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The Orang Suluks - ancient inhabitants of North Borneo


The knowledge of events about North Borneo is important since it will widen the understanding of the social, cultural, economic and political history of North Borneo which has relevance to the past, present and future economic and political development of the people of Sulu Sultanate.

North Borneo now called Sabah was a land with no community, no overall administration, no state economy, no state government, only mountains, jungles, rivers, the surrounding seas, and isolated villages scattered around its tropical, and warn equatorial land. According to Brunei sources, it was Sultan Bulkiah (ca. 1500) who extended Brunei territories to North Borneo by conquest.

The villages in the interior plains and the fertile hinterlands, at the river mouths, and the coastal areas had existed for a long time before the Sultan of Brunei ceded the North Borneo territory to the Sultan of Sulu in 16th century. The interior land of North Borneo was populated by indigenous tribes called the Kadasans, Dusuns, Rungus, Orang Sungei and Muruts, while the coastal areas were inhabited by the Bajaus and Orang Suluk (meaning people from Sulu).

Other indigenous people that lived in the interior of North Borneo were the Booloodoopy, Doompas, Eraans, Roongas, Kooroories, Umpoolooms, Saga-Sagas, Tambunuas, Tingaras, Roomanous and Tegaas. Those indigenous tribes never developed any concept of a state of kingship. They lived in a small tribal groups, physically separated from each other by the nature of the terrain of North Borneo.

Early in November 1865, the American Trading Company set up a settlement of about 62 Americans and 60 Chinese laborers on the Kimanis river in North Borneo. Soon after, the University of London Press reported the population percentages of indigenous was 68%; Chinese was 23% and Europeans and others was 9%.

In 1901 records show that the Chinese population has risen by 41% because from 1880’s big groups of Chinese immigrants came to North Borneo that caused the natives to complain to the local government of their illegal entries. The 1911 census revealed that the Dunsuns indigenous tribe still constituted 1/3 of the total populations of North Borneo. The Chinese had by this time became the second largest settlers, with Muruts placed third and Badjaus including Orang Suluk placed fourth. There were also records showing small percentage of the Javanese and Bugis immigrants. The overall number of populations in North Borneo or Sabah belong to the Malay race or locally called “Malayo”, except the Chinese settlers who are not Malay race since their place of origin is not part of Malay Peninsula.

Nowadays, the Chinese residents in Sabah are working for U.N. referendum for the Sabah independence from the Malaysia federal government. The elections of the local officials in Sabah is fast approaching. The Orang Suluk are continuously harassed to get out from Sabah because they are opposed to the move of Sabah Independence.

By Datu Albi A. Julkarnain

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