Sabah (Malay pronunciation: [saˈbah]), nicknamed Negeri Di Bawah Bayu ("Land Below the Wind"), is one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo (Sarawak being the additional state). This territory has a certain level of autonomy in administration, immigration, and judiciary which differentiates it from the Malaysian Peninsula states. Sabah is situated in northern Borneo, bordering the state of Sarawak to the southwest, Kalimantan to the south, while separated by sea from the Federal Territory of Labuan in the west and the Philippines to the north and east. Kota Kinabalu is the capital city as well the economic centre for the state and the seat for the Sabah state government. Other major towns in Sabah include Sandakan and Tawau. As of the 2015 census in Malaysia, the state's population is 3,543,500. Sabah has an equatorial climate with tropical rainforests and abundant animal and plant species. The state has a long mountain ranges in the west side which formed as part of the Crocker Range National Park. Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia while Mount Kinabalu is the highest point of Sabah as well for Malaysia.

Earliest human settlements in Sabah can be traced back after to 20,000–30,000 years ago along the Darvel Bay area at Madai-Baturong caves. The state had a trading relationship with China after the fourteenth century AD. It came under the influence of the Bruneian Empire in the fifteenth century and the Sultanate of Sulu between the 17th–18th centuries. The state was then governed by the North Borneo Chartered Company in the 19th–20th centuries. During World War II, the state was occupied by the Japanese for three years before being ceded as a British Crown Colony in 1946. On 31 August 1963, Sabah was granted self-government by the British. Following this, Sabah became one of the founding members of the Federation of Malaysia (established on 16 September 1963) alongside Sarawak, Singapore (expelled in 1965), and the Federation of Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia or West Malaysia). Notwithstanding the federation was opposed by Indonesia, which led to the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation for over three years along with the threats of annexation from the Philippines which existed until today.

The state exhibits notable diversity in ethnicity, culture, and language. The head of state is the Governor, additionally known as Yang di-Pertua Negeri, while the head of government is the Chief Minister. The government system is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system and has one of the earliest state legislature system in Malaysia. The state is divided into administrative divisions and districts. Malay are the official language of the state; with Islam as the official religion; but additional religions might be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the state. The state is known for its traditional musical instrument, the sompoton. The Sabah International Folklore Festival is the main folklore event in Malaysia, additional festivals including the Borneo Bird Festival, Borneo Eco Film Festival, Kota Kinabalu Food Fest, Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival, Sabah Dragon Boat Festival, Sabah Fest and Sabah Sunset Music Festival. Sabah is the only state in Malaysia to celebrate the Kaamatan festival.

Sabah has abundant natural resources, and its economy is strongly export-oriented, mainly in oil and gas, timber and palm oil. Other main industries are agriculture and ecotourism.


The origin of the name Sabah is uncertain, and there are a large number of theories that have arisen. One theory is that throughout the time it was part of the Bruneian Sultanate, it was referred to as Saba because of the presence a variety of banana called pisang saba (also known as pisang menurun), which is grown widely on the coast of the region and popular in Brunei. The Bajau community called it as pisang jaba. While the name Saba additionally refers to a variety of banana in both Tagalog and Visayan languages, the word in Visayan has the meaning of "noisy". Perhaps due to local dialect, the word Saba has been pronounced as Sabah by the local community.

While throughout Brunei become a vassal state of Majapahit, the Old Javanese eulogy of Nagarakretagama described the area in what's now Sabah as Seludang. Meanwhile, although the Chinese after throughout the Han dynasty had long been associated with the island of Borneo, they didn't have any specific names for the area. Instead throughout the Song dynasty, they referring the whole island as Po Ni (also called as Bo Ni), which is the same name been used to referring the Sultanate of Brunei at the time. Due to the location of Sabah in relation to Brunei, it has been suggested that Sabah was a Brunei Malay word meaning upstream or "in a northerly direction". An Additional theory suggests that it came from the Malay word sabak which means a place where palm sugar is extracted. Sabah ('صباح') is additionally an Arabic word which means sunrise. The presence of multiple theories makes it difficult to pinpoint the true origin of the name.



Earliest human settlement into the region can be dated back to about 20,000–30,000 years ago as evidenced by the excavations along the Darvel Bay area at Madai-Baturong caves near the Tingkayu river where stone tools and food remains were found. The earliest inhabitants in the area were thought to be like the Australian aborigines, but their disappearance reason were unknown. In 2003, archaeologists discovered the Mansuli valley in the Lahad Datu district, which dates back the history of Sabah to 235,000 years. The first southern Mongoloid migration then occurred 5,000 years ago, as evidenced from the discovery of archaeological site at Bukit Tengkorak, Semporna which is famed for being the largest pottery making site throughout the Neolithic Southeast Asian period. Some anthropologists such as S.G. Tan and Thomas R. Williams believe that these Mongoloids (comprising today of Kadazan-Dusun, Murut and Orang Sungai etc.) are said to originate from South China and Northern Vietnam, as well close to a number of indigenous groups in the Philippines and Formosa (Taiwan) than to the indigenous peoples of neighbouring Sarawak and Kalimantan, These claims were additionally supported by the findings of Charles Hose and William McDougall in their account of the "Pagan Tribes of Borneo" that stated:

Bruneian empire and the Sulu sultanate

The presence of Chinese junk in northern Borneo on Kinabatangan as been photographed by Martin and Osa Johnson in 1935, both the sultanates of Brunei and Sulu have been traditionally engaging trade with China and the arrival of Chinese junks was continued until the British colonial times.

During the seventh century CE, a settled community known as Vijayapura, a tributary to the Srivijaya empire, was thought to have existed in northwest Borneo. The earliest kingdom which suspected to have existed beginning the ninth century was Po Ni as been recorded on the Chinese Taiping Huanyu Ji. It was believed that Po Ni existed at the mouth of Brunei River and was the predecessor to the Bruneian Empire. In the fourteenth century, Brunei became the vassal state of Majapahit but in 1370 transferred their allegiance to Ming dynasty of China. The Maharaja Karna of Borneo then paid a visit to Beijing with his family until his death. He was succeeded by his son Hiawang who agreed to send tribute to China once every three years. Since then, Chinese junks come to northern Borneo with cargoes of spices, bird nests, shark fins, camphor, rattan and pearls. Many of this Chinese traders eventually settled and established their own colony in Kinabatangan River as been stated on both Brunei and Sulu records. A sister of the Governor of the Chinese settlement, Huang Senping (Ong Sum Ping) then married with Muhammad Shah (the founder of the Sultanate of Brunei after embracing Islam). Perhaps due to this relations, a burial place with 2,000 wooden coffins with an estimate of 1,000 years were discovered in Agop Batu Tulug Caves, additionally in the Kinabatangan area. It is believed that this type of funeral culture was brought by traders from Mainland China and Indochina to northern Borneo as similar wooden coffins were additionally discovered in these countries. In addition with the discovery of Đông Sơn drum in Bukit Timbang Dayang on Banggi Island that had existed between 2,000–2,500 years ago.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II receiving British delegation for the signing of Treaty of Labuan on 18 December 1846 at his palace over the cession of island of Labuan to the Crown Colony of British Empire.

During the reign of the fifth sultan of Bolkiah between 1485 and 1524, the Sultanate's thalassocracy extended over northern Borneo and the Sulu Archipelago, as far as Kota Seludong (present-day Manila) with its influence extending as far of Banjarmasin, taking advantage of maritime trade after the fall of Malacca to the Portuguese. Many Brunei Malays migrated to this region throughout this period, although the migration has begun as early as the fifteenth century after the Brunei conquest of the territory. But plaguing by internal strife, civil war, piracy and the arrival of western powers, the Bruneian Empire began to shrank. The first European to visit Brunei is the Portuguese, of which they describe the capital of Brunei at the time surrounded by a stone wall. This was followed by Spanish soon after Ferdinand Magellan death in 1521, when they sailed to the islands of Balambangan and Banggi in the northern tip Borneo and later led to a conflict known as the Castilian War. The Sulu gaining its own independence in 1578, forming their own sultanate known as the Sultanate of Sulu.

Sultan Jamal ul-Azam who rule over the Sulu Archipelago and parts of northern Borneo receiving French delegation at his palace for the possible cession of the island of Basilan to French Empire in the 1800s. Jamal ul-Azam additionally negotiate with the British later in 1878 for the cession of northern Borneo to the British Empire.

When the civil war began to broke in Brunei between Sultans Abdul Hakkul Mubin and Muhyiddin, the Sulu's asserted their claimed into Brunei's territories on northern Borneo. The Sulu claimed Sultan Muhyiddin had promised to cede the northern and eastern portion of Borneo to them in compensation for their help in settling the civil war. The territory seems to never been ceded in practice, but the Sulu's continued to claimed the territory as theirs. Brunei at the time can't do as much as they're weakening moreover after the war with Spanish with the area in northern Borneo began to fall under the influence of the Sulu Sultanate. The seafaring Bajau-Suluk and Illanun people then arrived from the Sulu Archipelago and started to settling in the coasts of north and eastern Borneo. As Sulu were additionally been threatened with the arrival of Spanish, it is believed that a large number of of them were fleeing from the oppression of the Spanish colonist in their region. While the thalassocratic Brunei and Sulu sultanates controlled the western and eastern coasts of Sabah respectively, the interior region remained largely independent from either kingdoms.

British North Borneo

Left: The first concession treaty was signed by Sultan Abdul Momin of Brunei on 29 December 1877.
Right: The second concession treaty was signed by Sultan Jamal ul-Azam of Sulu on 22 January 1878.

In 1761, Alexander Dalrymple, an officer of the British East India Company, concluded an agreement with the Sultan of Sulu to allow him to set up a trading post for the first time in the northern Borneo area, although it proved to be failure. In 1765, Dalrymple managed to obtained the island by having concluded a Treaty of Alliance and Commerce with the Sultan of Sulu. A small British factory was then established in 1773 on Balambangan Island, a tiny island situated off the north coast of Borneo. The British sees the island as a suitable location to control the trade route in the East, which capable of diverting traders from the Spanish port of Manila and Dutch port of Batavia especially with its strategic location between the South China Sea and Sulu Sea. But the British abandoned the island two years later when the Sulu pirates began to attacking. This forced the British to seek refuge in Brunei in 1774, and temporary stop to find any alternative sites to replace their failed factory at Balambangan Island. Although an attempt was made in 1803 to turn Balambangan into a military station, the British didn't re-establish any further trading posts in the region until Stamford Raffles began to founded Singapore in 1819.

Flag of British North Borneo from 1882–1948.

In 1846, the island of Labuan on the west coast of Sabah was ceded to Britain by the Sultan of Brunei through the Treaty of Labuan, and in 1848 it became a British Crown Colony. Seeing the presence of British in Labuan, the American consul in Brunei, Claude Lee Moses obtained a ten-year lease in 1865 for a piece of land in northern Borneo. Moses then passed the land to the American Trading Company of Borneo, a company owned by Joseph William Torrey and Thomas Bradley Harris as well Chinese investors. The company choose Kimanis (whom they renamed "Ellena") and start to built base there. Attempts for financial backing from the US government however were futile and their settlement was then abandoned. Before they left, Torrey managed to sell all his rights to the Austrian Consul in Hong Kong, Baron Von Overbeck. Overbeck then go to Brunei and meet the Temenggong to renewed the concession. Brunei agreed to ceded all territory in the northern Borneo that was under their control with their Sultan will receiving an annual payment of $12,000 while the Temenggong, a sum of $3,000. A year after, the territory on the northern and eastern part were additionally ceded by Sulu to Overbeck, with the Sultan receiving an annual payment of $5,000.

