined from 30% in 1990 to 20% in 2009 but still lag behind other states that have lowered poverty rate significantly from 17% in 1990 to 4% in 2009.[115] Slum is nonexistent in Malaysia but the highest number of squatter settlements is in Sabah with households between 20,000 to 40,000. After Kuala Lumpur, most low-cost public housing units under the People's Housing Program were built in Sabah. Cabotage policy imposed on Sabah and Sarawak is one of the reason behind the higher price of goods. The rules set in early 1980s made sure that all domestic transport of foreign goods between peninsula and Sabah ports are only for Malaysian company vessels. This leads to shipping cartel charging excessive costs and ultimately a higher cost of living in East Malaysia.[116] Cabotage rules also affected the industry sector. Tan Chong Motor is planning to build a Nissan 4WD factory in KKIP but higher cost of shipping stalled the plan that could provide new jobs.[117] Lack of industry providing jobs for professional and highly skilled workers forced large numbers of Sabahans to seek opportunities in Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and United States.

The 5% fixed oil royalty Sabah currently receives from Petronas according to Petroleum Development Act 1974 is also an issue of contention.[118] The three oil producing states namely Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu demanded Petronas to review the agreement and increase royalty to no avail.


A truck carrying timbers in Tawau, logging are one of the largest source of Sabah economy since the British period.[note 1]

Sabah was traditionally heavily dependent on lumber based on export of tropical timber, but with increasing depletion at an alarming rate of the natural forests, ecological efforts to save the remaining natural rainforest areas were made in early 1982 through forest conservation methods by collecting seeds of different species particularly acacia mangium and planting it to pilot project areas pioneered by the Sandakan Forest Research Institute researchers. Other important agricultural activities for the Sabah economy including rubber and cocoa. The palm oil now has became the largest agricultural source for Sabah, however the activities has results on the largest deforestation which destroys the habitat of borneo pygmy elephant, proboscis monkey, orangutan and rhinoceros.[119][120][121] America's lobster breeding company Darden will start a huge investment to breed lobsters in Sabah waters for export to the United States in the coming years. Agriculture sector is supported by Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture & Food Industry and Palm Oil Industrial Cluster.


Tourism, particularly

  • Sabah Government Portal
  • Sabah Tourism Board
  • Tourism Malaysia - Sabah
  • Laws of Sabah
  • Sabah Lonely Planet

External links

  • James Chin, (2014) Federal-East Malaysia Relations: Primus-Inter-Pares?, in Andrew Harding and James Chin (2014) 50 Years of Malaysia: Federalism Revisited (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish) pp. 152-185
  • Urmenyhazi, Attila - DISCOVERING NORTH BORNEO a short travelogue on Sarawak & Sabah by the author (2007). National Library of Australia, Canberra, record ID: 4272798. Call Number: NLp 915 953 U77.

Further reading

  1. ^
    Logging during the British period.
  1. ^ a b "Laporan Kiraan Permulaan 2010". Department of Statistics Malaysia. p. iv. Archived from the original on 27 December 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Rozan Yunos (21 September 2008). "How Brunei lost its northern province".  
  3. ^ a b Oxford Business Group. The Report: Sabah 2011. Oxford Business Group. pp. 13–.  
  4. ^ a b Frans Welman. Borneo Trilogy Volume 1: Sabah. Booksmango. pp. 159–.  
  5. ^ Malaysia Act 1963. Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  6. ^ Agreement relating to Malaysia between United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore
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See also

Other reserves or protected areas include;


Mabul Island is located in the clear waters of the Celebes Sea off the mainland of Sabah, surrounded by gentle sloping reefs two to 40m deep and home to the Pala'u (Bajau Laut) tribe. The main activity on the island is diving, with over eight popular dive spots. Marine life that can be seen in the surrounding waters include sea horses, exotic starfish, fire gobies, crocodile fish, pipefish and snake eels.[160]

