Borneo (bôr´nēō´), island (1990 pop. 9,102,906), 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.