History of Sabah

Sabah is one of 13 member states of Malaysia. It is located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo, hence the previous moniker of “North Borneo”. It is the second largest state in the country after Sarawak, which it borders on its southwest. It also shares a border with the province of East Kalimantan of Indonesia in the south. Sabah is often referred to as "The land below the wind", because of its location just south of the typhoon-prone region around the Philippines. The island of Borneo, the third largest in the world after Greenland and Papa New Guinea, has been discovered by Chinese Explorers even before the first Century AD but no attempts have been made to conquer it.


Based on archaeological findings, Sabah was inhabited by people from as early as 28,000 years ago. Islam came to Sabah towards the end of the 15 and 16 centuries through the Arab and Indian traders and also as a result of the expansion of the Brunei Malay Sultanate. It was another two centuries more before the Europeans came to Sabah. In 1775, the British East-India Company opened a trading base in Balembangan Island. However, it was the British North Borneo Chartered.


Company who effectively ruled Sabah from 1881 until 1942 when the Japanese occupied the state. After the devastation of the War, Sabah became a British Crown Colony until 31 August 1963 when it obtained self-government from the British. On 16 September 1963, Sabah together with Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya joined the Federation of Malaysia.


The origin of the name Sabah is uncertain, and there are many theories 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 or the northern side of the river. Another theory suggests that it came from the Malay word sabak which means a place where palm sugar is extracted. Sabah is also an Arabic word which means morning. The presence of multiple theories makes it difficult to pinpoint the true origin of the name.

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