Sabah [Malaysian State] #45 (1986)

Sabah #45 (1986)

Sabah #45 (1986)

Sabah is one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo (Sarawak being the other). It is situated in northern Borneo, bordering the state of Sarawak to the southwest, Kalimantan of Indonesia to the south, while separated by sea from the Federal Territory of Labuan. Sabah shares maritime borders with Vietnam in the west and the Philippines to the north and east. Kota Kinabalu is the capital city, the economic center of the state and the seat of 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 long mountain ranges on the west side which form part of the Crocker Range National Park. Kinabatangan River, second longest river in Malaysia runs through Sabah and Mount Kinabalu is the highest point of Sabah as well as of Malaysia. The total land area of Sabah is nearly 28,000 square miles (72,500 square kilometers).

The earliest human settlement in Sabah can be traced back to 20,000–30,000 years ago along the Darvel Bay area at the Madai-Baturong caves. The state had a trading relationship with China from the fourteenth century AD. Sabah came under the influence of the Bruneian Empire in the fifteenth century and the Sultanate of Sulu between the seventeenth–eighteenth centuries. The state was subsequently acquired by the North Borneo Chartered Company in the nineteenth century. During World War II, Sabah was occupied by the Japanese for three years. It became a British Crown Colony in 1946. On August 31, 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 September 16, 1963) alongside Sarawak, Singapore (expelled in 1965), and the Federation of Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia or West Malaysia). The federation was opposed by neighboring Indonesia, which led to the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation over three years along with the threats of annexation by the Philippines, threats which continue to the present day.

Sabah exhibits notable diversity in ethnicity, culture and language. The head of state is the Governor, also known as the Yang di-Pertua Negeri, while the head of government is the Chief Minister. The government system is closely modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system and has one of the earliest state legislature system in Malaysia. Sabah is divided into administrative divisions and districts. Malay is the official language of the state; and Islam is the official religion; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the state. Sabah is known for its traditional musical instrument, the sompoton. The Sabah International Folklore Festival is the main folklore event in Malaysia, other festivals including the Borneo Bird Festival, Borneo Bug Fest, 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. The primary exports include oil, gas, timber and palm oil. The other major industries are agriculture and ecotourism.

The origin of the name Sabah is uncertain, and there are many theories that have arisen. One theory is that during 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 referred to it as pisang jaba. While the name Saba also 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 Brunei was a vassal state of Majapahit, the Old Javanese eulogy of Nagarakretagama described the area in what is now Sabah as Seludang.

Meanwhile, although the Chinese since during the Han dynasty had long been associated with the island of Borneo, they did not have any specific names for the area. Instead during the Song dynasty, they referred to the whole island as Po Ni (also pronounced Bo Ni), which is the same name they used to refer to 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”. Another theory suggests that it came from the Malay word sabak which means a place where palm sugar is extracted. Sabah (‘صباح’) is also an Arabic word which means sunrise. The presence of multiple theories makes it difficult to pinpoint the true origin of the name. It is nicknamed “Land Below the Wind” (Negeri Di Bawah Bayu) as the state lies below the typhoon belt of East Asia and never battered by any typhoons.

The 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 similar to Australian aborigines, but the reason for their disappearance is 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 during the Neolithic Southeast Asian period.

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 Nanjing with his family until his death. He was succeeded by his son Hsia-wang 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 younger sister of Huang Senping (Ong Sum Ping), the Governor of the Chinese settlement, then married Sultan Ahmad of Brunei. Perhaps due to this relationship, a burial place with 2,000 wooden coffins with an estimate of 1,000 years old was discovered in Agop Batu Tulug Caves, also 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 also discovered in these countries. In addition with the discovery of Chinese ceramics from a shipwreck in Tanjung Simpang Mengayau which is estimated to be from 960–1127 A.D. of Song dynasty and Vietnamese Đông Sơn drum in Bukit Timbang Dayang on Banggi Island that had existed between 2,000–2,500 years ago.

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 the region during this period, although the migration has begun as early as the fifteenth century after the Brunei conquest of the territory. Plagued by internal strife, civil war, piracy and the arrival of western powers, the Bruneian Empire began to shrank.

The first European to visit Brunei were the Portuguese, who described the capital of Brunei at the time as surrounded by a stone wall. This was followed by the Spanish soon after Ferdinand Magellan’s 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 gained its own independence in 1578, forming the Sultanate of Sulu.

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 have never been ceded in practice, but the Sulu’s continued to claim the territory as theirs. Brunei at the time couldn’t do much as they were weakened by 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 settle in the coasts of north and eastern Borneo. As the Sulu were also threatened with the arrival of Spanish, it is believed that many of them fled from the oppression of the Spanish colonists 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.

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 northern Borneo, although this was to prove a failure. Following the British occupation of Manila in 1763, the British freed the Sultan Alimuddin from the Spanish and allowed him to return to his throne; this was welcomed by the Sulu people and by 1765, Dalrymple managed to obtain the island, having concluded a Treaty of Alliance and Commerce with the Sultan of Sulu by the willing of Sultan Alimuddin as a sign of gratitude for British aid.

A small British factory was established in 1773 on Balambangan Island, a tiny island situated off the north coast of Borneo. The British saw the island as a suitable location to control the trade route in the East, capable of diverting trade from the Spanish port of Manila and the Dutch port of Batavia especially with its strategic location between the South China Sea and Sulu Sea. The British abandoned the island two years later when the Sulu pirates began attacking. This forced the British to seek refuge in Brunei in 1774, and temporarily abandon attempts to find 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 did not re-establish any further trading posts in the region until Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819.