Map of British North Borneo by Edward Stanford in 1888, kept by the United States Library of Congress.

After a series of transfers, Overbeck tried to sell the territory to German Empire, Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Italy but all turned his offer. Overbeck then co-operated with the British Dent brothers (Alfred Dent and Edward Dent) for a financial backing to develop the land, with the Dent company persuaded him that any investors would need guarantees of British military and diplomatic support. Overbeck agreed with the co-operation, especially with the counterclaims of the Sultan of Sulu, which part of their territory in the Sulu Archipelago have been occupied by Spain. Overbeck, however, withdrew in 1880 and all the rights over the territory were transferred to Alfred, whom in 1881 formed the North Borneo Chartered Company. In the following year, Kudat was made its capital but due to frequent pirate attacks, the capital was moved to Sandakan in 1883. To prevent further dispute with Spain and German intervention, the governments of the United Kingdom, Spain and German signed the Madrid Protocol in 1885, which recognised the sovereignty of Spanish East Indies over the Sulu Archipelago in return for the relinquishment of all Spanish claims over northern Borneo. The arrival of the company bring a large number of prosperity to the northern Borneo residents as the company allowing every indigenous community to continue their traditional lifestyles, while imposing laws by banning headhunting practice, ethnic feuds, slave trade and controlling piracy. North Borneo then became a protectorate of the United Kingdom in 1888 while receiving local resistance from 1894 to 1900 by Mat Salleh and Antanum in 1915.

Second World War

An aerial view of the Sandakan POW Camp, once an experimental farm for the British North Borneo Company but later turned into a prisoner of war (POW) by the Japanese.
Japanese civilians and soldiers prior to their embarkation to Jesselton after their surrender to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in Tawau on 21 October 1945.

The Japanese forces landed in Labuan on 1 January 1942 prior to the Second World War, and continued to invade the rest of northern Borneo. From 1942 to 1945, Japanese forces occupied North Borneo, along with most of the island as part of the Empire of Japan. The British sees the Japanese advance to the area are motivated by political and territorial ambitions rather than economic factors. The occupation drove a large number of people in the coastal towns to interior in search for food and escaping the Japanese brutality. The Malays was generally appeared to be favoured by the Japanese, although a few of them were additionally oppressed whilst others races such as the Chinese and indigenous natives were severely oppressed. The Chinese were already resist from Japanese occupation especially with the Sino-Japanese War in Mainland China. They formed a resistance known as Kinabalu Guerillas that was led by Albert Kwok with broader supports from various ethnic groups in northern Borneo such as Dusun, Murut, Suluk and Illanun peoples. The movement was additionally supported by Mustapha Harun. Kwok along with a large number of additional sympathisers were however executed after the Japanese foiled their movement.

As part of the Borneo Campaign to retake Borneo, Allied forces then bombed most of the major towns that was control by the Japanese including Sandakan, which was devastatingly razed to the ground. There was once a brutal prisoner of war (POW) camp known as Sandakan camp run by the Japanese for every enemies that side with the British. Majority of the POWs are British and Australian soldiers that was captured after the fall of Malaya and Singapore. The prisoners suffered under notoriously inhuman conditions, and continuous Allied bombardments caused the Japanese to forced them to march into Ranau, which is about 260 kilometres away in an event known as the Sandakan Death March. The number of prisoners were reduced to 2,345, with a large number of of them been killed in the run by either friendly fire or by the Japanese. Except for only six Australians, all of the prisoners died. In addition, of the total of 17,488 Javanese labourers brought in by the Japanese throughout the occupation, only 1,500 survived mainly due to starvation, harsh working conditions and maltreatment. The war ended on 10 September 1945 after Borneo successfully being liberated by the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF).

British crown colony

Postage stamp of the North Borneo Crown with portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in 1964.

After the Japanese surrender, North Borneo was administered by the British Military Administration and on 18 July 1946 it became a British Crown Colony. The Crown Colony of Labuan additionally integrated as part of this new colony. During the ceremony, both the Union Jack and Chinese flag been raised from the bullet-ridden Jesselton Survey Hall building. The Chinese represented by Philip Lee who part of the resistance movement against the Japanese eventually support the transfer of power to the Crown colony. He said:

Due to massive destruction in the town of Sandakan after the war, Jesselton was chosen to replace the capital with the Crown continued to rule North Borneo until 1963. The Crown colony government established a large number of departments to oversee the welfare of its residents as well to revive the economy of North Borneo after the war. Upon Philippine independence in 1946, seven of the British-controlled Turtle Islands off the northeast of Borneo were ceded to the Philippines as been negotiated early between the American and British colonial governments.


Donald Stephens (left) declaring the forming of the Federation of Malaysia at Padang Merdeka, Jesselton on 16 September 1963. Together with him is the Deputy Minister of Malaya Abdul Razak (right) and Mustapha Harun (second right).
Donald Stephens officiating the Keningau Oath Stone on 31 August 1964, an important agreement remembrance that has been promised between Sabahans and the Malaysian federal government.

On 31 August 1963, North Borneo attained self-government. The Cobbold Commission was set up in 1962 to determine whether the people of Sabah and Sarawak favoured the proposed union of the Federation of Malaysia, and found that the union was generally favoured by the people. Most ethnic community leaders of Sabah, namely, Mustapha Harun representing the native Muslims, Donald Stephens representing the non-Muslim natives, and Khoo Siak Chew representing the Chinese, would eventually support the union. After discussion culminating in the Malaysia Agreement and 20-point agreement, on 16 September 1963 North Borneo (as Sabah) was united with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore, to form the independent Federation of Malaysia.

Royal Marines Commando unit armed with machine gun and Sten gun patrolling using a boat in the river on Serudong, Sabah to guard the state throughout the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation.

From before the formation of Malaysia until 1966, Indonesia adopted a hostile policy towards the British backed Malaya, and after union to Malaysia that led to the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation. This undeclared war stems from what Indonesian President Sukarno perceive as an expansion of British influence in the region and his intention to wrest control over the whole of Borneo under the Greater Indonesian concept. While Philippines President Diosdado Macapagal have begun filing a claim to Sabah after 22 June 1962 on the basis of a historical context in relation to the Sultanate of Sulu. The President sees the attempt to integrate Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei into the Federation of Malaysia as "trying to impose authority of Malaya into these states" while believing that Sabah is a proprietary ownership of the Sultanate of Sulu. Following the success of formation of Malaysia, Donald Stephens became the first chief minister of Sabah. The first Governor Yang di-Pertua Negara (which later changed to Yang di-Pertua Negeri in 1976) was Mustapha Harun. The people of North Borneo demanding that their freedom of religion will be respected, all lands in the territory would be under the power of state government, native customs and traditions would be respected and upheld by the federal government and as a return Sabahans will pledge their loyalty to the Malaysian federal government. An oath stone was officially officiated by the first Chief Minister Donald Stephens on 31 August 1964 in Keningau as a remembrance to the agreement and promise for reference in the future. Sabah then held its first state election in 1967. In the same year, the state capital name of "Jesselton" was renamed to "Kota Kinabalu".

On 14 June 1976, the state government of Sabah led by Harris Salleh signed an agreement with Petronas, the federal government-owned oil and gas company, granting it the right to extract and earn revenue from petroleum found in the territorial waters of Sabah in exchange for five percent in annual revenue as royalties based on the 1974 Petroleum Development Act. The state government of Sabah ceded Labuan to the Malaysian federal government, and Labuan became a federal territory on 16 April 1984. In 2000, the state capital Kota Kinabalu was granted city status, making it the 6th city in Malaysia and the first city in the state. Prior to a territorial dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia after 1969 over two islands of Ligitan and Sipadan in the Celebes Sea, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made a final decision to award both islands to Malaysia in 2002 based on their "effective occupation".



The State Administrative Building (right), behind the Wisma Innoprise (left).

The Yang di-Pertua Negeri sits at the top of the hierarchy followed by the state legislative assembly and the state cabinet. It is the head of state although its functions are largely ceremonial. The chief minister is the head of government as well the leader of the state cabinet. The legislature is based on the Westminster system and therefore the chief minister is appointed based on their ability to command the majority of the state assembly. While local authorities being fully appointed by the state government owing to the suspension of local elections by the federal government. Legislation regarding state elections are within the powers of the federal government and not the state. The assembly meets at the state capital, Kota Kinabalu. Members of the state assembly are elected from 73 constituencies which are delineated by the Election Commission of Malaysia and might not necessarily result in constituencies of same voter population sizes. A general election representatives in the state assembly must be held every five years, when the seats are subject of universal suffrage for all citizens above 21 years of age. Sabah is additionally represented in the federal parliament by 25 members elected from the same number of constituencies. The present elected state and federal government posts are held by Barisan Nasional (BN), a coalition of parties which includes United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (UPKO), Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA).

Composition of Sabah State Legislative Assembly, 2013.

Prior to the formation of Malaysia in 1963, the then North Borneo interim government submitted a 20-point agreement to the Malayan government as conditions before North Borneo would join to formed the federation. Subsequently, North Borneo legislative assembly agreed on the formation of Malaysia on the conditions that North Borneo rights will be safeguarded. North Borneo hence entered Malaysia as an autonomous state with autonomous laws in immigration control and Native Customary Rights (NCR), with the territory name been changed to "Sabah". Notwithstanding under the administration of the United Sabah National Organisation (USNO) led by Mustapha Harun, this autonomy has been gradually eroded with federal government influence and hegemony with a popular belief amongst Sabahans that both USNO and UMNO have been working together in harbouring illegal immigrants from the southern Philippines and Indonesia to stay in the state and become citizens to vote the Muslim parties. This was continued under the Sabah People's United Front (BERJAYA) administration led by Harris Salleh with a total of 73,000 Filipino refugees from the southern Philippines were registered. In addition, the cession of Labuan island to federal government by the Sabah state government under BERJAYA rule and unequal sharing and exploitation of Sabah's resources of petroleum additionally become the political contention often raised by Sabahans until today which has resulted in strong anti-federal sentiments and even occasional call for secession from the federation amongst the people of Sabah.

Until the 2008 Malaysian general election, Sabah along with the states of Kelantan and Terengganu, are the only three states in Malaysia that had ever been ruled by opposition parties not part of the ruling BN coalition. Under Joseph Pairin Kitingan, PBS formed government after winning the 1985 state election and ruled Sabah until 1994. In the 1994 state election, notwithstanding PBS winning the elections, subsequent cross-overs of PBS assembly members to the BN component party resulted in BN having majority of seats and hence took over the helm of the state government. A unique feature of Sabah politics was a policy initiated by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1994 whereby the chief minister's post is rotated among the coalition parties every two years regardless of the party in power at the time, thus theoretically giving an equal amount of time for each major ethnic group to rule the state. Notwithstanding in practise this system was problematic as it is too short for any leader to carry-out long term plan. This practise has after stopped with power now held by majority in the state assembly by the UMNO party, which additionally holds a majority in the national parliament. Direct political intervention by the federal, for example, introduction and later convenient [for UMNO] abolition of the chief minister's post and earlier PBS-BERJAYA conflict in 1985, along with co-opting rival factions in East Malaysia, is at times seen as a political tactic by the UMNO-led federal government to control and manage the autonomous power of the Borneo states. The federal government however tend to view that these actions are justifiable as the display of parochialism amongst East Malaysians isn't in harmony with nation building. This complicated Federal-State relations hence become a source of major contention in Sabah politics.

