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Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located at the centre of Maritime Southeast Asia.

Indonesians refer to the entire island as Kalimantan. Malaysians usually refer to the island by the names of either of its two Malaysian states, Sarawakmarker and Sabahmarker. The independent nation of Bruneimarker occupies the remainder of the island.


Borneo is surrounded by the South China Seamarker to the north and northwest, the Sulu Seamarker to the northeast, the Celebes Seamarker and the Makassar Straitmarker to the east and the Java Seamarker and Karimata Straitmarker to the south. It has an area of .

To the west of Borneo are the Malay Peninsula and Sumatramarker. To the south is Javamarker. To the east is the island of Sulawesi marker. To the northeast is the Philippinesmarker.

Borneo's highest point is Mount Kinabalumarker in Sabahmarker, Malaysiamarker, with an elevation of above sea level. This makes it the world's third highest island.

The largest river systems are the Kapuas River, with approximately the longest river in Indonesia, the Rajang River in Sarawak with some the longest river in Malaysia, the Barito River about long and the Mahakam Rivermarker about long.

Borneo is also known for its extensive cave systems. Clearwater Cave has one of the world's longest underground rivers. Deer Cavemarker, thought to be the largest cave passage in the world, is home to over three million bats and guano accumulated to over high.

Largest cities

The following is a list of urban areas in Borneo by population based on 2008 calculations compiled by The World Gazetteer.
Rank City/Town Population Country
1 Kuchingmarker, Sarawakmarker 632,505 Malaysia
2 Banjarmasinmarker 598,518 Indonesia
3 Kota Kinabalumarker, Sabahmarker 543,765 Malaysia
4 Pontianak 466,090 Indonesia
5 Sandakanmarker, Sabahmarker 453,759 Malaysia
6 Balikpapanmarker 453,575 Indonesia
7 Samarindamarker 356,034 Indonesia
8 Tawaumarker, Sabahmarker 354,243 Malaysia
9 Mirimarker, Sarawakmarker 257,305 Malaysia
10 Bintulumarker, Sarawakmarker 180 000 Malaysia
11 Bandar Seri Begawanmarker 178,312 Brunei


Political divisions of Borneo
The island of Borneo is divided administratively into 3 parts, the only island in the world that is a recognised part of 3 countries:

Federal State

or Province
Capital Part of country Area



Census of 2000 1)

Bruneimarker Bandar Seri Begawanmarker independent Sultanate 5770 0.77 569000 2.1
Sarawakmarker Kuchingmarker Malaysia 124450 16.6 2012616 12.4
Sabahmarker Kota Kinabalumarker Malaysia 73619 9.8 2449389 15.1
Labuanmarker 2) Victoria Malaysia
Federal territory
92 0.01 70517 0.4
West Kalimantanmarker Pontianak Indonesia 146760 19.5 4034198 24.9
Central Kalimantan Palangkarayamarker Indonesia 152600 20.3 2985240 18.4
South Kalimantanmarker Banjarmasinmarker Indonesia 37660 5,0 1857000 11.5
East Kalimantanmarker Samarindamarker Indonesia 210985 28.1 2455120 15.2
Borneo Kuchingmarker 3) 3 countries 751936 100.0 16196924 100.0
1) Brunei: Census of Population 2001

2) strictly speaking not on Borneo, but on nearshore islands (2.5 km off the main island of Borneo)

3) largest city


According to ancient Chinese, Indian and Javanese manuscripts, western coastal cities of Borneo had become trading ports, part of their trade routes, since 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 among the most valuable items from Borneo. The Indians named Borneo as Suvarnabhumi (the land of gold) and also Karpuradvipa (the Camphor Island), which includes the western part of the island shared with Sumatramarker island. The Javanese named Borneo as Puradvipa, or the Diamond Island. Archaeological findings in the delta river of Sarawakmarker reveal that the area was once a thriving trading centre between India and China from the 6th century until about 1300 AD. One of the earliest evidence of Hindu influence in Southeast Asia were stone pillars which bears inscriptions in the Pallava script found in Kutai along the Mahakam Rivermarker in East Kalimantanmarker dated around the second half of the 4th century CE.
In the fourteenth century, almost all coastal part of Borneo were under the control of Majapahit kingdom as is written in Javanese Nagarakretagama document (circa 1365 AD) and it was called Nusa Tanjungnagara. The name of a trading port city in Borneo is Tanjungpura in Nagarakretagama; the same name written in another Javanese Pararaton document (circa 1355 AD).

