May 3, 2007 8:45am CST
INTRODUCTION TO SABAH Sabah, the second largest state in Malaysia, is situated at the northern part of the island of Borneo, the third largest island in the world. It covers an area of 72,500 sq. kilometres with a coastline of 1,440 kilometres long washed by the South China Sea in the West, the Sulu Sea in the Northeast and the Celebes Sea in the East. Known to the world as "THE LAND BELOW THE WIND", Sabah is rich not only in natural beauty and resources, but also in the cultural heritage of its people. Flora and Fauna Sabah is a botanical paradise. The world's largest flower, Rafflesia whose huge red bloom can grow up to a metre in diameter, is found in Sabah. Many species of orchids, pitcher plants and rhododendrons are endemic to Sabah. Sabah is also a rugged country. The mountainous terrain are intersected by many rivers which flow through valleys across fertile plains. The jungles and forests are interlaced with numerous caves and there is the majestic Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia towering 4,101 metres. The lush greenery provides home for wildlife such as the Sumatran Rhinoceros, Orang-Utan, Elephant, Mousedeer, Monkey, Flying Squirrel, Barking deer and birds. Sabah's People and History Sabah is also endowed with a heterogenous population. The indigenous population are made up of some 30 groups using more than 50 indigenous languages and not less than 80 dialects. The main ethnic groups are: the Dusun/Kadazan - the largest group who make up nearly one third of the population, the Murut, the Paitan and the Bajau. Other indigenous groups include the Bonggi, the Iranun, the Ida'an and the Brunei. In addition, the Chinese make up the main nonindigenous group. Therefore, the people of Sabah are varied in their respective cultural backgrounds. 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 Ihrough 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 PEOPLE OF SABAH The people of Sabah are varied in their respective cultural background. The indigenous population is made up of some 30 groups using more than 50 indigenous languages and not less than 80 dialects. Dusun/Kadazan The largest ethnic group is the Dusun/Kadazan which comprise about one third of the population. They are traditionally farmers practising wet rice or hill rice cultivation with some hunting and riverine fishing. The various subgroups within the Dusun/Kadazan group which include the Kadazan of Penampang and Papar, the Lotud, the Rungus and other subgroups from the Tempasuk, Tambunan, Ranau and other districts, share a common belief system with variations in customs and practice. This ethnic group uses the Kadazandusun language as their mother tongue. Murut The Muruts inhabit the interior and south-eastern parts of Sabah and the territory straddling the Kalimantan and Sarawak border. They are mostly shifting cultivators, and hunters with some riverine fishing. Bajau and Kindred groups The Bajau and kindred groups have settled on Sabah's coasts for several hundred years and have been classified as part of the indigenous population. On the west coast, they are farmers as well as fishermen, and are well known for their expert horsemanship. On the east coast, they are traditionally fishermen. Other Other recently settled indigenous people in the state include the Suluks, various southern Filipino ethnic groups, the Lundayehs and Ibans from Sarawak and Kalimantan, and others of Malay racial stock from Indonesia. While some of these indigenous people still maintain their traditional way of life, many others have gone into public life as white and blue collar workers, businessmen, civil servants and politicians. Non-Indigenous The Chinese form the largest non-indigenous group in Sabah. They have settled in Sabah over the past century and rank the largest ethnic group after the Dusun/Kadazan.The ethnic groups are distinguished from each other by their respective customs and practices as well as their material culture especially costumes, styles and use of personal omaments. Source: Sabah's Heritage:A Brief Introduction to Sabah's History & History, Sabah Museum, Kota Kinabalu, 1992.
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