Administrative division

Sabah consists of five administrative divisions, which are in turn divided into 25 districts. For each district, the state government appoints a village headman (known as ketua kampung) for each village. The administrative divisions are inherited from the British administration, which are before administered as province. During the British rule, a Resident was appointed to govern each division and provided with a palace (Istana). The post of the Resident was abolished and replaced with district officers for each of the district when North Borneo became part of Malaysia. As in the rest of Malaysia, local government comes under the purview of state government. Notwithstanding ever after the suspension of local government elections in the midst of the Malayan Emergency, which was much less intense in Sabah than it was in the rest of the country, there have been no local elections. Local authorities have their officials appointed by the executive council of the state government.

Division NameDistrictsArea (km²)Population (2010)
1West Coast DivisionKota Belud, Kota Kinabalu, Papar, Penampang, Putatan, Ranau, Tuaran7,5881,067,589
2Interior DivisionBeaufort, Nabawan, Keningau, Kuala Penyu, Sipitang, Tambunan, Tenom18,298424,534
3Kudat DivisionKota Marudu, Kudat, Pitas4,623192,457
4Sandakan DivisionBeluran, Kinabatangan, Sandakan, Tongod28,205702,207
5Tawau DivisionKunak, Lahad Datu, Semporna, Tawau14,905819,955


A Malaysian Army soldier armed with Colt M4 standing guard in Sabah east coast as part of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM).

The Ninth Schedule of the Constitution of Malaysia states that the Malaysian federal government is solely responsible for foreign policy and military forces in the country. Before the formation of Malaysia, North Borneo security was the responsible of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. In the wake of threats of "annexation" from the Philippines after the late President of Ferdinand Marcos signed a bill by including Sabah as part the Republic of the Philippines on its maritime baselines in the Act of Congress on 18 September 1968, the British responds in the next day by sending their Hawker Hunter fighter-bomber jets to Kota Kinabalu with the jets stopped over at the Clark Air Base not far from the Philippines capital of Manila. British Army senior officer Michael Carver then reminded the Philippines that Britain would honour its obligations under the Anglo-Malayan Defence Agreement (AMDA) if fighting broke out. In addition, a large flotilla of British warships would sail to Philippines waters near Sabah en route from Singapore along with the participation of ANZUS forces. The AMDA treaty have after been replaced by the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) although the present treaty doesn't include East Malaysian states as its main priority, British security protection intervention can still be included over the two states. Citing in 1971 when British Prime Minister Edward Heath been asked in Parliament of London on what threats the British intended to counter under the FPDA, the Prime Minister replied:

The area in eastern Sabah facing the southern Philippines and northern Indonesia have after been put under the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) and Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE) following the infiltration of militants, illegal immigrants and smuggling of goods and subsidies items into and from the southern Philippines and Indonesia.

Territorial disputes

Map of the Spratly Islands with various countries such as China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam occupying the islands not far from the shore of Sabah.
Map of the British North Borneo with the yellow area covered the Philippine claim to eastern Sabah, presented by the Philippine Government to ICJ on 25 June 2001.

Sabah has seen several territorial disputes with Malaysia's neighbours Indonesia and the Philippines. In 2002, both Malaysia and Indonesia submitted to arbitration by the ICJ on a territorial dispute over the Ligitan and Sipadan islands which were later won by Malaysia. There are additionally several additional disputes yet to be settled with Indonesia over the overlapping claims on the Ambalat continental shelf in the Celebes Sea and land border dispute between Sabah and North Kalimantan. Malaysia's claim over a portion of the Spratly Islands is additionally based on sharing a continental shelf with Sabah.

The Philippines has a territorial claim over much of the eastern part of Sabah. It claims that the territory is connected with the Sultanate of Sulu and was only leased to the North Borneo Chartered Company in 1878 with the Sultanate's sovereignty never being relinquished. Malaysia however, considers this dispute as a "non-issue", as it interprets the 1878 agreement as that of cession and that it deems that the residents of Sabah had exercised their right to self-determination when they joined to form the Malaysian federation in 1963. The Philippine claim can be originated based on three historical events; such as the Brunei Civil War from 1660 until 1673, treaty between Dutch East Indies and the Bulungan Sultanate in 1850 and treaty between Sultan Jamal ul-Azam with Overbeck in 1878.

Further attempts by several Filipino politicians such as Ferdinand Marcos to "destabilise" Sabah proved to be futile and led to the Jabidah massacre in Corregidor Island, Philippines. As a consequence, this led the Malaysian government to once supporting the insurgency in southern Philippines. Although the Philippine claim to Sabah hasn't been actively pursued for a few years, a few Filipino politicians are promising to bring it up again, while the Malaysian government asks the Philippines not to threaten ties over such issue. The Royal Malaysia Police and the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister made a proposal to ban barter trade between Malaysia and the Philippines as it was seen only benefited to one side and threatening the security of the state. This was enforced then although facing numerous opposition from Filipino resident on the nearest Philippine islands due to the raise of the living cost in their region after the ban as well from the Malaysian opposition parties, while receiving positive welcomes by Sabahans residents and politicians.



The northern tip of Borneo at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau facing both the South China Sea and Sulu Sea.
Sabah is located in northern Borneo as seen from NASA satellite image.

The total land area of Sabah is nearly 72,500 square km (28,000 sq mi) surrounded by the South China Sea in the west, Sulu Sea in the northeast and Celebes Sea in the southeast. Sabah has a total of 1,743 km (1,083 mi) coastline, of which 295.5 km (183.6 mi) have been eroding. Because of Sabah coastline facing three seas, the state receive an extensive marine resources. Its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is much larger towards the South China Sea and Celebes Sea than to the Sulu Sea. The state coastline is covered with mangrove and nipah forests. The mangroves cover about 331,325 hectares of the state land and constitute 57 percent of the total mangroves in the country. Both coastal areas in the west coast and east coast are entirely dominating by sand beaches, while in sheltered areas the sand was mixed with mud. The northern area of Tanjung Simpang Mengayau has a type of pocket beach. The areas in the west coast has a large freshwater wetlands, with the Klias Peninsula hosts a large area of tidal wetlands. The western part of Sabah is generally mountainous, containing three highest peak. The main mountain ranges is the Crocker Range with several mountains varying height from about 1,000 metres to 4,000 metres. Adjacent to the Crocker Range is the Trus Madi Range with Mount Trus Madi, with a height of 2,642 metres. The highest peak is the Mount Kinabalu, with a height around 4,095 metres. It is one of the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea. While located not far from Mount Kinabalu is Mount Tambuyukon, with a height of 2,579 metres.

These mountains and hills are traversed by an extensive network of river valleys and are in most cases covered with dense rainforest. There are lower ranges of hills extending towards the western coasts, southern plains, and the interior or central part of Sabah. The central and eastern portion of Sabah are generally lower mountain ranges and plains with occasional hills. In the east coast located the Kinabatangan River, which is the second longest river in Malaysia after Rajang River in Sarawak with a length of 560 kilometres. The river begins from the western ranges and snakes its way through the central region towards the east coast out into the Sulu Sea. Other major rivers including the Kalabakan River, Kolopis River, Liwagu River, Padas River, Paitan River, Segama River and Sugut River. In addition to Babagon River, Bengkoka River, Kadamaian River, Kalumpang River, Kiulu River, Mawao River, Membakut River, Mesapol River, Nabawan River, Papar River, Pensiangan River, Tamparuli River and Wario River.

The land of Sabah is located in a tropical geography with equatorial climate. It experiences two monsoon seasons of northeast and southwest. The northeast monsoon occurs from November to March with heavy rains, while the southwest monsoon prevails from May to September with less rainfall. In addition, it additionally received two inter-monsoon season from April to May and September to October. The average daily temperature varies from 27 °C (81 °F) to 34 °C (93 °F), with a considerable amount of rain from 1,800 milimetres to 4,000 milimetres. The coastal areas occasionally experience severe storms as the state is situated south of the typhoon belt. Due to its location is quite close to the typhoon belt, Sabah experience the worst Tropical Storm Greg on 25 December 1996. The storm leaves more than 100 peoples died, with another 200–300 are missing and 3,000–4,000 people are left homeless. As Sabah additionally lies within the Sunda Plate with a compression from the Australian and Philippine Plate, it is prone to earthquake with the state itself have experienced three major earthquakes after 1923, with the 2015 earthquake being the latest major earthquake. The Crocker Ranges together with Mount Kinabalu was formed after throughout the middle Miocene period after been uplifted by the Sabah Orogeny through compression.


Blue-eared kingfisher in the lower Kinabatangan River area, which is endemic to the island of Borneo. Kingfisher is additionally once a state bird of Sabah and featured in one of its coat of arms.

The jungles of Sabah host a diverse array of plant and animal species. Most of Sabah's biodiversity is located in the forest reserve areas, which formed half of its total landmass of 7.34 million hectares. Its forest reserve are part of the 20 million hectares equatorial rainforests demarcated under the "Heart of Borneo" initiative. The forests surrounding the river valley of Kinabatangan River is the largest forest-covered floodplain in Malaysia. The Crocker Range National Park is the largest national park in the state, covering an area of 139,919 hectares. Most of the park area are covered in dense forest and important as a water catchment area with its headwater connecting to five major rivers in the west coast area. Kinabalu National Park was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000 for its richness in plant diversity combined with its unique geological, topographical, and climatic conditions. The park hosts more than 4,500 species of flora and fauna, including 326 bird and around 100 mammal species along with over 110 land snail species.

Tiga Island is formed through the eruption of mud volcano in 1897. The island is now part of the Tiga Island National Park together with Kalampunian Besar and Kalampunian Damit islands as a tourist attractions, with a mud bath tourism. The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park comprises a group of five islands of Gaya, Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi and Sulug. These islands are believed to once connected to the Crocker Range but separated when sea levels rose after the last ice age. The Tun Mustapha Marine Park is the largest marine park located in the north of Sabah. It covers the three major islands of Banggi, Balambangan and Malawali. An Additional marine park is the Tun Sakaran Marine Park located in the south-east of Sabah. The park comprising the islands of Bodgaya, Boheydulang, Sabangkat and Salakan along with sand cays of Maiga, Mantabuan and Sibuan. Bodgaya is gazetted as a forest reserve, while Boheydulang as a bird sanctuary. These islands are formed by Quaternary pyroclastic material that was ejected throughout explosive volcanic activities.