Danum Valley is blessed with a startling diversity of tropical flora and fauna such as the rare Sumatran Rhinoceros, orang utans, gibbons, mousedeer, clouded leopard and some 270 species of birds. Activities offered are jungle treks, river swimming, bird watching, night jungle tours and excursions to nearby logging sites and timber mills.[159]

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park comprises a cluster of five idyllic islands, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik, Pulau Sulug, Pulau Gaya and Pulau Sapi, spread over 4,929 hectares, of which two-thirds is sea. The islands have soft white beaches that are teeming with fish and coral, and is home to a variety of exotic flora and fauna such as the intriguing Megapode or Burung Tambun, a chicken look-alike bird with large feet that makes a meowing sound like a cat.[158]

Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary is as a rehabilitation centre for orangutans where one can visit and observe the primates. Aside from orang utans, over 200 species of birds and a variety of wild plants can be found within the 5.666ha. forest reserve.[157]

The Rainforest Discovery Centre is part of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. Enjoy spectacular views of the beautiful rainforest from 28 metres above ground on the 147- metre long canopy walkway, and catch a glimpse of wildlife such as cunning mousedeer, wily civet cats, cute tarsiers and various insects and birds, as well as flora such as 250 species of native orchids in bloom in the Plant Discovery Garden.[156]

Sipadan Island is Malaysia's sole oceanic island, rising 700m from the sea floor and only 12 hectares in size. Surrounded by crystal clear waters, the island is a treasure trove of some of the most amazing species such as sea eagles, kingfishers, sunbirds, starlings, wood pigeons, coconut crab, turtles, bumphead parrotfish and barracudas.[155]

The Kinabalu Park is the entrance to Mount Kinabalu, standing at 1,585 metres above sea level, covering an area of 754sq km which is made up of Mount Kinabalu, Mount Tambayukon and the foothills. The park has a fascinating geological history, taking millions of years to form.[154]

Places of interest

Che'Nelle is a Sabahan-born Australian recording artist famous for her single I Feel in Love With the DJ. Cheryline Lim as her real name, was born 10 March 1983. She was born to a Bornean-born Chinese father, and a mother of a mixed of Indian and Dutch heritage. Born in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Lim and her family moved to Perth, Australia when she was 10 years old.

Philip Lee Tau Sang (died 1959) was one of the most prominent Sabahan Chinese politicians in the 1950s. Of Hakka descent, he was greatly favoured by the British, whose colonisation Sabah was still under then, and was Member of the Advisory Council of North Borneo (1947–1950), Legislative Council of North Borneo (1950–1958) and Executive Council of North Borneo (1950–1953, 1956–1957).[153] He has been posthumously honoured with a road named after him in the town of Tanjung Aru, near the Kota Kinabalu International Airport.

Penny Wong, born in Kota Kinabalu in 1968, moved to Australia at age 5. She became the first Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation in Australia.[148][149] She was the first Asian-born member of the Australian cabinet.[150] She is currently the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate in Australia.[151][152]

In 2006, Penampang-born Richard Malanjum was appointed Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak and became the first Kadazandusun to hold such a post.

The 8th and current Attorney General of Malaysia, Abdul Gani Patail, comes from Sabah.

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 1990s in promoting the rights of Sabah and speaking out against the illegal immigration 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.

UMNO branches in Sabah and deregistering USNO. Efforts to reregister USNO have not been allowed, unlike UMNO that was allowed to be reregistered under the same name.[147]

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 later converted to the support of it.[145] He was also the first Huguan Siou or paramount leader of the Kadazan-dusun and Murut people.

Antanum or Antanom (full name Ontoros Antonom) (1885–1915) was a famous and influential Murut warrior who led the chiefs and villagers from Keningau, Tenom, Pensiangan and Rundum to start the Rundum uprising against the British North Borneo Company but was killed during fighting with the company army in Sungai Selangit near Pensiangan.

Mat Salleh was a Bajau leader 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.[144]

Statue of Antanom in Tenom.
Mat Salleh, marked with an "X".

