Borneo is the third largest island in the world, spanning an area that is almost 745,000 hectares in size. The Northern region is divided into Sabah and Sarawak under Malaysia with Brunei smack between the two, and Kalimantan in the South which is under Indonesia. Although the name ‘Borneo’ is often used to interchangeably describe any of those countries, it is really a misnomer as it was a title given by the Dutch during the colonial period and is no longer officially used.
Borneo is a rich biological repository of flora and fauna, with over 15,000 species of flowering plants, 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of birds. Borneo is the last remaining natural habitat for the gentle great ape, the Orang-Utan. Other endangered species like the Sumatran Rhino, Clouded Leopard and Asian Elephant are also found here.
Borneo is surrounded by the South China Sea in the north, the Sulu Sea in the North East, the Celebes Sea and Makassar Straits in the East and the Java Sea in the South. Borneo’s highest peak is Mount Kinabalu, located in Sabah, Malaysia. This also makes Borneo the sixth highest island in the world.
Borneo was once under the control of the Brunei Empire from the 15th to 17th Century, after the fall of Malacca. Later, the British gained control of the North through James Brooke in Sarawak and the North Borneo Company in Sabah. The Dutch, meanwhile, controlled the South.
During World War II, the Japanese occupied Borneo, and caused much hardship for the population. Later, it reverted back to colonial control. However, when Sabah and Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1963, Indonesia declared war and Borneo became the centre of conflict for the Malaysia-Indonesia Confrontation. It was resolved peacefully later. In the past, there have been territorial claims against Malaysia on parts of Borneo, but most have been resolved in Malaysia’s favour by International Courts.