The Tawau Hills National Park established as a natural water catchment area. The park contains rugged volcanic landscapes including a hot spring and spectacular waterfalls. Bordering the Philippine Turtle Islands is the Turtle Islands National Park, it consists of three islands of Selingaan, Bakkungan Kechil and Gulisaan which is notable as the nesting place for green turtle and hawksbill sea turtle. Other important wildlife regions in Sabah include the Maliau Basin, Danum Valley, Tabin, Imbak Canyon and Sepilok. These places are either designated as national parks, wildlife reserves, virgin jungle reserves, or protection forest reserve. Beyond the coasts of Sabah lie a number of islands rich with coral reefs such as Ligitan, Sipadan, Selingaan, Tiga and Layang-Layang (Swallow Reef). Other main islands including the Jambongan, Timbun Mata, Bum Bum and the divided Sebatik. The Sabah state government has enacted several laws to protect its forests and endangered wildlife species under the Animals Ordinance 1962, Forest Enactment 1968 and the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 among others. Under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment, any persons hunting inside conservation lands are liable for imprisonment for five years and fined with RM50,000. The state government additionally plans to implement seasonal huntings as part of its conservation efforts to prevent the continuous lose of its endangered wildlife species while maintaining the state indigenous hunting traditions.

Conservation issues

A lorry carrying timbers in Tawau, logging have contributed for over fifty percent of the state revenue.

Since the post-World War II timber boom driven by the need of raw materials from industrial countries, Sabah forests have been gradually eroded by uncontrolled timber exploitation and the conversion of Sabah forest lands into palm oil plantations. Since 1970, forestry sector have contributed for over fifty percent of the state revenue, of which a study conducted in 1997 revealed the state had almost depleted all of its virgin forests outside the conservation areas. The state government were determined to maintain the state biodiversity while to make sure the state economy continue to alive. While in the same time facing hard task to control such activities although there's laws to prevent it. In addition, the need for development and basic necessities additionally became an issue while to preserving the nature. Mining activities had directly released pollutants of heavy metals into rivers, reservoirs, ponds and affecting groundwater through the leaching of mine tailings. An environmental report released in 1994 reported the presence of heavy metal at the Damit/Tuaran River that exceeded the water quality safe levels for consumption. The water in Liwagu River additionally reported the presence of heavy metal which was believed to be originated from the Mamut Copper Mine. Forest fire additionally have become the latest concern due to drought and fires set by irresponsible farmers or individuals such as what happened in the 2016 forest fires where thousand hectares of forest reserve areas in Binsuluk of the west coast Sabah are lost.

The aerial view of Mamut Copper Mine with waters have filled the mine. Its water are reported dangerous for consumption due to the high presence of heavy metals.

Rampant fish bombing have destroyed a large number of coral reefs and affecting fisheries production in the state. Moreover, the illegal activities of the extraction of river sand and gravel in the rivers of Padas, Papar and Tuaran had become the latest concern along with the wildlife and marine hunting and poaching. Due to severe deforestation along with massive wildlife and marine poaching, the Sumatran rhino have been declared as extinct in early 2015. Some additional species that was threatened with extinction is banteng, bearded pig, clouded leopard, dugong, elephant, false gharial, green turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, orangutan, pangolin, proboscis monkey, river shark, roughnose stingray, sambar deer, shark and sun bear. Although the indigenous community are additionally involved in hunting, they hunt based on their spiritual believes and practice, and on a small scale, which differentiates them from poachers. Well-known indigenous practices, such as "maganu totuo" or "montok kosukopan", "tuwa di powigian", "managal" or "tagal" and "meminting", have helped to maintain resources and prevent their depletion.


Circle frame.svg

Sabah GDP Share by Sector (2014)

  Services (40.9%)
  Agriculture (25.3%)
  Mining & Quarrying (21.8%)
  Manufacturing (8.6%)
  Construction (3.1%)
Container ship passing through the Likas Bay in the South China Sea.

Sabah's economy is mainly based on primary sector such as agriculture, forestry and petroleum. Currently, the tertiary sector plays an important part to the state economy, especially in tourism and services. With its richness in biodiversity, the state is offering ecotourism. Although in recent years the tourism industry has been affected by attacks and kidnapping of tourists by militant groups based in the southern Philippines, it remained stable with the increase of security in eastern Sabah and the Sulu Sea. The tourism sector contribute ten percent share of the state GDP and was predicted to increase more. Majority of the tourists come from China (60.3%), followed by South Korea (33.9%), Australia (16.3%) and Taiwan (8.3%). Since the 1950s, rubber and copra are the main source of agricultural economy of North Borneo. The timber industry start to emerged in the 1960s due to high demand of raw materials from industrial countries. This was however replaced by petroleum in the 1970s after the discovery of oil in the area of west coast Sabah. In the same year, cocoa and palm oil was added to the list. The Sabah state government managed to increase the state fund from RM6 million to RM12 billion and poverty was down by almost half to 33.1% in 1980. The state rapid development on primary sector has attracted those job seekers in neighbouring Indonesia and the Philippines as the state labour force itself aren't sufficient. The state Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at the time ranked behind Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, being the third richest although the manufacturing sector remained small. Notwithstanding by 2000, the state started to become the poorest as it still dependent on natural resources as its primary sources of income comparing to those secondary sector producer states. Thus the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) was established in 2008 by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi with a total investment of RM105 billion for 18 years to increase the state GDP to RM63.2 billion by 2025. Around RM5.83 billion were allocated each year for infrastructures development along with the creation of 900,000 jobs. The federal government targeted to eradicate hardcore poverty by the end Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) with overall poverty halved from twenty-three percent in 2004 to twelve percent in 2010 and 8.1% in 2012. Since its establishment in 2008, the state GDP increase to 10.7% which was higher than the national economic growth of 4.8% and the world economic growth of 2.7%. Following the world financial crisis in 2009, Sabah GDP recorded 4.8% growth compared to −1.5% for national level and −0.4% for world level.

From 2010 to 2011, the state experienced a slower growth due to weaker performance on the oil and gas sector. Based on 2014 survey, Sabah GDP recorded a 5.0% growth and remained as the largest contributor in agriculture sector with 18.1%, followed by Sarawak, Johor, Pahang and Perak. Its GDP per capita however are still lowest with RM19,672, the third lowest after Kelantan (RM11,815) and Kedah (RM17,321) from all 13 states. In the same year, the state export value stood at RM45.3 billion with an import value of RM36.5 billion. Machinery and transportation equipment accounted for most of the imported products followed by fuel, mineral lubricants and others. While Sabah mostly exports raw petroleum and palm oil. The state currently has a total of eight ports with two in Sepanggar while each one in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau, Kudat, Kunak and Lahad Datu that was operated and maintained by the Sabah Ports Authority owned by Suria Group. As part of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (11MP), the federal government has approved an allocation of RM800 million to expand the cargo handling of Sapangar Bay Container Port from 500,000 to 1.25 million TEUs per annum as well to accommodate larger ship like Panamax-size vessels. An additional allocation of RM333.51 million was given in the same year, making it a total of RM1.13 billion with the project will start in 2017. The fisheries industries remain the important part of Sabah primary sector economy with a contribution for about 200,000 metric tonnes of fish worth RM700 annually as well contributing 2.8% to the state annual GDP. While the aquaculture and marine fish cage sector have produce 35,000 metric tonnes of brackish and fresh waters aquaculture and 360 metric tonne of groupers, wrasses, snappers and lobsters worth around RM60 million and RM13 million respectively. Sabah is additionally one of the producer of seaweed, with most of the farms are located in the seas around Semporna. Although recently the seaweed industry was heavily affected by spate of kidnappings perpetrated by the southern-Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf militant group.

Fishery activities in the harbour of Sandakan.

Sabah currently receives five percent oil royalty (percentage of oil production paid by the mining company to the lease owner) from Petronas over oil explorations in Sabah territorial waters based on the 1974 Petroleum Development Act. Majority of the oil and gas deposits are located on Sabah Trough basin in the west coast side. Sabah was additionally given a ten percent stake in Petronas liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Bintulu, Sarawak. Income inequality and the high cost living remain the major economic issues in Sabah. The high cost living has been blamed on the Cabotage Policy, although the cause was due to the smaller trade volumes, cost of transport and efficiency of port to handle trade. Thus, the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has promised to narrow development gap between Sabah and the Peninsular by improving and built more infrastructures in the state. Based on a latest record, the total unemployment in the state have been reduced from 5.1% (2014) to 4.7% (2015), although the number of unemployment was still high. Slum is almost non-existent in Malaysia but due to the high number of refugees arriving from the troubling southern Philippines, Sabah has after saw a significant rise on its numbers. To eliminate water pollution and improve a better hygiene, the Sabah state government are working to relocate them into a better housing settlement. As part of the BIMP-EAGA, Sabah additionally continued to position itself as a main gateway for regional investments. Foreign investment are mainly concentrated in the Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park (KKIP) areas. Although country such as Japan have mainly focusing their various development and investment projects in the interior and islands after after the end of Second World War.


Sabah's public infrastructure are still lagged behind mostly due to its geographical challenges as the second largest state in Malaysia. The Sabah Ministry of Infrastructure Development (formerly known as Ministry of Communication and Works) is responsible for all public infrastructure planning and development in the state. To narrow the development gap, the federal government are working to build more infrastructures and improve the already available one. In 2013, Sabah state government allocates RM1.583 billion for infrastructure and public facilities development, of which the state were allocated another RM4.07 billion by the federal government in 2015 Malaysian Budget. Since the Eight Malaysia Plan (8MP) until 2014, a total of RM11.115 billion has been allocated for various infrastructure projects in the state. Under the Tenth Malaysia Plan (10MP), infrastructure in the rural areas was given attention with the increase of rural water, electricity supply and road coverage.

Energy and water resources

High voltage electricity pylon located near the Kimanis Power Plant.

Electricity distribution in the state as well in the Federal Territory of Labuan are operated and managed by the Sabah Electricity Sdn. Bhd. (SESB). Sabah electrics are mostly generated from diesel power plant, hydropower and combined cycle power plants. The only main hydroelectric plant is the Tenom Pangi Dam. The combined cycle power plant called Kimanis Power Plant was completed in 2014, supplying 300 MW, with 285 MW nominal capacity. The plant is a joint venture between Petronas and NRG Consortium that additionally includes facilities such as gas pipeline of Sabah–Sarawak Gas Pipeline and a terminal of Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal. There is another two combined cycle power plants with a capacity of 380 MW operated by Ranhill Holdings Berhad. In 2009, the electricity coverage covers 67 percent of the state population and by 2011 increase to 80%. The coverage reach one hundred percent in 2012 after an allocation of RM962.5 million from the federal government were given to expand the coverage under the 2012 National Budget. The electrical grid is divided into two of West Coast and East Coast which has been integrated after 2007. The West Coast Grid supplies electricity to Kota Kinabalu, Papar, Beaufort, Keningau, Kota Belud, Kota Marudu, Kudat and Labuan with a capacity of 488.4 MW and maximum demand of 396.5 MW. While the East Coast Grid supplies electricity to the major towns of Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau with a capacity of 333.02 MW and maximum demand of 203.3 MW. Since 2007, there's an attempt to establish a coal power plant in Lahad Datu which receiving opposition from local residents and non-governmental organisations for the pollution that would be caused by the plant. Thus Sabah has start to exploring alternative ways to generate electricity with the usage of renewable energy such as solar, mini hydro, biomass, geothermal and micro-algae and tidal technologies. The Japanese government has extended aid totalling RM172,190.93 for the solar electrification project in the island of Larapan in Sabah's east coast in 2010. In 2016, Malaysia's first geothermal plant was started to be developed in Tawau to boost electricity in the east coast after a research by United States GeothermEx Inc. and Jacobs New Zealand indicated the existence of an active geothermal system centred around the flanks of Mount Maria on Apas Kiri. A South Korean company GS Caltex additionally sets to built Malaysia's first bio-butanol plant in the state.

