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Borneo (bôrˈnēōˌ), island, c.287,000 sq mi (743,330 sq km), largest of the Malay Archipelago and third largest island in the world, SW of the Philippines and N of Java. Indonesian Borneo (called Kalimantan by the Indonesians and divided into several provinces) covers over 70% of the total area, and the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and the sultanate of Brunei stretch across the north coast.

Land and People

The island largely consists of dense jungle and mountains, reaching its highest point at Mt. Kinabalu (13,455 ft/4,101 m) in Sabah. Much of the terrain is virtually impassable, and large areas are unexplored. Many of the rivers are navigable to small craft, however, and provide access into the interior. The largest rivers are the Kapuas in the west and the Barito in the south. The coastal area is generally swampy and fringed with mangrove forests. Banjarmasin, Pontianak, Balikpapan, Tarakan, Kuching, Bandar Seri Begawan, and Sandakan are leading ports. The climate is tropical, i.e., hot and humid; annual rainfall averages more than 100 in. (254 cm), and there is a prolonged monsoon (generally from November to May). The fauna is roughly similar to that of Sumatra and includes the elephant, deer, orangutan, gibbon, Malay bear, and crocodile, and many varieties of snakes. Rhinoceroses, once numerous, have been extensively hunted and are now almost extinct.

The island is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world. The two major ethnic groups are the Dyaks and the coastal Malays. Kalimantan was also a center for Chinese settlement and has a number of immigrants resettled during the second half of the 20th cent. from overcrowded areas of Indonesia, particularly Madura.


Kalimantan contains Indonesia's greatest expanse of tropical rain forests, including valuable stands of camphor, sandalwood, and ironwood, and many palms. The thick jungle and myriad insects tend to discourage large-scale agriculture, but rice, sago, tobacco, millet, coconuts, pepper, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, coffee, and rubber are grown. In 1983, over 13,000 sq mi (20,917 sq km) of rain forest were destroyed by fire, causing enormous damage to the ecosystem, and immigration from other, heavily populated parts of Indonesia, combined with illegal logging, has resulted in increasing deforestation, threatening the orangutan, the pygmy elephant, and other species. Kalimantan contains some of Indonesia's most productive oil fields (discovered in 1888). Coal has been mined there for more than a century, and gold since earliest times. In 1995 one of the richest gold deposits in the world was discovered in NE Kalimantan. Other mineral resources include industrial diamonds, bauxite, and extensive reserves of low-grade iron ore, which are, however, little exploited.


Borneo was visited by the Portuguese in 1521, and shortly thereafter by the Spanish, who established trade relations with the island. The Dutch arrived in the early 1600s, and the English c.1665. Dutch influence was established on the west coast in the early 1800s and was gradually extended to the south and east. The British adventurer James Brooke took the north edge of the island in the 1840s, and what is now Sabah was declared a British protectorate in 1882, Sarawak and Brunei in 1888. The final boundaries were defined in 1905. In World War II the island was held by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. Dutch Borneo became part of the republic of Indonesia in 1950. The union of Sabah and Sarawak with Malaya in the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 was resented by Indonesians. Indonesian guerrilla raids against both areas, begun in 1964, continued sporadically until Aug., 1966. The sultanate of Brunei became fully independent in 1984. The resettlement of non-Dyak Indonesians in Kalimantan has led to recurrent violence against the settlers by Dyaks.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Borneo), an island in the Malay Archipelago; the largest of the Greater Sunda Islands. Area, 734, 000 sq km (with offshore islands, 746, 500 sq km); length (from southwest to northeast), about 1, 100 km. It is surrounded by the South China, Sulu, Celebes, and Java seas and the Makassar and Karimata straits. Most of Kalimantan (about 540, 000 sq km), is part of Indonesia. In the northern part of the island are the states of Sarawak and Sabah, which are part of Malaysia, and the British colony of Brunei.

Natural features. The coastal areas of Kalimantan are mostly low-lying, swampy, and weakly indented, with few good harbors. The sea is shallow along the western coast of the island; there is a barrier of coral reefs in places along the eastern coast. In the northwestern part of the island is the area of the ancient pre-Mesozoic Sunda platform, and in the southern and eastern parts of the island are regions of Mesozoic and alpine plicate formations. The central part of Kalimantan is composed of block mountains with elevations of 2, 000–3, 000 m that radiate from the center to the outlying sections of the island. The highest point on Kalimantan is Mount Kinabalu (4, 101 m), in the northern part of the island. The mountains are composed mainly of granites, gneisses, and crystalline schists. Smoothed summits and steep slopes predominate. The mountains are surrounded by a zone of hilly plains that give way to flat marshy lowlands. The mineral resources of Kalimantan include petroleum and coal, as well as ores of iron, manganese, chrome, molybdenum, and copper.

