early as the 9th century A.D., Sabah, then under
various chieftains, traded with China and later the Spanish and
the Portuguese. During the 15th century, Sabah was a
vassal of the Sultan of Brunei. In 1704, the Sultan of Brunei ceded
the land east of Murudu Bay to the Sultan of Sulu. In the
early 1880’s, Moses, an American trader, obtained a lease over
Sabah from Brunei. The lease eventually passed to Alfred Dent,
an Englishman. In 1881, he signed a treaty with Brunei and Sulu,
converting the lease into a cession. Thus
the British North Borneo (Sabah old name) was born. It was
administered by the British North Borneo Company
until the Japanese occupation during WWII. In 1945, after World War II, Sabah became a British Crown Colony.
In 1963, it gained independence and joined Malaysia. Today Sabah
is an integral part of Malaysia.
North Borneo, Population
about 2 million, comprising of over 30 different races speaking over
80 local dialects, it offers a diverse and multicultural experience.
The three main indigenous groups of Sabah are the Kadazan-Dusun,
largest native cultural group, the Kadazan-Dusun, make up about a third of the
population. These are the prosperous rice producers of Sabah,
although in recent times many have ventured into other trades.
Living in the interior plains they are well known for their
unique customs that feature female priestesses called
‘bobohizan’ presiding over still practiced ancient rituals.
The Bajaus, another
cultural group, are skilled
fishermen as well as rice farmers. They are also experts in
rearing horses and water buffaloes. The Bajaus live mainly on
the east and west coasts. East coast Bajaus are sea nomads,
coming ashore only to bury their dead. The West-coast Bajaus are
farmers and are dubbed the cowboys of the East, they
are renowned for their horsemanship.
Finally, the Marut people, are farmers and hunters, they live in the interior region
near the borders of Sarawak and Kalimantan. Once feared for
their head hunting, the Muruts are great hunters with spears,
blowpipes and poisoned darts. Many still reside in their
traditional communal longhouses and they are well known for
their elaborate displays of bride-wealth, dancing and feasting.
Sarawak, this East Malaysian state’s handicrafts bear the unique
stamp of its many indigenous peoples. In particular look out for
beads, hand woven baskets. Pua-weaving indigenous to the states of
Sabah and Sarawak, is distinguished by ruddy hues and a predominance
of plant and animal motifs.