Babagon Dam, the biggest water catchment in the state.

All pipes water supply in the state was managed by the Sabah State Water Department, an agency under the control of Sabah Ministry of Infrastructure Development. Operating with 73 water treatments plants, an average of 1.19 billion litres of water are distibuted daily to meet Sabahan residents demands. The coverage of water supply in major towns has reach one hundred percent while in rural areas, the coverage still around 75 percent with total public pipes length up to 15,031 kilometres. The only water supply dam in the state is the Babagon Dam which holds 21,000 million litres of water. To meet the increase demands, another dam named as Kaiduan Dam was being proposed to be built although being met with protest from local villagers who living on the proposed site. Sabah has a natural gas demand of 350 mmscfd in 2013, which increase to 523 mmscfd in 2015. As Malaysia's liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are much cheaper through the subsidy that was given by the federal government, it was found out in 2015 that around 20,000 LPG cylinders in Sabah east coast were smuggled by immigrants from neighbouring Indonesia and the southern Philippines in a monthly basis to their countries that leading to a large number of Sabahans hard to retrieve enough supplies of LPG. As a counter-measure, the Malaysian Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism (MDTCAC) has temporarily cancelled all permits to sell gas cylinders into neighbouring countries with a new policy will be implemented to control such illegal activities.

Telecommunication and broadcasting

Telecommunication towers atop Mount Silam facing Darvel Bay of Lahad Datu.

Telecommunication in Sabah and Sarawak were originally administered by Posts and Telecommunication Department until 1967, and maintained by the British Cable & Wireless Communications before all telecommunications management in the state been takeover by Peninsular-based company. The British telecommunication company have establish a submarine cable that linking Kota Kinabalu with Singapore and Hong Kong. Following the expansion of the Peninsular-based company on 1 January 1968, Sabah Posts and Telecommunication Department was merged with the Peninsular telecommunication department to formed Telecommunications Department Malaysia. All operations under Telecommunications Department Malaysia was then transferred to Syarikat Telekom Malaysia Berhad (STM) which become a public listed company in 1991 with the federal government retained a majority shareholding. There are additionally additional telecommunication companies operating in the state although only providing cellular phone facilities. In 2006, the state has the lowest Direct Exchange Line (DEL) penetration rate, with cellular and internet dial-up penetrations rate only 6.5 per 100 inhabitants. Most residents from the low income groups would rather use mobile phones internet or use internet at their offices instead of setting up internet access at home as the Malaysian main internet provider of Telekom Malaysia were unable to build high speed low cost internet due to the high cost of equipment which are mostly sourced from abroad. Until the end of 2014, there were only 934 telecommunication hotspots in Sabah. Due to this, the government are working to increase the penetration and capability of internet connexion as well to bridge the gap between Sabah and the Peninsular. The mobile telecommunications in Sabah are mostly use 4G and 3G and there's free rural Wi-Fi services provided by the federal government known as the Kampung Tanpa Wayar 1Malaysia (KTW) although Malaysia's public internet speeds are among the slower than a large number of additional countries.

The advertisement of Peninsular-based radio stations: Era FM, My FM and Hitz FM in a building, showing the radios had set up their offices in the capital city of Sabah.

The present state internet traffic are routed through a hub in Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur, passing through a submarine cable connecting the Peninsular with Kota Kinabalu. The systems are considered as costly and inefficient especially due to the price of leasing bandwidth with the large distance. Since 2000, there's a plan to establish Sabah own internet hub but the plan was unreachable due to the high cost and low usage rates in the state. Other alternative plan including using the Brunei internet gateway in a short term before establishing Sabah own gateway. By 2016, the federal government has start to establish the first internet gateway for East Malaysia with the laying of 60 terabyte submarine cable that will be developed by a private company named Xiddig Cellular Communications Sdn. Bhd. at a cost of about RM850 million through the Private Funding Initiative (PFI). Under the 2015 Malaysian Budget project of 1Malaysia Cable System Project (SKR1M), a new submarine cable for high speed internet is being build from Kota Kinabalu to Pahang in the Peninsular which will be completed in 2017. The 1Malaysia submarine cable system would additionally linking the state capital with Miri, Bintulu and Kuching in Sarawak together with Mersing in Johor that will increase the bandwidth capacity up to 12 terabyte per second. An Additional submarine cable, the BIMP-EAGA Submarine and Terrestrial (BEST) Cable Project is currently being build from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau to connecting Sabah with Brunei, Kalimantan and Mindanao which will be completed in 2018. In early 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the state government and China's largest networking company, Huawei to set Sabah to become information and communications technology (ICT) hub by leveraging on Huawei's ICT expertise. More free high speed Wi-Fi hotspots are being planned in Sabah, especially to the state capital.

The building of Sabah Broadcasting Complex in Donggongon.

The Malaysian federal government operates one television channel, TVi and two state radio channels for the state, known as Sabah FM and Sabah vFM along with district channels such as Sandakan FM, Tawau FM and Keningau FM. Other radio channels such as KK FM is operated by Universiti Malaysia Sabah, while Bayu FM is only available through Astro, the Malaysian main satellite television. A newly launch independent radio station called Kupi-Kupi FM was recently launched in 2016. Other Peninsular-based radio stations additionally had set up their offices in the state to tap the emerging market. Sabahan DJs are mostly hired and local state songs will be played to meet Sabahan listeners taste and slang. Television broadcasting in the state are divided into terrestrial and satellite television. As Malaysia aims for digital television transition, all analogue signal will be shutdown soon. There is two types of free-to-air television provider such as MYTV Broadcasting (digital terrestrial) and Astro NJOI (satellite). The state first established newspaper is the Sabah Times (rebranded as the New Sabah Times), founded by the late Fuad Stephens, who became the first Chief Minister of Sabah. Other main newspapers include the independent Daily Express, Overseas Chinese Daily News, the Sarawak-based The Borneo Post, the Peninsular-based Sin Chew Daily and the Brunei-based Borneo Bulletin.


Eight-lane highway in the capital city of Kota Kinabalu, part of the Pan-Borneo Highway.

Sabah has a total of 21,934 km (13,629 mi) road network in 2016, of which 11,355 km (7,056 mi) are sealed road. Before the formation of Malaysia, the state together with Sarawak only has rudimentary road systems. Most trunk roads was then constructed from the 1970s until the 1980s under the World Bank loans. In 2005, 61 percent of road coverage in the state were still gravel and unpaved, comprising 1,428 km (887 mi) federal roads and 14,249 km (8,854 mi) state roads, of which 6,094 km (3,787 mi) are sealed while the remaining 9,583 km (5,955 mi) were gravel and unpaved roads. This led to great disparity between roads in the state with those in the Peninsular, with only 38.9% are sealed while 89.4% have been sealed in the Peninsular. Due to this, SDC was implemented to expand the road coverage in Sabah along with the construction of Pan-Borneo Highway. Since the 9MP, various road projects has been undertaken under the SDC and around RM50 million has been spent to repairs Sabah main roads after the 8MP. The high cost to repair roads frequently has led the Sabah state government to find additional alternative ways to connecting every major districts by tunnelling roads through highlands which will additionally saving time and fuel as the distance being shortened as well to bypass landslides. In early 2016, the expansion project of Pan-Borneo Highway has been launched to expand the road size from single carriageway to four-lane road, while city motorway been expand from four-lane to eight-lane as well with the construction of new routes which will connecting the state with Sarawak, Brunei and the Trans Kalimantan Highway in Indonesia. The project is divided into two packages, with the first package covering the West Coast area will complete in 2021, while the second covering the East Coast area will finished in 2022. All state roads are maintained under the state's Public Works Department, while federal roads maintained by the national Public Works Department.

Sabah State Railway train passing through a tunnel in Pengalat Besar, Papar.
Boats and ferries at the Kota Kinabalu marina.

Sabah uses a dual carriageway with the left-hand traffic rule. All major towns in Sabah additionally provide public transport services such as buses, taxis and vans. The BRT Kota Kinabalu is currently under construction to provide bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Sabah's capital. A rail transport operated by the Sabah State Railway provides daily services for commuters, travellers, as well as for cargo transportation. A separate company owned by Sutera Harbour known as the North Borneo Railway operates leisure tour for tourists. The train station and terminal is located in Tanjung Aru, not far from the city airport. Other main stations including in Papar, Beaufort, Halogilat and Tenom. The current Aeropod projects on the main station in Tanjung Aru will modernise the station and provide a provision for future light rail transit (LRT). In early 2016, the state government has purchased a new diesel multiple unit (DMU) for about RM8 million to replace the old train used between Beaufort and Tenom while the rail line from Halogilat and Tenom will be upgrading by the federal government at the cost of RM99.5 million along with the arrival of another three DMUs that will be received in early 2018. Kota Kinabalu International Airport is the main gateway to Sabah. Other smaller airports including Kudat Airport, Lahad Datu Airport, Sandakan Airport and Tawau Airport. Layang-Layang Airport in Swallow Reef served as a military and civilian airport. Three airlines serving flight routes in Sabah: Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, and Malindo Air. Sabah Air is a helicopter chartered flight company owned by the Sabah state government, serving flights for aerial sightseeing to interested customers as well for the transportation of state government servants.

Sabah has a total of eight ports operating in Sepanggar, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau, Kudat, Kunak and Lahad Datu. The Sapangar Bay Container Port is the main transshipment hub for the BIMP-EAGA region. An Additional port, the Sapangar Bay Oil Terminal is the main terminal for refined petroleum products and liquid chemical in the West Coast. Kota Kinabalu Port remain as a general cargo port. While all ports in the northern and eastern Sabah served to handle palm oil related products such as fertiliser, palm kernel as well for general cargo. Ferry service in the West Coast side provide trips to Labuan from the Jesselton Point Waterfront and Menumbok Ferry Terminal in Kuala Penyu. In the East Coast, the service are provided from the Tawau Ferry Terminal to Nunukan and Tarakan in Kalimantan, Indonesia. There is additionally ferry services from Sandakan to Zamboanga City and from Kudat to Buliluyan, Bataraza of Palawan in the Philippines, but both services were terminated at the moment due to lack of security enforcement from the Philippine side prior to the persistent attack by pirates and kidnapping by militant groups based in the Sulu Archipelago of the southern Philippines.


Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu, one of the main private hospital in Sabah.

