History of East Malaysia
Dr. Mark McGinley
Honors College and Department of
Texas Tech University
Early Contact With Rest of Asia
• West coast of Borneo were trading ports
for trade between India and China from
500 to 1300 CE
– Camphor, tortoise shell, hornbill ivory, rhino
horns, beeswax, rattan, spices, and edible
• During the 7th
century CE, a settled
as Vijayapura, a
tributary to the
Srivijaya empire, was
thought to have
northeast coast of
Sultanate of Brunei
• The Sultanate of Brunei began after the ruler of
Brunei embraced Islam. Some sources indicate
that this had occurred around 1365 CE after the
ruler, Awang Alak Betatar, converted into Islam
and became known as Muhammad Shah.
• During the same period, trade relations
flourished, and intermarriages among the natives
and Chinese, Japanese, Arab, and Hindu peoples
Sultanate of Brunei
• The Sultanate of Brunei,
during its golden age
from the 15th century to
the 17th century, ruled a
large part of northern
• Brunei is now an
bordering Sarawak and
• Crude oil and natural gas
production account for
about 90% of its GDP.
Sultanate Of Sulu
• During the 1450s, Shari'ful Hashem Syed Abu
Bakr, an Arab born in Johor, arrived in Sulu
• In 1457, he founded the Sultanate of Sulu; he
titled himself as "Paduka Maulana Mahasari
Sharif Sultan Hashem Abu Bakr".
The Sultanate of Sulu
• In 1703 (other sources say 1658), the
Sultanate of Sulu received North Borneo from
the Sultan of Brunei, after Sulu sent aid
against a rebellion in Brunei.
The Arrival of the British in Sarawak
• In 1838 James Brooke, a
British adventure with an
inheritance and an armed
sloop arrived to find the
Brunei Sultanate fending off
rebellion from war like inland
• Sarawak was in chaos, Brooke
put down the rebellion and as
a reward signed a treaty in
1841 was bestowed the title
Governor and granted power
over parts of Sarawak
The White Raja
• Brooke pacified the natives, suppressed
headhunting, eliminated the much-feared
Borneo pirates, bringing ever growing tracts of
Borneo under their control.
• Brooke was appointed Rajah by the Sultan of
Brunei on August 18, 1842 and founded the
White Rajah Dynasty of Sarawak
• The Brooke dynasty ruled Sarawak for a
hundred years and became famous as the
"White Rajahs", accorded a status within the
British Empire similar to that of the rulers of
Indian princely states.
• Indeed, in 1850 the USA recognized Sarawak
as an independent state — as did even the
British, in 1864!
World War II
• Japan invaded Sarawak and occupied the
island of Borneo in Dec 1941, and held it for
the duration of World War II until the area was
secured by Australian forces in 1945.
• The Last White Rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke,
formally ceded sovereignty to the British
Crown on July 1, 1946, and Sarawak became a
The Arrival of the British in North
• 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 in the region
which proved to be a failure.
• In 1846, the island of
Labuan on the west
coast of Sabah was
ceded to Britain by the
Sultan of Brunei and in
1848 it became a British
Crown Colony. Labuan
became a base for
against piracy in the
Americans and Germans Get Involved
• In 1865 the American Consul General of Brunei, Charles Lee Moses,
obtained a 10-year lease over North Borneo from the Sultan of
• Ownership was then passed to an American trading company
owned by Joseph William Torrey, Thomas Bradley Harris, and some
– the Sultan of Brunei appointed Torrey as "The Rajah of Ambong and
• The rights of the trading company were then sold to Gustav Baron
Von Overbeck,a German national
– the Sultan appointed Overbeck as "Maharajah of Sabah and Rajah of
Gaya and Sandakan."
• The treaty granted Overbeck the right over whole region of Sabah,
including parts purporting to be the dominion of the Sulu Sultanate
including Sandakan and Tawau in 1877.
British North Borneo Company
• In the following year, the British North Borneo
Company was founded. It brought in Chinese
people to work as laborers in plantation farms.
• In 1888 North Borneo became a protectorate of
the United Kingdom. Administration and control
over North Borneo remained in the hands of the
Company despite being a protectorate and they
effectively ruled until 1942.
World War II in North Borneo
• As part of the Second World
War Japanese forces landed in
Labuan on January 1, 1942,
and continued to invade the
rest of North Borneo.
• From 1942 to 1945, Japanese
forces occupied North Borneo,
along with most of the island.
Bombings by the allied forces
devastated most towns
including Sandakan, which was
razed to the ground.
World War II in North Borneo
• In Sandakan there was
once a brutal POW camp
run by the Japanese for
British and Australian
POWs from North Borneo.
• The prisoners suffered in
agony in their first year of
captivity under notoriously
inhuman conditions. Allied
bombardments caused the
Japanese to relocate the
POW camp to inland
Sandakan Death March
• The 2054 prisoners were
forced to march 260 Km
through the rainforest.
• Sickness, disease,
exhaustion, thirst, hunger,
whipping, and shooting
killed most of the
– six Australians who
successfully escaped, were
never caught, and survived
to tell the horrific story of
the death march.