Kalimantan has an equatorial climate. The yearly average air temperature in the plains is 25°-27°C. The total annual precipitation, which is evenly distributed over the year, is 2, 000–3, 500 mm (up to 5, 000 mm in the mountains). There is a dry season of one to three months on the eastern coast. The river network is dense, and the rivers are deep throughout the year. The Kapuas, Barito, and Mahakam rivers are navigable for distances of several hundred kilometers from their mouths. There are frequent changes of the riverbeds on the plain, and the banks of the rivers become swampy. There are sandbanks and sandbars in the mouths of the rivers.

Strongly lixiviated and podzolized lateritic soils on a thick crust of weathering are predominant. More than three-quarters of Kalimantan is covered with forests. There is mangrove vegetation along the coasts. In the plains and the foothills of the mountains there are high-trunk, multilayered humid tropical forests of palm, bamboo, screw pine, and multitrunk rubber trees. There are very luxuriant mountain forests consisting of Dipterocar-paceae, sandalwood, rubber trees, and rasamala at elevations of up to 1, 500 m. The trees are often intertwined with vines and epiphytes, including abundant mosses. Evergreen oak, laurel, rhododendron, and coniferous trees (Bornean pine) are found at higher elevations. There are shrubs and meadows of various grasses on the summits of the mountains. Bushes and thickets of alang-alang and wild sugarcane predominate in the southeast as a result of the cutting of other vegetation.

The fauna of Kalimantan is extraordinarily rich and varied and includes elephants, large apes (orangutans, gibbons, and proboscis monkeys), slow loris (suborder Lemuroidea), Der-moptera (flying lemur), Chiroptera (fruit-eating flying foxes, insect-eating bats), bears, two-horned rhinoceros, and banteng. There are about 600 species of birds, including the hornbill, argus pheasant, and parrot. The insect and arthropod fauna is extraordinarily rich.

Less than 2 percent of Kalimantan is under cultivation, mainly in the valleys of the Barito and Kapuas rivers and on the northern coast. The principal items of cultivation are rice, rubber plants, and coconut palms. Copra production and fishing are also important economic activities. The population in 1969 was approximately 6.6 million, including 5 million on the Indonesian part of the island. The largest cities are Bandjermasin and Pon-tianak in Indonesia and Kuching in Malaysia.


Historical survey. Over a period of centuries the native population of Kalimantan—the numerous Ngadju, Ot-Danom, and Klemantan tribes, which are frequently united under the name “Dayaks”—was driven back into the remote regions of the island and partially assimilated by newcomers (Malays, Javanese, and Buginese). Beginning in the 13th century, many feudal principalities that had arisen in the coastal regions of Kalimantan became dependent on various Javanese rulers. The largest principalities on Kalimantan in the 16th century were Bandjermasin and Kutei in the southeast; Sambas, Mampawa, Landak, and Sukadana in the west; and Brunei in the north.

In the 17th century the European East India companies made the first attempts to consolidate their hold on Kalimantan. However, it was not until the end of the 18th century that the Dutch East India Company succeeded in concluding an inequitable treaty with the ruler of Pontianak and placing the sultan of Bandjermasin in a position of dependence. Sarawak fell into the hands of Europeans in the early 1840’s. The English adventurer James Brooke, who arrived in northern Kalimantan in 1839, was awarded the administration of Sarawak by the sultan of Brunei for his assistance in the suppression of an uprising of the local populace. Brooke soon became the independent rajah of Sarawak. Great Britain imposed an inequitable treaty upon Brunei in 1847. The Dutch colonizers began military operations in the 1850’s for the subjugation of the southeastern and western regions of Kalimantan. The Dutch suppressed a strong uprising in Bandjermasin in the 1850’s and 1860’s and established their direct rule there. By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the Dutch succeeded in forcing the status of “self-governing” principalities upon the remaining sultanates of southeastern and western Kalimantan, which placed them under the strict control of the Dutch colonial administration. The English expanded their possessions in northern Kalimantan, with the assistance of the British North Borneo Company, which was founded in 1881. In 1888, Great Britain established a protectorate on the territory of present-day Sabah, Brunei, and Sarawak. The borders between English and Dutch possessions on Kalimantan were defined in 1891.

Kalimantan was occupied by Japan in December 1941. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the Dutch colonizers, with the support of their protege, Sultan Abdul Hamid of Pontianak, created a puppet “state” on Kalimantan. After the Round Table Conference of 1949, the formerly Dutch part of Kalimantan became one of the United States of Indonesia and, in 1950, part of the Republic of Indonesia. In northern Kalimantan, Great Britain redeemed the “rights” to Sarawak from the Brooke dynasty in 1946. Sarawak then became a crown colony. Sabah was also made a crown colony in 1946. Sabah and Sarawak were included as states in the Malaysian Federation in 1963. During the preparation for the creation of Malaysia, an uprising broke out in Brunei in 1962 under the slogan of the independent unification of the territory of northern Kalimantan. The uprising was brutally suppressed.


Guber, A. A. Indoneziia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1932.
Republik Indonesia: Propinsi Kalimantan. [No place or date.]


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the Indonesian name for Borneo: applied to the Indonesian part of the island only, excluding the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and the sultanate of Brunei. Pop.: 11 341 558 (2000)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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