In the 15th century, the Majapahit rule exerted its influence in Borneo. Princess Junjung Buih, the queen of the Hindu kingdom of Negara Dipa (situated in Candi Agung area of Amuntai) married a Javanese prince, Prince Suryanata, and together they ruled the kingdom which is a tributary to the Majapahit Empire (1365). In this way, it became a part of Nusantara. Along the way, the power of Negara Dipa weakened and was replaced by the new court of Negara Daha. When Prince Samudra (Prince Suriansyah) of Negara Daha converted to Islam and formed the Islamic kingdom of Banjar, it inherited some of the areas previously ruled by the Hindu kingdom of Negara Daha.

The Bruneimarker Sultanate during its golden age from the 15th to 17th centuries ruled a large part of northern Borneo. In 1703 (other sources say 1658), the Sultanate of Sulu received North Borneo from the Sultan of Brunei, after Sulu sent aid against a rebellion in Brunei. 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 then renamed himself "Paduka Maulana Mahasari Sharif Sultan Hashem Abu Bakr". Subsequently HM Sultan Jamalul Ahlam Kiram (1863-1881) the 29th reigning Sultan of Sulu leased North Borneo in 1878 to Gustavus Baron de Overbeck & Alfred Dent representing the British North Borneo Company in what is now Sabahmarker part of Malaysia. The company also exerted control on inland territories that were inhabited by numerous tribes. In the 19th century coastal areas ruled by the Brunei Sultanatemarker in the west of the island were gradually taken by the Brooke dynasty. The Brooke dynasty ruled Sarawakmarker for a hundred years and became famous as the "White Rajahs".

By the 18th century, the area from Sambas to Berau were tributaries to the Banjar Kingdom, but this eventually shrunk to the size of what is now South Kalimantanmarker as a result of agreements with the Dutchmarker. In the Karang Intan Agreement during the reign of Prince Nata Dilaga (Susuhunan Nata Alam) (1808-1825), the Banjar Kingdom gave up its territories to the Dutch Indies which included Bulungan, Kutai, Pasir, Pagatan and Kotawaringin. Other territories given up to the Dutch Indies were Landak, Sambas, Sintang and Sukadana.

In the early-19th century, Britishmarker and Dutch governments signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 to exchange trading ports under their controls and assert spheres of influences, in which indirectly set apart the two parts of Borneo into British and Dutch controlled areas. Chinamarker has had historical trading links with the inhabitants of the island. Some of the Chinese beads and wares found their way 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. In 1849 James Brooke and his Malays attacked the Sea-Dayaks and wiped out 800 of the 4,000 pirates.

Moreover in the 19th century, the Dutch admitted the founding of district kingdoms with native leaders who were under the power of the Dutch (Indirect Bestuur).The Dutch assign a resident to head their rule over Kalimantan. List of the residents and governors of Kalimantan:
  1. C.A. Kroesen (1898), resident
  2. C.J. Van Kempen (1924), resident
  3. J. De Haan (1924-1929), resident
  4. R. Koppenel (1929-1931), resident
  5. W.G. Morggeustrom (1933-1937), resident
  6. Dr. A. Haga (1938-1942), governor
  7. Pangeran Musa Ardi Kesuma (1942-1945), Ridzie
  8. Ir. Pangeran Muhammad Noor (1945), governor

Since 1938, Dutch-Borneo (Kalimantan) was one administrative territory under a governor (Governor Haga) whose seat was in Banjarmasinmarker. In 1957 following the independence of Indonesia, Kalimantan was divided into 3 provinces which is South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan and West Kalimantan. The province of Central Kalimantan separated from South Kalimantan to have their own territory in 1958.