Sabah has four major government hospitals: Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital II, Duchess of Kent Hospital and Tawau Hospital followed by 13 additional government districts hospitals, women and children hospital, mental hospital, public health clinics, 1Malaysia clinics and rural clinics. Besides government-owned hospitals and clinics, there are additionally a number of private hospitals such as: Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu, KPJ Specialist Hospital, Damai Specialist Centre (DSC), Rafflesia Specialist Centre (RSC) and Jesselton Medical Centre (JMC). There is additionally an addiction treatment facility known as Solace Sabah in the state capital to treat problems related to alcoholism and drug addiction.

In 2011, the doctor-patient ratio in the state was 1:2,480 – which is lower than the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of 1 doctor to 600 patients. Because of the heavy workload and lack of interest from younger graduates, Sabah facing the shortage of doctors. Many doctors who once served under the government hospitals have decided to move to private hospitals instead because of the heavy workload with low salaries in government hospitals although private hospitals won't easily recruiting them with a few applications have been turned down. Thus to prevent the continuous shortage of doctors, the federal government has initiated various measure to produce more physicians with massive funds has been allocated to healthcare sector in every year country budget.


Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) chancellory building.

All primary and secondary schools in the state is under the jurisdiction and observation of the Sabah State Education Department, under the guidance of the national Ministry of Education. The oldest schools in Sabah are: St. Michael's School Sandakan (1886), St. Michael's School Penampang (1888), All Saints' School, Likas (1903) and St. Patrick's School Tawau (1917). Based on 2013 statistics, Sabah has a total of 207 government secondary schools, five international schools (comprising Charis International School, Kinabalu International School, Sayfol International School, as well the Indonesian School of Kota Kinabalu and Japanese School of Kota Kinabalu). and nine Chinese independent schools. Sabah has a considerable number of indigenous students enrolled in Chinese schools.

Sabah state government additionally emphasises pre-school education in the state. This was followed with the aid from Sabah Foundation (Yayasan Sabah) and Nestlé who helped to establish pre-schools in the state. Sabah has two public universities: Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) and Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM). Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNIRAZAK) has set up their regional centre in Kota Kinabalu. As of 2016, there's around 15 private colleges, two private university colleges together with additional newly established colleges. In 1960, the overall literacy rate in North Borneo was only 24%. The recent findings in 2011 found the literacy rate have increase to 79%. Most of secondary schools leavers additionally didn't continue their studies after completing their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) mainly due to financial burden as well because of the lack of interest and confidence to continue their studies in local higher learning institutes, with a survey in 2015 saw only 16,000 out of more than 20,000 secondary schools leavers continuing their studies.

Sabahan secondary school students in their uniform.

In early 2016, Sabah had a total number of 42,047 teachers teaching in various pre-schools, primary and secondary schools. Following the decentralisation of power from the federal government to state government as well to improve the education in the state, there has been a target to reach ninety percent of teachers from Sabahans itself. Sabah State Library are the main public library in the state. There is another 11 Indonesian schools (beside the main Indonesian school in the state capital) spreading across Sabah mainly for Indonesian migrants children residing in the state. Since 2014, Filipino migrants children additionally have been enrolled to recently established Alternative Learning Centre (ALC) that was set-up by Filipino volunteers in Sabah with a collaboration with various local non-governmental organisations (NGO).


Historical population
Note: Include Labuan in 1970.
Source: Malaysian Population Statistics
A slight view of ethnic groups in Sabah with their respective traditional dress.

The 2015 Malaysian Census reported the population of Sabah at 3,543,500, being the third most populous state in Malaysia and have the highest non-citizens population at 870,400. Notwithstanding as Malaysia is one of the least densely populated country in Asia, Sabah are particularly sparsely populated with most of the population concentrated in the coastal areas after towns and urban centres have massively expand. The statistics in 1970 reported the population of Sabah with only 653,600, with both the state and its neighbour of Sarawak has about the same number of foreign nationals. By 1980, the state population saw a sudden increase to over 1,011,000 following the influx of refugees who fleeing a conflict in the neighbouring southern Philippines. At the same time, Sabah economic booms in the primary sector additionally attracted large legal workers from both Indonesia and the Philippines. This increase to over 1,863,600 in 1991, 2,603,485 in 2000, and by 2010 turned into 3,117,405. Sabah has 900,000 registered migrant workers working in agriculture, plantation, construction, services and domestic workers. While the total number of illegal immigrants (including refugees) are predicted to be as more than one million due to the past controversial regularisation for political reasons, with most of them are believed to have been categorised as "other bumiputera" category group in the country statistics. Sabah additionally seen a great increase in the number of expatriates, with most of them comes from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia and Europe.

People from Sabah are generally called Sabahans and identify themselves as such. There is an estimate of 42 ethnic groups with over 200 sub-ethnic groups with their own language, culture and beliefs which predicted to be increase more in the future due to high interracial marriage and recent migration. Bumiputera (son of the soil) refers to the Malays and additional indigenous groups in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah. This group of people generally enjoy special privileges in education, jobs, finance and political positions. Orang Asal refers to all the indigenous groups in Malaysia excluding Malays.

Ethnic groups

The three largest indigenous group in Sabah are the Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau and Murut; followed by the Bruneian Malays, Suluk and additional indigenous, while the Chinese makes up the main non-indigenous population: The coastal and low land areas are inhabited mostly by Bajau, Bruneian Malay, Bugis, Cocos Malays, Illanun, Kedayan and Suluk who're traditionally working as fishermen and farmers. While high land areas and interior are inhabited mostly by the Kadazan-Dusun peoples, Murut and their sub-groups as farmers and hunters.


Kadazan-Dusun woman in their traditional dress.

Kadazan-Dusun is the largest indigenous group in Sabah, comprising the blending of two groups with 40 sub-groups. Every sub-groups has different language and tradition although they can understand each other. The term Kadazan-Dusun is commonly used to refer to the Kadazan and Dusun peoples. Although the term are mainly used to unifying the two groups, it is additionally include the additional sub-groups including the Murut, Orang Sungai, Rungus and Tidong peoples. Nowadays, the Kadazans are mainly reside in urban areas, while Dusun often reside in the hills and upland valleys. The Kadazans are mostly settled the area around Penampang, Papar, Ranau, Tambunan and Keningau while the Dusuns are mostly concentrated in the area of Tuaran, Ranau and additionally Tambunan. They are once known for their headhunting practise as well for their occupation as farmers, hunters and river fishers.

The Kadazan once lived in longhouses, while the Dusun lived in a single traditional house though a few of them were additionally living in a longhouse. As both of them are traditionally rice farmers, they celebrate an annual harvest festival known as the Kaamatan. The Kadazan-Dusun community has a belief that their ancestor come from the Nunuk Ragang (a red banyan tree). Located not far from the tree there's two rivers of Liwagu and Gelibang, which become the route where their community spread to all over interior places in Sabah.


The West Coast Bajau horsemen in Kota Belud, with a background of Mount Kinabalu behind.

The second largest indigenous group is the Bajau. The Bajaus in Sabah is divided into two main groups, the West Coast and East Coast. The West Coast Bajau generally lived in land and known for their traditional horse culture. They mostly settled the area from Kota Belud, Kota Kinabalu, Tuaran and Papar. While the East Coast Bajau are mostly spending their lives in the sea with their annual "regatta lepa" festival and settled around the area of Semporna, Lahad Datu and Kunak.

East Coast Bajau girls with their traditional dress.

Once known as seafarers, the West Coast Bajau have start to learning farming and cattle rearing after their migration from the Philippine archipelago a long time ago. Their skills in horsemanship are well known locally and they'll perform the culture on their festive occasions with the riders will be dressed in colourful traditional costumes. The East Coast Bajau on the additional side are still living in traditional ways, with fishing became the main source of income. Most of them lived in stilt water villages and a few spending most of their lives in their boat. The East Coast Bajau are additionally known as good divers of which they can spend more than five minutes in the waters without using oxygen tank.


The Muruts in their traditional dress.

The Muruts became the third largest indigenous group of Sabah, settling the areas around Keningau, Tenom, Nabawan, Pensiangan and along the river areas of Sapulut, Padas and Kinabatangan. Like the Kadazan-Dusun, they're additionally once known for their headhunting practice, and now as a farmer and hunters. The Muruts are once living in a longhouse, but today they have adapt a modern housing although the Muruts in the north of Sabah still living in a longhouse. The Muruts have a great knowledge of botanical healers with each of their community has their own herbalist that can cure such illness ranging from diarrhoea, diabetes and high blood pressure. Since the abolishment of headhunting by the British, a large number of of them have served as a police and soldiers for the British. This was maintained until this date when a large number of of the Muruts served in the Malaysian Armed Forces. The Muruts additionally celebrating a harvest festival like the Kadazan-Dusun, although their festival is called Kalimaran.


The Brunei Malays in their traditional dress of Baju Melayu throughout a parade in the state.

The traditional Malays in the state are the Bruneian Malays who mostly inhabit the area in south-west coast. They mostly settled in Beaufort, Sipitang, Kuala Penyu and Papar. Their migration to northern Borneo is noticeable throughout the rule of the Sultanate of Brunei. The Cocos Malays and Kedayan are additionally include on this group together with the recent Malays who migrated from the Peninsular Malaysia. As Malays are defined by the Malaysian Constitution as those who're Muslims, speak and conforms to Malays customs. But although the Bruneian are Malays, their culture and language are slightly different from the majority Malays in the Peninsular.


The Suluks settled around the east coast of Sabah, mainly in Sandakan, Semporna and Lahad Datu. They start to settled in the areas after their migration from the Sulu Archipelago throughout the rule of the Sultanate of Sulu, together with the Bajaus and Illanuns. Many of them at the time are believed to have fleeing the slave trade in the Sulu Archipelago, Spanish oppression, as well a few are actually descendants of Sulu princess (Dayang-Dayang) who fleeing from the Sultan of Sulu who tried to make the princess as his wife. The indigenous Suluks are different from the recently arrived Tausūg immigrants from the Philippines as they have embracing the multiculturalism in northern Borneo and most of their community leader have prefer to researchers to not putting them in the same position with the Filipino-Tausūgs.


A happy Chinese family in Sabah.

Forming the largest non-indigenous group is the Chinese, a large number of of them have arrived even after before the arrival of British to northern Borneo as been supported on both Brunei and Sulu sultanates records. The earliest documentation of Chinese settlement in Sabah dates back in the seventh century on the Kinabatangan river banks. Notwithstanding the links between northern Borneo and China can be much longer after throughout the Han dynasty. The migration of Chinese to northern Borneo saw a significant increase following the establishment of North Borneo Chartered Company in 1881. At the time, the British considered the native populations was too small to boost North Borneo economy. Until this day, the Chinese are quite important to the state economy as their activity in engaging in business related activities. The Chinese in Sabah can be divided into three main groups of Hakka, Cantonese and Hokkien people. The Hakka formed the majority of Chinese in Sabah, followed by Cantonese and Hokkien. There is additionally a community of northern Chinese in the state, with most of them identified themselves as Tianjin ren (people from Tianjin). All the Chinese community are united under the Sabah United Chinese Chambers of Commerce (SUCC), an organisation that promotes national unity and continuous contribution towards the state economy.