Notable residents

  • Sumazau: Kadazandusun traditional dance which performed during weddings and Kaamatan festival. The dance form is akin to a couple of birds flying together.
  • Magunatip: Famously known as the Bamboo dance, requires highly skilled dancers to perform. Native dance of the Muruts, but can also be found in different forms and names in South East Asia.
  • Daling-daling: Danced by Bajaus and Suluks. 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 Bajau and 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 by the Bajau from Semporna District.

There are many types of traditional dances in Sabah, most notably:

Ethnic dances

In the Earl Mac Rauch novelisation 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."

American author Agnes Newton Keith lived in Sandakan between 1934–1952 and wrote four books about Sabah, Land Below the Wind, Three Came Home, White Man Returns and Beloved Exiles. The second book was made into a Hollywood motion picture.

Australian author Wendy Law Suart lived in Jesselton between 1949–1953 and wrote The Lingering Eye – Recollections of North Borneo about her experiences.[143]


Martin Guntali was a weightlifter who won the Commonwealth Games bronze medal. Lim Keng Liat was a swimmer who won the Asian Games gold medal in 2006. Arrico Jumiti is a weightlifter who won the Asian Games gold medal at Guangzhou in 2010.

Matlan Marjan is a former football player for Malaysia. He scored two goals against England in an international friendly on 12 June 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.[138] He again made history for Sabah when he was named the captain of the national team in the 1995 match against Brazilian football club, Flamengo XI, in which the team famously held their opponent to a 1-1 draw.[139] In 1995, he along with six other Sabah players, were arrested on suspicion of match-fixing. Although the charges were dropped, he was prevented from playing professional football and was banished to another district.[140][141] He was banished under the Restricted Residence Act.[142]

Sabah FA won the Malaysia FA Cup in 1995 then become the Malaysian Premier League champion in 1996.


Sabah also featured in a Korean Reality Show Law of the Jungle (TV series). Law of the Jungle is a reality variety show that captures a cast of celebrities as they travel to primitive and natural places. Out in the wild, cast members have to survive on their own and experience life with local tribes.

Foreign films and TV shows filmed in Sabah include the reality show Survivor: Borneo, The Amazing Race, Eco-Challenge Borneo as well as a number of Hong Kong production films such as Born Rich. Sabah was featured in Sacred Planet, a documentary hosted by Robert Redford.

Sabah's first homegrown film was Orang Kita, starring Abu Bakar Ellah. Sabah-produced TV programs such as dramas or documentaries are usually aired on TV1 while musicals aired through special Sabah slots in Muzik Aktif.

Bat*21 was a 1988 Vietnam War film directed by Peter Markle and shot at various locations in West Sabah such as Menggatal, Telipok, Kayumadang and Lapasan.

The earliest known footage of Sabah is from two movies by Martin and Osa Johnson titled Jungle Depths of Borneo and Borneo filmed at Abai, Kinabatangan.[137] Three Came Home was a 1950 Hollywood movie based on the memoir of the same name by Agnes Newton Keith depicting the Second World War in Sandakan.

Movies and TV

Sabah's first established newspaper was the Sabah Times. The newspaper was founded by Tun Fuad Stephens, who later became the first Chief Minister of Sabah. Today the main newspapers are New Sabah Times, Daily Express and Borneo Post.

Radio Televisyen Malaysia operates 2 statewide free-to-air terrestrial radio channels, Sabah FM and Sabah VFM as well as district specific channels such as Keningau FM. A local television channel is due to be launched called TV Sabah, also under RTM. KK FM is run by Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Bayu FM is only available through Astro satellite feed. Recently KL based AMP Radio Networks and Suria FM set up base to tap the emerging market. Sabahan DJs were hired and the content caters to Sabahan listeners.


