Borneo Fact Time

So I am sat in a cafe called ‘red plaice’ that doesn’t particularly smell or show signs of selling fish at all… But I am waiting for one of the landrovers to be fitted with 4 new tyres (can take up to 3 hours) and thought I could do a little blog on Borneo and interest you (potentially) about its history and general facts… So here it goes…


Political divisions of Borneo


*Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and the largest island of Asia.


*The island is divided among three countries: Brunei and Malaysia in the north, and Indonesia to the south.

*Approximately 73% of the island is Indonesian territory. In the north, the Malaysian states of Sabah (where i am) 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 rain forests in the world.


*Borneo is surrounded by the South China sea to the north and northwest, the Sulu sea to the northeast, the Celebes sea and the Makassar strait to the east, and the Java sea and Karimata strait to the south.

*To the west of Borneo are the Malay peninsula and Sumatra.To the south and east are islands of Indonesia: Java and Sulawesi respectively. To the northeast are the Philippines.

*Its highest point is mount Kinabalu which you can see from our field-base house and it has 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 neighbouring Sulawesi prevented a land connection to that island, creating the divide between Asian and Australia-New Guinea biological regions, known as Wallace’s line.


True-color satellite image of the island of Borneo on 14 May 2012


*The Borneo rainforest is 130 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainforests in the world.

*There are about 15,000 species of flowering plants with 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of resident birds in Borneo.

*There are about 440 freshwater fish species in Borneo (about the same as Sumatra and Java combined).

*The Borneo rainforest is one of the few remaining natural habitats for the endangered Bornean orangutan.

*It is an important refuge for many endemic forest species, including the Asian elephant, the sumatran rhinoceros, the Bornean clouded leopard, the Hose’s civet and the Dayak fruit bat.

*In 2010 the world wide fund for nature stated that 123 species have been discovered in Borneo since the “Heart of Borneo” agreement was signed in 2007.

*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 globaltropical 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 crops and kept going by an exceptionally dry El niño season during that period, further reduced the rainforest. During the great fire, hotspots could be seen on satellite images; the resulting haze spread and affected the surrounding countries of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Early history


*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, dragons blood, rattan, edible birds 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 piradvipa, or Diamond Island.

*Archeological 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.

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.


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 1874 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.

*China has had long historical trading links with the inhabitants of the island. Some Chinese beads and wares have been found deep into the interior of Borneo. The Malay and Sea Dayak pirates preyed on maritime shipping in the waters between Singapore and Hong Kong from their haven in Borneo.

*The British north borneo company controlled the territory of North Borneo (present-day Sabah) from 1882 to 1941.

World War II

*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.

*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.

Recent history

*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.

*The demonym for Borneo is Bornean or Bornese.


*Borneo has 19,800,000 inhabitants a population density of 26 inhabitants per square km.

*Most of the population lives in coastal cities, although the inner land 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 (indonesian borneo) 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 Ibam, with about 710,000 members.

*Since the 1990s, the indigenous Dayak have resisted encroachment by migrants. Violent conflict has occurred between some transmigrant and indigenous populations.

*In Kalimantan, thousands were killed in 2001 fighting between Madurese transmigrants and the Dayak people.

*Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Malaysian Borneo has a population of 651,658 people.


There we go. Special thanks to Wikipedia and other random websites for the above collected information!


I want to do a separate blog with regards to the palm oil industry here and the deforestation of Borneo too. the palm oil industry is something that we discussed and debated about purposefully at the beginning of this expedition in order to get more of an idea of local/Malay point if view; and for me, not knowing a lot about the palm oil issue it was an education. Upon learning about it I am now trying to construct my own opinion on the matter based on facts given to me! So watch this space for a blog about palm oil…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s