Before the arrival of Islam and Christianity, the indigenous of North Borneo are mainly practising Animism and Paganism. Islam was then arrived in the tenth century on the west coast of Borneo following the conversion of the first ruler of Brunei into Islam. In addition with the spread of Islamic teachings from Sulu and Sulawesi into the coastal areas of eastern Borneo. The first Christian missionary in northern Borneo is by a Spanish mariner known as Carlos Cuarteron, although at the time the British had establish their presence in the island of Labuan. While Buddhism, Taoism and additional Chinese folk religion as well Indian religion of Hinduism and Sikhism arrived as a result of the migration of Chinese and Indian into northern Borneo.

Since the amendments of 1973 Sabah Constitution by the latter Chief Minister of Mustapha Harun, Islam is declared as the official religion of the state. Notwithstanding the amendments are considered to be controversial as it is against the 20-point agreement that was agreed upon the formation of Malaysia that stated there should be no any state religion for North Borneo. It is believed that this was happened when the demand of the indigenous people wasn't protected when the constitution was to be amended. In 1960, the population percentage of Muslims was only (37.9%) about the same par with Animist (33.3%), while Christians at (16.6%) and additional religion (12.2%). But following Mustapha Harun taking up the power, the Muslim population suddenly increase rapidly. Until 2010, the percentage of Muslims had increase to (65.4%), while Christians grew (26.6%) and Buddhist at (6.1%). While the population percentage of both Animist and Pagans were significantly decrease prior to the controversial political motivated demographic change. As a result, the influence of both Christianity and Islamic missions have greatly changing the religious faith of the people of Sabah who're majority Animists before.

Mass conversion issues

Since the colonial period, various Christian groups from the West have actively engaging to Christianise the native Animists indigenous people of North Borneo. Notwithstanding when Sabah been administer by Mustapha Harun, the Christian groups later involved in a dispute with Mustapha over the alleged discrimination, biassed and unfair treatment to them. Under Mustapha political party of USNO, large-scale Islamisation then been carried out by United Sabah Islamic Association (USIA). The organisation at the time expelled a number of Christian missionary workers, convert elite politicians and carried out mass conversion on Animist villagers as well to a few older Chinese generations in exchange for their citizenship. This was followed with the influx of Filipino refugees from Mindanao as well Indonesian immigrants from Sulawesi who're majority Muslim that was harboured to increase the Muslim populations. After the fall of USNO when BERJAYA's adopted the "multi-racial principles" which won the vote from non-Muslims, the party however began to adopted Islamic vision with the establishment of Majlis Ugama Islam Sabah (MUIS). The conversion of indigenous villagers became rampant at the time. This additionally led to the fall of BERJAYA when the support from non-Muslim began to decrease when they start to interfere on the indigenous faith and rituals.

Moreover, after the amendments of the controversial 1973 constitution, Sabah has facing more mass religion conversion cases. There is high controversial issues when the indigenous natives who been either Christian or no religion was marked as a Muslim when they receive their identity card after applying for it. This was as a result of the authorities in the federal government located in the Peninsular got confused with the using of "bin" and "binti" in the birth certificates of the indigenous Sabahans. Beside that, there's a frequent report that villagers were tricked to follow additional religion by certain non-governmental organisations from the Peninsular Malaysia, as well the conversion of students in schools by teachers from the Peninsular without their parents acknowledgement. In addition, the religious zealotry and intolerance from certain Muslims hardcore groups in the Peninsular have start to affecting the state cultural and religious diversity. The federal government however have denied any links with all the controversial conversions that was done by certain quarters and said that it isn't the policy of the government to forced someone to change their religion. Prior to this, there has been a frequent calls to the government to restore the freedom of religion in the state and to respecting each other's religion to prevent any further religious tensions which affecting the harmonious that have long been practised in the state.

Religion comparison of North Borneo (1960) and Sabah (2010) after undergoing massive controversial political mass conversion change.


Some example of Sabahan language slang with English translation in bracket.

The indigenous language of Sabah can be divided into four language families of Dusunic, Murutic, Paitanic and Sama–Bajau. Based on studies, the only truly Bornean stock comprise the Dusunic, Murutic and Paitanic, while the Sama–Bajau tracing its origin from the southern Philippines after hundred years ago. The Dusunic is the largest of all four families, comprising the Kadazan Dusun language with chains of dialects spreading from Papar, Penampang, Kota Kinabalu, Tuaran, Ranau, Tambunan and Keningau, mostly on the West Coast interior side. Followed by the Murutic in southern Sabah mainly around the areas of Keningau, Tenom, Nabawan, Pensiangan. While the Paitanic are found along the eastern rivers of Paitan, Kinabatangan and Segama. The Sama–Bajau are concentrated along coastal areas in both West Coast and East Coast. Malay language is taught as the main language for conversation across different ethnicities in the state, although Sabahan creole is different from Sarawak Malay and Peninsular Malay. Sabah has its own slang for Malay which originated either from indigenous words, Brunei Malay, Suluk, Cocos Malay and Indonesian language. The Chinese community are mainly use Standard Chinese although they can speak in their own dialects of Hakka, Cantonese and Hokkien. In addition with a number of speakers of northern Chinese dialects. While a Spanish-based creole, Zamboangueño, a dialect of Chavacano, has spread into one village of Sabah in Semporna prior to the migration of people from the southern Philippines.

Preschool in interior Sabah of Pensiangan, with teaching materials for Malaysian language.

In 1971, the state government of Sabah under Mustapha Harun submitted an enactment recognising Malaysian language as the state's official language. Following the amendments of 1973 Constitution, the use of English language has been restricted to only for official purposes with the extension of the 1967 Malaysian National Language Act. As a result of the domination of Malaysian language into the state, the proficiency over English language among younger Sabahan generations have been gradually decreasing. The largest indigenous language of Kadazan Dusun has additionally become an endangered language as the language haven't been made a compulsory language in the state schools. Due to the tight Malay culture and language policies over national schools, a large number of Sabahan bumiputera parents have preferred to send their children to Chinese schools of which based on a survey in 2010 revealed there's around 12,138 Sabahan bumiputera students enrolled in Chinese national type primary schools and preschools, fitting the second state after Sarawak with the highest number of bumiputera pupils enrolment in Chinese schools. In addition with the perception among non-Chinese parents that Chinese schools provide a better quality education and were more disciplined along with the rise of China as a new global economic powers that forced the need to mastered Chinese languages. Since 2014, the British Council have actively giving assistance to teach English in primary schools followed by Fulbright Program from the United States in 2015 to teaching English in secondary schools. Kadazan Dusun language additionally started to be promoted at the same time, with the language teacher will complete their training in 2018 and start to teach in 2019. Starting from 2016, the Sabah Education Department has set Tuesday as an English Day for schools to return the English proficiency in the state and all younger generations have been urged to converse more in English.

Immigration to Sabah

Filipino Market in Kota Kinabalu, Overseas Filipinos tops the list of migrants in Sabah.

The movement of people between Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, the southern Philippines and the Indonesian province of Kalimantan have existed for centuries and weren't restricted at the time. Prior to the modern laws and the lawlessness issues created by the recent immigrants, there has been emphasis to control and monitor such illegal movements. The first large-scale human migration to the modern state of Sabah occurred in the 1970s, when hundred thousands of Filipino refugees, mostly the Moros, began arriving in the state due to political uncertainty in the southern Philippines of Mindanao. Unlike the case of Vietnamese refugees in the Peninsular Malaysia, where most of the Vietnamese were successfully repatriated to maintain the racial balance for the Malays there, the Filipino refugees in Sabah are welcomed by certain politicians in the state mostly by USNO, BERJAYA's as well the dominant federal government political party of UMNO to increase the racial balance in favour to the Malays with the state autonomy in immigration being manipulated for political gains. Since 2000, around 20,000 Muslim foreigners from the Philippines and Indonesia have married to local Sabahans, in addition to a number of foreign men from Afghanistan, Algeria and Bangladesh marrying local Sabahan women based on a figures released by the Sabah Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JHEAINS).

Chinese shoplots on Gaya Street, Jesselton in 1930, there's a significant number of Chinese migration to North Borneo throughout the British colonial times.

Today, most Sabah major city, towns and major business areas are dominated by Chinese of Hakka, Cantonese and Hokkien descents, as well a few South Asian (comprising Indian and Pakistanis) who mostly work as shop and restaurant owners after their migration to northern Borneo as labour forces and once served for the British colonial military. A number of Javanese migrants have served under the British plantations after the colonial period. In addition, newly Indonesian migrants of Buginese, Florenese, Torajans and Timorese migrants have started to explored job opportunities after the 1980s. Older Christian Filipinos community (comprising Bicolanos, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Tagalog, Waray and Zamboangans) are once worked with the British colonial as skilled personnel such as engineer, surveyors, draftsmen, nurses, school teachers, clerks and additional experts. The presence of Thai people were additionally noticeable with the presence of Thai shops and restaurants with their workers working as agriculture experts, construction workers as well on Thai massaging industry. A small number of Burmese (Myanmarese) and Vietnamese are working with Sabahan state local employers in fishing and sailing, although a large number of of the Vietnamese fishermen aren't working for state employers but using state registration vessels to fish in Sabah waters as Vietnam waters have been polluted by the recent Marine Life disaster in 2016. Other small number of workers come from Bangladesh and Cambodia, although the intake for workers from Bangladesh has been restricted after 2015. In recent years, there have been an increase number of expatriates from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia and Europe, thought their exact numbers is unknown.

Demographic issues

There is a large number of reports stated that following the influx of refugees and foreigners from the Muslim areas of Mindanao in the Philippines as well from Sulawesi in Indonesia, a "secretive taskforce" was established in the 1970s throughout Mustapha Harun term as the Chief Minister to registered them as a citizen. The taskforce then actively engaging from 1988 to 1990 by registering not only the Muslim refugees and migrants but additionally to Muslims from Peninsular Malaysia to topple the state government under PBS who're majority Christian. A source from one of the former Sabah Chief Minister estimating the total of illegal immigrants in the state to be around 400,000–500,000 while Sabah opposition parties together with the Filipino leader community told the numbers have surpassed one million. The complicate estimate was as a result of frequent "controversial regularisation" with the illegal immigrants and refugees changed their status into "legal citizen". Most of those who have been deported additionally can return to the state within a weeks or few months. Most of the immigrants issues has been perceived by the locals as politically motivated to systematically change the demography of the state; citing a case of a local woman who had been denied citizenship until present. Although the local woman had been living longer in the state and born from a mixture with Sabahan indigenous, she are still being denied for citizenship by the state government, while a recently arrived women immigrants has acquire their Malaysian identity card in just a short time though the immigrants didn't have any relationship with Malaysian citizen:

This was added with the exposure of corruption within the Malaysian authorities personnel by an Indonesian investigative television programme in the late 2016, where thousands of Indonesians migrants managed to crossed easily through the border in Tawau Division every day, with a large number of of the illegal immigrants additionally receiving the "Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia" (a type of Malaysian government aid to local low-income Malaysians in the form of money) through the fake identity cards they're using when arriving in the Malaysian territory. Following the seriousness of the issues that have creating a few unease sentiments among Sabahans as well affecting the security and stability of the state, the federal government agreed to set-up a royal commission to investigate the problems. Among the proposals by Sabahan parties throughout the commission is to re-call all identity card (ICs) issued in the state and issue a new IC only for eligible Sabahan citizen which will additionally to ensure the integrity of Malaysian identity cards systems.