Official Name in Malay Name in English Acronym Website
Kolej Kinabalu Kinabalu College [1]
Institut Seni Sabah Sabah Institute of Art SIA [2]
Kolej Yayasan Sabah Sabah Foundation College KYS [3]
Kolej SIDMA Sabah SIDMA College Sabah SIDMA [4]
Kolej Pelancongan Asia Antarabangsa Asian Tourism International College ATIC [5]
Sekolah Perniagaan AMC Advanced Management College AMC [6]
Politeknik Kota Kinabalu Kota Kinabalu Polytechnic POLITEKNIK [7]
Kolej Pentadbiran Dinamik Antarabangsa Sabah Sabah International Dynamic Management College SIDMA [8]
Institut Sinaran Sinaran Institute SINARAN [9]
Kolej Antarabangsa AlmaCrest AlmaCrest International College ACIC [10]
Kolej Eastern Eastern College EASTERN [11]
Institut Prima Bestari Prima Bestari Institute IPB [12]
Kolej Informatics Informatics College INFORMATICS
Kolej INTI INTI College INTI [13]
Pusat Teknologi dan Pengurusan Lanjutan Advanced Management and Technology Centre PTPL [14]
Kolej Teknologi Cosmopoint Cosmopoint Kota Kinabalu COSMOPOINT [15]
Kolej Multimedia Multimedia College MMC
Institut Teknologi Sabah Sabah Institute of Technology SIT [16]
Institut Perguruan Kampus Gaya Gaya Teachers Training Institute IPGKG [17]
Institut Perguruan Kampus Keningau Keningau Teachers Training Institute IPGKK [18]
Institut Perguruan Kampus Tawau Tawau Teachers Training Institute IPGKT [19]
Institut Perguruan Kampus Kent Kent Teachers Training Institute [20]
Kolej Masterskill Masterskill College MASTERSKILL [21]
Institut Latihan Perindustrian (ILP) Kota Kinabalu Kota Kinabalu Industrial Training Institute ILPKK [22]
Institut Latihan Perindustrian (ILP) Sandakan Sandakan Industrial Training Institute ILPSDK [23]
Kolej Sains & Kesihatan Aseana Aseana School of Health ASEANA


Official Name in Malay Name in English Acronym
Kolej Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman Tunku Abdul Rahman University College TARC
Universiti Malaysia Sabah Malaysia Sabah University UMS
Universiti Teknologi MARA MARA Technology University UiTM
Universiti Terbuka Malaysia Open University Malaysia OUM
Panorama of UMS.


Education and culture

As in the rest of Malaysia, local government comes under the purview of state governments.[134] However, ever since the suspension of local government elections in the midst of the Malayan Emergency, which was much less intense in Sabah than it was in the rest of the country, there have been no local elections. Local authorities have their officials appointed by the executive council of the state government.[135][136]

Division Name Districts Area (km²) Population (2010)[133]
1 West Coast Division Kota Belud, Kota Kinabalu, Papar, Penampang, Putatan, Ranau, Tuaran 7,588 1,067,589
2 Interior Division Beaufort, Nabawan, Keningau, Kuala Penyu, Sipitang, Tambunan, Tenom 18,298 424,534
3 Kudat Division Kota Marudu, Kudat, Pitas 4,623 192,457
4 Sandakan Division Beluran, Kinabatangan, Sandakan, Tongod 28,205 702,207
5 Tawau Division Kunak, Lahad Datu, Semporna, Tawau 14,905 819,955

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.

Sabah consists of five administrative divisions, which are in turn divided into 25 districts.

Administrative districts

Direct political intervention by the federal, for example, introduction and later convenient [for UMNO] abolition of the chief minister's post and earlier PBS-BERJAYA conflict in 1985, along with co-opting rival factions in East Malaysia, is sometimes seen as a political tactic by the UMNO-led federal government to control and manage the autonomous power of the Borneo states.[132] The federal government however tend to view that these actions are justifiable as the display of parochialism amongst East Malaysians is not in harmony with nation building. This complicated Federal-State relations hence become a source of major contention in Sabah politics.