During the Second World War, Japanese forces gained control of Borneo (1941–45). They decimated many local populations and Malay intellectuals, including the elimination of the Malay Sultanate of Sambas in Kalimantan. During the Japanese occupation the Dayaks played a role in guerilla warfare against the occupying forces, particularly in the Kapit Division where headhunting was temporarily revived towards the end of the war. Borneo was the main site of the confrontation between Indonesiamarker and Malaysiamarker between 1962 and 1966, as well as the communist revolts to gain control of the whole area. Before the formation of Malaysian Federation, the Philippinesmarker claimed that the Malaysian state of Sabahmarker in north Borneo is within their territorial rights based on historical facts of the Sultanate of Sulu's leasing agreement with the North Borneo Company, is presently an unresolved claim against Malaysia. Several other territorial claims such as Sipadanmarker were resolved at The Haguemarker international courts.


Borneo is very rich in biodiversity compared to many other areas (MacKinnon et al. 1998). There are about 15,000 species of flowering plants with 3,000 species of trees (267 species are dipterocarps), 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of resident birds in Borneo (MacKinnon et al. 1998). It is also the centre of evolution and radiation of many endemic species of plants and animals. The remaining Borneo rainforest is the only natural habitat for the endangered Bornean Orangutan. It is also an important refuge for many endemic forest species, as the Asian Elephant, the Sumatran Rhinoceros, the Bornean Clouded Leopard, and the Dayak Fruit Bat.It is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. The World Wildlife Fund has stated that 361 animal and plant species have been discovered in Borneo since 1996, underscoring its unparalleled biodiversity. In the 18 month period from July 2005 until December 2006, another 52 new species were found.

Satellite image of the island of Borneo on August 19, 2002, showing smoke from burning peat swamp forests.
The World Wildlife Fund divides the island into seven distinct ecoregions. The Borneo lowland rain forests cover most of the island, with an area of . Other lowland ecoregions are the Borneo peat swamp forests, the Kerangas or Sundaland heath forests, the Southwest Borneo freshwater swamp forests, and the Sunda Shelf mangroves. The Borneo mountain rain forests lie in the central highlands of the island, above the elevation. The highest elevations of Mount Kinabalumarker 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 shrank rapidly due to heavy logging for the needs of the Malaysian plywood industry. Two forestry researchers of Sepilok Research Centre, Sandakan, Sabah in the early '80s identified four fast-growing hardwoods and a breakthrough on seed collection and handling of Acacia mangium and Gmelina arborea, a fast growing tropical trees were planted on huge tract of formerly logged and deforested areas primarily in the northern part of Borneo Island. Half of the annual global tropical timber acquisition comes from Borneo. Furthermore, Palm oil plantations are rapidly encroaching on the last remnants of primary rainforest. The rainforest was also greatly destroyed from the forest fires of 1997 to 1998, which were started by the locals to clear the forests for crops and perpetuated by an exceptionally dry El Niño season during that period. During the great fire, hotspots could be seen on satellite images and the haze thus created affected the surrounding countries of Bruneimarker, Malaysiamarker, Indonesiamarker and Singaporemarker. In February 2008, the Malaysian government announced the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy plan to harvest the virgin hinterlands of Northern Borneo. Further deforestation and destruction of the biodiversity are anticipated in the wake of logging commissions, hydroelectric dams and other mining of minerals and resources.

In order to combat overpopulation and AIDS in Javamarker, the Indonesian government started a massive transmigration (transmigrasi) of poor farmers and landless peasants into Borneo in the 70's and 80's, to farm the logged areas, albeit with little success as the fertility of the land has been removed with the trees and what soil remains is washed away in tropical downpours.


Borneo has 15,721,384 inhabitants (January 2005) and thus a population density of 16 inhabitants per km. The population lives mainly on the coast, furthermore in the cities. The hinterland is occupied at most in small towns and villages along the rivers. The population consists mainly of Malays, Chinese and Dayak ethnic groups. The Chinese, who make up 29% of the population of Sarawakmarker and 17% of total population in West Kalimantanmarker, originally migrated from southeastern China. The majority of the population in Kalimantan is either Muslim or practice animism. Approximately 15% of the Dayak are Christian, a religion introduced by missionaries in the 19th Century. In the interior of Borneo are also the Penan, some of who still practice a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence. In some coastal areas of marginal settlements are also found Bajau, who were historically associated with a sea-oriented, boat-dwelling, nomadic existence. In the northwest of Borneo, the Dayak ethnic group is represented by the Iban with about 710,000 members.