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 (which they renamed “Ellena”) and start to build a base there. Attempts at financial backing from the U.S. government were futile and their settlement was later abandoned. Before he left, Torrey managed to sell all his rights to the Austrian Consul in Hong Kong, Baron Von Overbeck. Overbeck then went to Brunei, where he met the Temenggong to renew the concession. Brunei agreed to cede all territory in northern Borneo under its control, with the Sultan receiving an annual payment of $12,000, while the Temenggong received a sum of $3,000. A year after, the northern and eastern parts of the territory were also ceded by Sulu to Overbeck, with the Sultan receiving an annual payment of $5,000.

After a series of transfers, Overbeck tried to sell the territory to Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy but all turned his offer down. 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 to the co-operation, especially with regard to the counterclaims of the Sultan of Sulu, part of whose territory in the Sulu Archipelago had been occupied by Spain. Overbeck, however, withdrew in 1880 and all the rights over the territory were transferred to Alfred, who 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 Germany signed the Madrid Protocol in 1885, which recognized the sovereignty of the Spanish East Indies over the Sulu Archipelago in return for the relinquishment of all Spanish claims over northern Borneo. The arrival of the company brought much prosperity to the residents of northern Borneo, with the company allowing indigenous communities to continue their traditional lifestyles, while imposing laws by banning the practice of headhunting, ethnic feuds, slave trade and controlling piracy. North Borneo then became a protectorate of the United Kingdom in 1888 despite facing local resistance from 1894 to 1900 by Mat Salleh and Antanum in 1915.

The Japanese forces landed in Labuan on January 1, 1942, in the wake of the Second World War, and later invaded 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 saw the Japanese advance to the area are motivated by political and territorial ambitions rather than economic factors. The residing British and native people reluctantly obeyed and gave in to the brutality of the Japanese. The occupation drove many people in the coastal towns to the interior in search for food and escaping the Japanese.

The Malays generally appeared to be favored by the Japanese, although some of them also faced repression whilst other races such as the Chinese and indigenous peoples were severely repressed. The Chinese were already resisting the Japanese occupation especially with the Sino-Japanese War in Mainland China. They formed a resistance, known as the Kinabalu Guerillas, led by Albert Kwok with broad support from various ethnic groups in northern Borneo such as Dusun, Murut, Suluk and Illanun peoples. The movement was also supported by Mustapha Harun. Kwok along with many other sympathizers were, however, executed after the Japanese foiled their movement.

As part of the Borneo Campaign to retake the territory, Allied forces then bombed most of the major towns under the control of the Japanese, including Sandakan, which was razed to the ground. The majority of the POWs at Sandakan Camp were British and Australian soldiers 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 260 kilometers to Ranau in an event known as the Sandakan Death March. The number of prisoners was reduced to 2,345, with many 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 laborers brought in by the Japanese during the occupation, only 1,500 survived mainly due to starvation, harsh working conditions and maltreatment. The war ended on September 10, 1945. after North Borneo was successfully liberated by the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF).

After the Japanese surrender, North Borneo was administered by the British Military Administration and on July 18, 1946, it became a British Crown Colony. The Crown Colony of Labuan also integrated as part of this new colony. During the ceremony, both the Union Jack and Chinese flag were 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:

Let their blood be the pledge of what we wish to be — His Majesty’s most devoted subjects.

Due to massive destruction in the town of Sandakan during the war, Jesselton was chosen to replace the capital with the Crown continuing to rule North Borneo until 1963. The Crown colony government established many 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 had been negotiated earlier between the American and British colonial governments.

On August 31, 1963, North Borneo attained self-government. The Cobbold Commission was set up in 1962 to determine whether the people of Sabah and Sarawak favored the proposed union of the Federation of Malaysia, and found that the union was generally favored 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 September 16, 1963, North Borneo (as Sabah) was united with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore, to form the independent Federation of Malaysia.

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.

Following the formation of Malaysia, Donald Stephens became the first chief minister of Sabah. The first Governor was Mustapha Harun. The people of North Borneo demanded that their freedom of religion 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 officiated by Stephens on August 31, 1964, in Keningau as a remembrance to the agreement and promise for the future. Sabah held its first state election in 1967. In the same year, the state capital name of Jesselton was renamed to Kota Kinabalu.

On June 14, 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 5% 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 April 16, 1984.

In 2000, the state capital Kota Kinabalu was granted city status, making it the sixth city in Malaysia and the first city in the state. Prior to a territorial dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia since 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 first stamps were issued for the North Borneo Company in 1883.  Prior to the Second World War, the stamps bore the country name in Arabic, Chinese and English with the latter variously named as North Borneo, British North Borneo, The State of North Borneo, or The State of North Borneo British Protectorate. Issues following the war were inscribed North Borneo in English only.

During the Japanese occupation of World War II, the Japanese administration overprinted stamps from Brunei, North Borneo and Sarawak in Japanese which translated to Imperial Japanese Government, Imperial Japanese Post North Borneo or just North Borneo. The overprints exist in several varieties and in different colors applied by both the central authorities and local post offices. Two sets of Japanese definitives were released in 1943. These, and the overprinted stamps, were valid throughout the administrative area of North Borneo.

Following the war, the British overprinted earlier North Borneo and Sarawak stamps with BMA for the British Military Authority which were valid for use throughout the British possessions in northern Borneo. The colony of North Borneo issued stamps from 1947 until 1963. These were succeeded by the federal issues of Malaysia in 1963. A set of North Borneo stamps were overprinted SABAH and released on July 1, 1964 (Scott #1-16). The first of the State low value definitives were released on November 15, 1965 (Scott #17-23).

Scott #45 was released on October 25, 1986, and bears the same design as the previously-blogged issues of Johore (Scott #196) and Pahang (Scott #118) — Oryza sativa, commonly known as Asian rice, the plant species most commonly referred to in English as rice. Further details can be found on those posts.

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