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Borneo Island third largest island in the world. The only Island in the world shared by 3 countries Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia. It was once covered with dense rainforests. Swampy coastal areas fringed with mangrove forests and mountainous interior. Much of the terrain was virtually impassable and unexplored. Headhunters ruled the remote parts of the island until a century ago.


The 3 countries sharing Borneo island are multi-cultural and have several large ethnic groups. The diverse communities practice different religions, cultures and traditions. They speak their own languages and often comprise several dialects. Bahasa Malaysia is the national language in both Sarawak and Sabah and English is widely spoken. In Sarawak, there are 25 ethnic communities, making up a population of 1.8 million. The majority of the population reside in a few large urban centres. However a significant percentage still live in longhouses and villages in the interior.


The Ibans ( Sea-Dayaks) — the legendary headhunters of Borneo island. They constitute the biggest ethnic group (29.6 %) in Sarawak. The Ibans are originally from Kalimantan. Therefore, their culture and traditions as observed in Sarawak are very similar to the Dayaks in Kalimantan. Ibans are very aggressive and that is why there are knowns as headhunters.

The number of skulls that they have, will determine who is to be elected as the chief of their longhouse. Normally a longhouse can accommodate 100 to 150 families. For the females of Ibans, the numbers of skulls that the other sex can keep will prove their bravery. This is how the females choose their partner as a husband. That is why headhunting is famous in the Land of Borneo.


The second biggest group is the Chinese (29.1%), followed by the Malays (20.7%). Another famous group in the land of Borneo island is bidayuh. The group of bidayuh is more defensive. Tthey tense to look after their longhouse well. They are also headhunters. Bidayuh practice some of the believes that Iban does but they do not do headhunting to determine their power.

Ibans do have head-house where the skulls are kept just like the Ibans. The skulls normally come from those who attack their longhouse. Ibans will protect their longhouse. The numbers of head that they obtain will also determine their power in the longhouse. However, they do not attack other groups just for the skulls. Other main ethnic groups are the Melanau, Penan, Orang Ulu. Several sub-groups such as the Kayan, Kenyah, and Kelabit and Indians.

From the 1991 census, the Sarawak population is growing at a rate of 4-5% per year. Within few years, the growing population will undoubtedly put additional pressure on coastal resources. Both Sarawak and Brunei have much smaller population densities than Sabah and have tighter immigration controls.


Sabah has the highest population density in Borneo Island. The Kadazan-Dusun are the largest ethnic group in Sabah. They occupied most of the west coast and interior regions of the State. Other main tribes include the Murut, Rungus, and the Bajau. The Bajau are actually from the southern Philippines, and arrived in Sabah more than 200 years ago. There are still close cultural ties between Sabah and the people of the Philippines-Mindanao province (in the Sulu Archipelago). Officially, 1.8 million people share 73,620 sq. km. Large number of illegal immigrants boost the real population to well over 2.5 million.


Sabah attracts illegal immigrants with lower population densities. Better prospects for employment and better minimum wages (US$3 per day for illegal immigrants working in plantations). Comparing to that in the Philippines or Indonesia. Several of the problems associated with illegal immigrants include the marine version of shifting cultivation. Thus, entire villages raiding reefs until little fauna is left, before moving on to another reef. 

Additionally, enforcement of laws regarding marine products and fisheries invariably take a back seat to issues of citizenship. As a result, the defendants invariably deported before facing trial on other matters. In actuality, enforcement is lacking due to the widespread nature of the reefs and marine habitats. Rarely are rules and regulations enforced. Many have now received residence permits, and reside legally in the State. Environmental education has now a chance of building community concern and respect for the local environment.


The population of Brunei Darussalam is estimated at 330,700 persons (1999 census). The indigenous communities are the Malay, Kedayan, Tutong, Belait, Bisaya, Dusun and Murut. Thus, they collectively make up 67.6% of the population. The Chinese constitute a significant percentage of the population (14.9%). Other main indigenous groups include the Iban, Dayak and Kelabit (5.9%). The population is predominantly Muslim, and Malay is the official language.


Divided into Central, South, East, and West Kalimantan, Kalimantan is a multicultural state with over 20 different ethnic groups. The largest ethnic group are the Dayaks. Thus, followed by the Malays and the Chinese, Madurese and other Indonesian ethnic groups. When you are visiting Borneo, remember to drop by to Borneo biggest antique gallery for cultural ornaments.

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