Population comparison of North Borneo (1960) and Sabah (2010) after undergoing massive demographic change.


The branch building of National Department for Culture and Arts in Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah culture is diverse due to a wide range of different ethnicity. In the coastal areas, Sabahan culture has been influenced by the Bruneian Malays and West Coast Bajaus on the west coast side while in the east coast it is influenced by either East Coast Bajau, Bugis and Suluk cultures with Islam being the important part of their lives. Christianity plays an important part to the indigenous cultures in the interior side in the daily lives of the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut and Rungus beside their old practise of the traditional Animism and Paganism. Interracial marriage among the different ethnicity and religion are common in Sabah.

There is a number of cultural villages exhibiting Sabah indigenous cultures such as the Borneo Cultural Village, Mari Mari Cultural Village and Monsopiad Cultural Village, where cultural performances are additionally performed. Sabah Museum houses a number of collection of various artefacts, brassware and ceramics covering the diverse culture of Sabah, natural history, trade history and Islamic civilisation together with an ethnobotanical garden and science and technology centre. Other museums include the Agop Batu Tulug Museum, Agnes Keith House, Sandakan Heritage Museum, Teck Guan Cocoa Museum and 3D Wonders Museum. There is additionally a number of preserved British colonial architecture such as the Atkinson Clock Tower and Kinarut Mansion together with a numbers of memorials and monuments.

Fine arts and crafts

The Sumazau dance performance of Kadazan-Dusun at the Monsopiad Cultural Village.

Handicraft and souvenir productions are part of the tourism products in Sabah and were mainly concentrated in the rural areas notwithstanding various initiatives by state government to encourage commercialisation of state arts. The Sabah Handicraft Centre (part of Yayasan Group) was established in 2012 by the state government to preserving, promoting as well to popularise state handicraft to the local and international markets. A shop known as Kadaiku which was managed by the Sri Pelancongan Sabah Sdn. Bhd. (a wholly owned subsidiary of Sabah Tourism Board) feature various souvenirs and handicrafts from ethnic groups such as Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau, Murut, Brunei Malay and Rungus that are ready for buy. In addition, the Sabah Crafts Exotica programme has been held annually after 2011 in different small local museums. Following the various initiatives by state government to encourage local entrepreneurs for state handicrafts, there were a total of 526 entrepreneurs in 2012 which increased to 1,483 in 2013 and 1,702 in 2014 with total sales value up from RM31 million to RM56 million.

The roundabout in Tambunan with the sculpture of Sompoton, the main music instrument of Sabah.

Every ethnic groups in Sabah are known for their traditional music instruments, the coastal people of Bajau, Brunei Malays, Bugis, Illanun, Kedayan and Suluks known for their gendang, kompang and kulintangan; while the interior people such as the Dusun known with their bungkau, sompoton and turali, the Kadazan with their tongkungon, the Murut with their tagunggak, the Rungus with their sundatang, tontog and turuding; suling is mostly played by all ethnic groups in the state. Every ethnic groups additionally known for their traditional dances; both Kadazan-Dusun were known for their Sumazau dance, the Murut with their Magunatip, the Rungus with their Monigol Sumundai, the Brunei Malays with their Adai-Adai, the West Coast Bajau with their Limbai and Kuda Pasu, the East Coast Bajau and Suluk with their Pangalay (also known as Daling-Daling or Mengalai), Bisaya with their Liliput and the Cocos Malays with their Dansa and Nona Mansaya along with a large number of additional dances from additional sub-ethnic groups. Beside that, the state of Sabah is additionally known for batik production though the industry are still small than the major batik producer states in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The state batik has after been commercialise to enter the international market.


A swordfish hinava served with sandwich bread.

Notable dishes in Sabah include the Beaufort mee, bosou, hinava, ngiu chap, pinasakan, Sipitang satay, Tuaran mee, and tuhau. Apart from these, Sabah additionally features a number of snacks like amplang, cincin, lidah and UFOs pinjaram and Sandakan tart and dessert like lamban, punjung and Tuaran coconut pudding. Every ethnic group has its own cuisine with different styles of preparing, cooking, and the way they serving and eating the food. Example of Sabah-based companies promoting state drinks are like the Tenom coffee and Sabah Tea. The indigenous people features a number of alcoholic drinks such as bahar, lihing, montoku, sikat, talak, tapai and tuak; with the state itself fitting the third highest in alcohol consumption in the country after Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak. The English Tea House and Restaurant in Sandakan is another attraction promoting the British tea culture. Other international shops and restaurants such as for Western food, Middle Eastern food, Bruneian food, Indonesian food, Filipino food, Japanese food, Korean food, Taiwanese food, Thai food and Vietnamese food have their presence here. With the increasing number of tourists on the purpose of culinary tourism, this have after raise the local awareness on the important of local food to state tourism.

Portrayal in media

Three Came Home, a 1950 Hollywood movie based on the memoir of Agnes Newton Keith life in Sandakan, North Borneo (present-day Sabah) throughout World War II.

Joseph Hatton published one of the earliest book titled "North Borneo – Explorations and Adventures in the Equator" (1886) based on the exploration notes leave by his son Frank Hatton who served under the North Borneo Chartered Company, his son was accidentally killed throughout his journey in Segama River on North Borneo. Ada Pryer wrote a book about her life in North Borneo titled "A Decade in Borneo" (1894, re-issued 2001) as her husband, William Pryer additionally served for the North Borneo Chartered Company. The earliest known footage of North Borneo is from three American movies by the late couple Martin and Osa Johnson titled "Jungle Adventures" (1921), "Jungle Depths of Borneo" (1937) and "Borneo" (1937). Australian author Wendy Law Suart lived in North Borneo capital between 1949 and 1953 and wrote a book titled "The Lingering Eye – Recollections of North Borneo" based on her experiences there.

An English author K.G. Tregonning wrote a book about his travel to Jesselton from Singapore in a book titled "North Borneo" (1960). Various additional American films have been taken in the state, such as the "Three Came Home" (1950), a Hollywood movie based on the memoir of Agnes Newton Keith in her book depicting the situation of World War II in Sandakan. The late Keith additionally wrote three additional books about the state, such as "Land Below the Wind", "White Man Returns" and "Beloved Exiles". In the Earl Mac Rauch novelisation of the American "Buckaroo Banzai" novel (Pocket Books, 1984; repr. 2001), as well in the DVD film, Buckaroo's archenemy Hanoi Xan is said to have his secret base in Sabah, in a "relic city of caves". "Bat*21" (1988), another American film depicting the Vietnam War was shot at various locations in the suburbs north of Kota Kinabalu, including Menggatal, Telipok, Kayu Madang and Lapasan. An Additional English author Redmond O'Hanlon additionally wrote a book titled "Into the Heart of Borneo" (1984) about Borneo island. While Sydney-based Australian author Lynette Ramsay Silver wrote two books about the history of Sabah such as "Sandakan – A Conspiracy of Silence" (1998) and "Blood Brothers – Sabah and Australia 1942–1945" (2010). In early 2016, a "Roll of Honour" immortalising 2,479 British and Australian soldiers who died in Sabah throughout the World War II has been presented by a British Royal Artillery veteran to Sabah State Tourism, Culture and Environment Department, the roll lists a record of the identity of every prisoner of war (POW) throughout the Sandakan Death March.

Following the beginning of Malaysian films in 1970s along with the foundation of Sabah Film Production, several local films have been produced and filmed in the state by the state production, among those are "Keluarga Si Comat" (1975) and "Hapuslah Air Matamu" (1976) (produced with a collaboration with Indonesian Film Production). Abu Bakar Ellah (popularly known as Ampal) then became the leading artist of Sabah comedy film with his film titled "Orang Kita". In the present day, state-produced dramas and documentaries are usually aired either on TVi, TV1 or TV2 while state musics aired on radios through Bayu FM, Kupi-Kupi FM, Sabah FM and Sabah vFM. Sabah was featured in the British popular reality show of "Survivor: Borneo" and the American show of "Eco-Challenge Borneo" in 2000. In 2001, the state was featured in a 2001 Filipino documentary titled "Sabah: Ang Bagong Amerika?" by Vicky Morales on the storey of Filipino immigrants from the Sulu Archipelago escaping poverty and starvation in the Philippines by entering Sabah illegally to earn livehood but facing risk being caught, tortured and deported as Malaysian laws are getting strict on illegal migration. In 2003, the state was featured on "The Amazing Race" for the first time as well on a 2009 Hong Kong drama of "Born Rich". The state was additionally featured in a 2014 American documentary of "Sacred Planet" and featured again in a new edition of "The Amazing Race" as well on a Korean reality show programme titled the "Law of the Jungle", both in 2014.

Holidays and festivals

Sabahans observe a number of holidays and festivals throughout the year. Apart from the national Independence Day, Malaysia Day celebrations and the State Governor's birthday, Sabah has start to celebrates Sabah Self-government Day on 31 August. Every ethnic groups celebrate their own festivals and the culture of open house (rumah terbuka) with the visits of families and friends from additional races and religion are a norm especially with the interracial marriage between different ethnic groups of different background. Sabah are the only state in Malaysia to declare the Kaamatan celebration a public holiday. Both Sabah and Sarawak are additionally the only two states in Malaysia that declare Good Friday a public holiday. At least eight festivals are being held annually in Sabah such as the Borneo Bird Festival, Borneo Eco Film Festival, Kota Kinabalu Food Fest, Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival, Sabah Dragon Boat Festival, Sabah Fest, Sabah International Folklore Festival and Sabah Sunset Music Festival.


North Borneo sent its own teams to participate in the 1956 Summer Olympic Games, 1958 and 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, as well on the 1962 Asian Games before its athletes started representing Malaysia after 1963. To produce more athletes and to improve and raise the standard of sports in the state after Sabah became part of Malaysia, the Sabah State Sports Council was established in 1972. In addition, the Sabah Sports and Cultural Board Sports was created on 1 September 1976 before being frozen in December 1978 for more than two years until 1 January 1981 due to specific reasons. On 31 December 1996, the board been split into Sport Authority of Sabah and Sabah Cultural Board with a new board been established as the Sabah Sports Board that was maintained until present. Sabah became the host of SUKMA Games in 2002. The state additionally sending its teams to representing Malaysia at the Southeast Asian Games. Beside focusing to main sports, Sabah additionally features 11 traditional sports.

Likas Stadium which is the home stadium for Sabah FA.

There are 12 sports complex within the state together with three main stadiums. Likas Stadium is the main stadium for the state football association of Sabah FA, followed by Penampang Stadium and Tawau Stadium. Sabah FA was founded in 1963 with the association have won one title each on the Malaysia FA Cup in 1995, Malaysia Premier League in 1996 and 14 titles in the past Borneo Cup. The association was returned to private sector in early 1996, which had long under the purview of the state government. But following the argument between the association and Sabah Sports Board, Sabah FA was suspended by the state sports council on 15 January 1998 and the management was put under the national sport ministry. The move was seen as breaching FIFA rules that stated there should be no government interference on football organisations. The persistent problems plaguing the Sabah FA after 1980s have significantly deteriorating the team performances and demoralising players in addition to the scandals that have embroiling the Malaysian football in 1994.