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Sabah (säˈbä), state (1991 pop. 1,736,902), 28,417 sq mi (73,600 sq km), Malaysia, N Borneo, on the South China and Sulu seas. It is bordered on the south by Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The capital is Kota Kinabalu; other significant towns are Sandakan and Victoria. The terrain is densely forested and mountainous; Mt. Kinabalu, Malaysia's highest peak, is 13,455 ft (4,101 m) high. Forest products, petroleum, rubber, and copra are exported. A majority of the indigenous tribes are Roman Catholic.

Formerly called North Borneo or British North Borneo, the region was ruled by Brunei but was ceded to the Sultanate of Sulu (see Sulu Archipelago) in the mid-17th cent. Leased by the British North Borneo Company in 1878, the area became a British protectorate in 1882. In 1963 it joined the Federation of Malaysia and assumed its present name. The Philippines have also claimed Sabah, based on Sulu's objection (as a breach of the lease) to the transfer of the territory to Malaysia. Filipino supporters of one of the sultan of Sulu claimants occupied locations in E Sabah beginning in Feb., 2013, leading to fighting with Malaysian security forces.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a state in Malaysia, in the northern part of the island of Kalimantan; borders on Indonesia. Area, 76,100 sq km. Population, 655,300 (1970). The capital is Kota Kinabalu (population, 42,000), and the chief port is Sandakan.

Most of Sabah is mountainous; Mount Kinabalu, with an elevation of 4,101 m, is the highest point on Kalimantan. Moist subequatorial forests are the dominant vegetation. The population is concentrated in the coastal regions and river valleys.

Agriculture is the primary economic activity. Large capitalist plantations, chiefly British, and small farms, chiefly Chinese, exist side by side with a patriarchal-communal form of agriculture; slash-and-burn farming still persists. Basic crops occupy 3.4 percent of Sabah’s total area. Rubber-bearing plants cover 106,000 hectares, including 33,000 ha on plantations, and coconut palms cover 53,000 ha. Oil palms, cacao, coffee, and abaca are also raised. The main food crop is rice (43,000 ha). Fishing produces an annual yield of 35,000 tons. Since the 1960’s, logging, carried on by Japanese and other foreign companies, has acquired considerable importance. Sabah also has sawmills and enterprises for the primary processing of agricultural products.

Sabah has 154 km of railroads (1969) and 2,737 km of vehicular roads, including 496 km of paved roads. Sandakan, Tawao, Kota Kinabalu, and Labuan are seaports. Sabah exports rubber, timber, coconut oil, palm oil, and fish. It also has tourism.


Until the mid-19th century, the territory of Sabah belonged to the sultans of Brunei and Sulu. In 1877 and 1878, it was “acquired” by Overbeck, the Austro-Hungarian consul in Hong Kong, and by the British trader Dent. All rights to the territory of Sabah—called North Borneo—subsequently passed to a British trade syndicate, which in 1881 was chartered as the British North Borneo (Chartered) Company and proceeded to govern the territory. In 1888, North Borneo became a British protectorate; in 1946, it became a colony.

In 1963, North Borneo was included in the Federation of Malaysia as the state of Sabah. In 1961 the Philippines advanced claims to part of Sabah.

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


a state of Malaysia, occupying N Borneo and offshore islands in the South China and Sulu Seas: became a British protectorate in 1888; gained independence and joined Malaysia in 1963. Capital: Kota Kinabalu. Pop.: 2 603 485 (2000). Area: 76 522 sq. km (29 545 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
No doubt, the Philippines has been claiming that Sabah was only leased, not ceded, to the British North Borneo Co.
Many of the North Borneo languages have not been documented comprehensively, and publications resulting from the documentation of these languages are rare.
Sulu and Sabah: A Study of British Policy Towards the Philippines and North Borneo from the Late Eighteenth Century.
Malcolm MacDonald (1901-81), Governor-General of the British dependencies of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo (now Sabah), and High Commissioner for the Sultanate of Brunei from 1946-1948.
Manila Times/Manila While the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was laid to rest yesterday, the Council of Elders of the Sultanate of Sulu and north Borneo are set to meet, to choose his successor.
The Manila-based leader of the gunmen, Kiram, 74, is the self-proclaimed heir to the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, once Southeast Asia's most powerful Islamic monarchy that controlled the Sulu archipelago in the southern Philippines and part of Borneo Island, which includes present-day Sabah State.
In 1878 the Sultanate of Sulu leased Sabah province to the British North Borneo Co.
"The British claim to North Borneo was subsequently recognized by the Spanish (who controlled the Philippines then), and in 1885 the Spanish agreed to relinquish their claim as well as the Sultan of Sulu's claim, to sovereignty over northern Borneo," said Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Jamestown Foundation and at the private firm '361 Security.'
At the same time, Misuari virtually admitted MNLF's role in the occupation of Village Tandua, adding that his great grandfather was the original owners of Sabah in North Borneo, and Malaysian state Sarawak.
But Kiram said he had 235 members of the "Royal Armed Forces of Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo" there.
He and Kate arrived by a government helicopter at the Danum Valley field centre in north Borneo.

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