A unique feature of Sabah politics was a policy initiated by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad 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. However, in practice this system was problematic as it is too short for any leader to carry-out long term plan.[131] 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.

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. In 1994 Sabah state election, despite PBS winning the elections, subsequent cross-overs of PBS assembly members to the BN component party resulted in BN having majority of seats and hence took over the helm of the state government.[130]

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. Subsequently, North Borneo legislative assembly agreed on the formation of Malaysia on the conditions that these state rights were safeguarded. Sabah hence entered Malaysia as an autonomous state. However, there is a prevailing view amongst Sabahan that beginning from the second tenure of BERJAYA's administration under Datuk Harris, this autonomy has been gradually eroded under the federal influence and hegemony.[129] Amongst political contention often raised by Sabahans are the cession of Labuan island to Federal government and unequal sharing and exploitation of Sabah's resources of petroleum. This has resulted in strong anti-federal sentiments and even occasional call for secession from the Federation amongst the people of Sabah.

Politics of Sabah

The present elected state and federal government posts are held by Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA).[128]

Members of the state assembly are elected from 60 constituencies which are delineated by the Election Commission of Malaysia and may not necessarily result in constituencies of same voter population sizes. Sabah is also represented in the federal parliament by 25 members elected from the same number of constituencies.


# Chief Minister Took office Left office Party
1 Tun Fuad Stephens (1st term) 16 September 1963 31 December 1964 UNKO)
2 Peter Lo Sui Yin 1 January 1965 12 May 1967 Alliance (SCA)
3 Mustapha Harun 12 May 1967 1 November 1975 USNO)
4 Mohamad Said Keruak 1 November 1975 18 April 1976 USNO)
5 Tun Fuad Stephens (2nd term) 18 April 1976 6 June 1976 Barisan Nasional (BERJAYA)
6 Harris Salleh 6 June 1976 22 April 1985 Barisan Nasional (BERJAYA)
7 Joseph Pairin Kitingan 22 April 1985 17 March 1994 Parti Bersatu Sabah
Barisan Nasional (PBS)
Parti Bersatu Sabah
8 Sakaran Dandai 17 March 1994 27 December 1994 UMNO)
9 Salleh Said Keruak 27 December 1994 28 May 1996 UMNO)
10 Yong Teck Lee 28 May 1996 28 May 1998 Barisan Nasional (SAPP)
11 Bernard Dompok 28 May 1998 14 March 1999 UPKO)
12 Osu Sukam 14 March 1999 27 March 2001 UMNO)
13 Chong Kah Kiat 27 March 2001 27 March 2003 Barisan Nasional (LDP)
14 Musa Aman 27 March 2003 present UMNO)

The Yang di-Pertua Negeri sits at the top of the hierarchy followed by the state legislative assembly and the state cabinet. The Yang di-Pertuan Negeri is officially the head of state however its functions are largely ceremonial. The chief minister is the head of government and is also the leader of the state cabinet. The legislature is based on the Westminster system and therefore the chief minister is appointed based on his or her ability to command the majority of the state assembly. A general election representatives in the state assembly must be held every five years. This is the only elected government body in the state, with local authorities being fully appointed by the state government owing to the suspension of local elections by the federal government. The assembly meets at the state capital, Kota Kinabalu.


Sabah is a representative democracy with universal suffrage for all citizens above 21 years of age. However, legislation regarding state elections are within the powers of the federal government and not the state.


Rank City and major towns Population (2010)
1 Kota Kinabalu 628,725
2 Sandakan 396,290
3 Tawau 397,673

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.[127] The major city and towns are:

Urban centres and ports

There are hundreds of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and industries (SMIs) in Sabah[126] and some companies have become a household name such as Gardenia. Sabah government is seriously pursuing industrialisation with the Sabah Development Corridor plan specifically in Sepanggar area where KKIP Industrial Park and Sepanggar Container Port Terminal located. Sabah manufacturing are supported by Ministry of Industrial Development and Department of Industrial Development & Research.



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