After the War
• After the surrender, North Borneo was
administered by the British Military
Administration and in 1946 it became a British
Crown Colony and the Crown continued to
rule North Borneo until 1963.
Formation of Malaysia
• North Borneo joined
and Malaya to form
Malaysia in 1964.
– State of Sabah
• The Cobbold Commission was set up to
determine whether the people of North
Borneo and Sarawak supported the proposal
to create the Malaysia and was also
responsible for the subsequent drafting of the
Constitution of Malaysia.
20 Point Agreement (Sabah)
Point 1: Religion
– While there was no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia there should be
no State religion in North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present
Constitution of Malaya should not apply to North Borneo.
Point 2: Language
– a. Malay should be the national language of the Federation
– b. English should continue to be used for a period of 10 years after Malaysia Day
– c. English should be an official language of North Borneo for all purposes, State or Federal,
without limitation of time.
Point 3: Constitution
– The Constitution of Malaysia should be a completely new document drafted and agreed in the
light of a free association of states .
Point 4: Head of Federation
– The Head of State in North Borneo should not be eligible for election as Head of the
Point 5: Name of Federation
– “Malaysia” but not “Melayu Raya” (idea of joining Malay race by uniting Malaya, Sarawak,
North Borneo, Brunei, and Dutch East Indies)
20 Point Agreement
• Point 6: Immigration
– Control over immigration into any part of Malaysia from outside
should rest with the Central Government but entry into North Borneo
should also require the approval of the State Government.
• Point 7: Right of Secession
– There should be no right to secede from the Federation.
• Point 8: Borneanisation
– Borneanisation of the public service should proceed as quickly as
• Point 9: British Officers
– Every effort should be made to encourage British Officers to remain in
the public service until their places can be taken by suitably qualified
people from North Borneo.
• Point 10: Citizenship
– a person born in North Borneo after Malaysia must be federal citizen.
20 Point Agreement
Point 11: Tariffs and Finance
– North Borneo should retain control of its own finance, development and tariff, and should
have the right to work up its own taxation and to raise loans on its own credit.
Point 12: Special position of indigenous races
– In principle the indigenous races of North Borneo should enjoy special rights analogous to
those enjoyed by Malays in Malaya, but the present Malaya formula in this regard is not
necessarily applicable in North Borneo.
Point 13: State Government
– a) the Prime Minister should be elected by unofficial members of Legislative Council
– b) There should be a proper Ministerial system in North Borneo.
Point 14: Transitional period
– This should be seven years and during such period legislative power must be left with the
State of North Borneo by the Constitution and not be merely delegated to the State
Government by the Federal Government.
Point 15: Education
– The existing educational system of North Borneo should be maintained and for this reason it
should be under state control.
20 Point Agreement
Point 16: Constitutional safeguards
– No amendment modification or withdrawal of any special safeguard granted to North Borneo
should be made by the Central Government without the positive concurrence of the
Government of the State of North Borneo
– The power of amending the Constitution of the State of North Borneo should belong
exclusively to the people in the state.
Point 17: Representation in Federal Parliament
– This should take account not only of the population of North Borneo but also of its size and
potentialities and in any case should not be less than that of Singapore.
Point 18: Name of Head of State
– Yang di-Pertua Negara.
Point 19: Name of State
Point 20: Land, Forests, Local Government, etc.
– The provisions in the Constitution of the Federation in respect of the powers of the National
Land Council should not apply in North Borneo. Likewise, the National Council for Local
Government should not apply in North Borneo.
Sabah Incident of 2013
• On Feb. 9, 2013 more than
100 followers of selfprofessed Sultan Jamalul
Kiram III, from the
autonomous island province
of Sulu in the
landed in the Malaysian
state of Sabah to press their
historic claim to the land.
Read more: Malaysia Raids Sabah Village Held
by Filipino Rebels, At Least 26 Dead | TIME.com
• Malaysian security forces have surrounded 100 to
200 members of the Royal Army of Sulu, who
have holed up in the village of Lahad Datu for the
past two weeks in order to press their historic
claim to the land.
Read more: Malaysia and Philippines in Diplomatic Standoff over Rebels in Sabah | TIME.com
• It does not appear
that the Malaysian
authorities are willing
to give up the land,
which boasts valuable
and also serves as an
• Back in the 17th century, the two principle sultanates in the region were
Sulu and Brunei.
• In 1658, the Sultan of Brunei gave Sabah to the Sultanate of Sulu, which
today is considered part of the Philippines.
• However, the picture is further complicated by an 1878 deal between the
Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Company, in which Sabah
was leased to the Europeans on a rolling contract.
• To this day, the Malaysian government pays a token sum, equivalent to
around $1,500, to the Philippines every year in recognition of this
• The Royal Army of Sulu interprets this deal as a lease that can be canceled,
while Malaysia believes that it represents the permanent transfer of the
• Ultimately, the Malaysian Military successfully
attacked the Sulu gunmen in an attempt to
drive them out.
• Final Death Count
– Sulu Sultunate – 56
– Malaysian police/military- 9
– Civilians- 6
• 30 people (26 Filipinos and 4 Malaysians) are
currently being prosecuted.