There are over 30 Dayak sub-ethnic groups living in Borneo, making the population of this island one of the most varied of human social groups. Some sub-ethnicities are now represented by only 30-100 individuals and are threatened with extinction. Ancestral knowledge of ethnobotany and ethnozoology is useful in drug discovery (for example, bintangor plant for AIDS) or as future alternative food sources (such as sago starch for lactic acid production and sago maggots as a protein source). Certain indigenous Dayak people (such as the Kayan, Kenyah, Punan Bah and Penan) living on the island have been struggling for decades for their right to preserve their environment from loggers and transmigrant settlers and colonists.

Kalimantan was the focus for an intense transmigration program that financed the relocation of poor landless families from Java, Madura, and Bali. In 2000, transmigrants made up 21% of the population in Central Kalimantan. Since the 1990s, violent conflict has occurred between some transmigrant and indigenous populations; in Kalimantan, thousands were killed in fighting between Madurese transmigrants and the indigenous Dayak people.

See also


  4. " 'Guests' can succeed where occupiers fail". The New York Times. November 9, 2007.
  6. " Province of West Kalimantan, Indonesia". Guangdong Foreign Affairs Office.
  7. " The world's successful diasporas". Management Today. April 3, 2007.

Further reading

  • Bowen, M.R. and Eusebio, T.V. (1981) b): Acacia mangium. Updated information on seed collection, handling and germination testing. Occasional Tech. and Scientific Notes, Seed Series No.5, Forest Research Centre, Sepilok, Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
  • Bowen, M.R. and Eusebio, T.V. (1982): Seed handling practices: four fast-growing hardwoods...Malaysian Forester Vol 45, No.4: 534-547
  • Ghazally Ismail et al. (eds.) Scientific Journey Through Borneo Series. Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Kota Samarahan. 1996-2001.
  • Gudgeon, L. W. W. British North Borneo. Adam and Charles Black, London. (An early well-illustrated book on "British North Borneo", now known as Sabah.) 1913.
  • MacKinnon K, Hatta G, Halim H, Mangalik A. The ecology of Kalimantan. Oxford University Press, London. 1998.
  • K M Wong & C L Chan. "Mt Kinabalu: Borneo's Magic Mountain." Natural History Publications, Kota Kinabalumarker. 1998.
  • David Macdonald. Expedition to Borneo.
  • Dennis Lau. Borneo: A Photographic Journey.
  • Stephen Holley. White Headhunter in Borneo.
  • Robert Young Pelton Borneo.
  • Mel White: " Borneo's moment of truth" National Geographic Magazine November 2008

Selected references

  • Robert Young Pelton. Fielding's Borneo[389]
  • Eric Hansen. Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo.
  • John Wassner. Espresso with the Headhunters: A Journey Through the Jungles of Borneo.
  • Redmond O'Hanlon. Into the Heart of Borneo: An Account of a Journey Made in 1983 to the Mountains of Batu Tiban with James Fenton.
  • Charles M. Francis. A Photographic Guide to Mammals of South-east Asia.
  • Abdullah, MT. "Biogeography and variation of Cynopterus brachyotis in Southeast Asia." PhD thesis. The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia. 2003.
  • Corbet, GB, Hill JE. The mammals of the Indomalayan region: a systematic review. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1992.
  • G.W.H. Davison, Chew Yen Fook. A Photographic Guide to Birds of Borneo.
  • Hall LS, Gordon G. Grigg, Craig Moritz, Besar Ketol, Isa Sait, Wahab Marni and MT Abdullah. "Biogeography of fruit bats in Southeast Asia." Sarawak Museum Journal LX(81):191–284. 2004.
  • Karim, C., A.A. Tuen and M.T. Abdullah. "Mammals." Sarawak Museum Journal Special Issue No. 6. 80: 221–234. 2004.
  • Garbutt, Nick, and J. Cede Prudente. Wild Borneo: The Wildlife and Scenery of Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan. 2007.
  • Mohd. Azlan J., Ibnu Maryanto, Agus P. Kartono, and MT Abdullah. "Diversity, Relative Abundance and Conservation of Chiropterans in Kayan Mentarang National Park, East Kalimantan, Indonesia." Sarawak Museum Journal 79: 251-265. 2003.
  • Hall LS, Richards GC, Abdullah MT. "The bats of Niah National Park, Sarawak." Sarawak Museum Journal. 78: 255-282. 2002.

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