The Living EdensBorneo landscape Borneo: Island in the Clouds
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Borneo Map

Covering an area of roughly 287,000 square miles, Borneo is the third-largest island in the world. It is divided into four political regions: Kalimantan belongs to Indonesia; Sabah and Sarawak are part of Malaysia; a small remaining region comprises the sultanate of Brunei. Located southeast of the Malay Peninsula and southwest of the Philippines, Borneo is primarily mountainous, with dense areas of rain forest. The highest peak in Borneo, Mt. Kinabalu, stands at 13,455 ft. With a generally hot, wet climate, rain is more common than not, with some portions of Borneo receiving between 150 and 200 inches of rainfall annually. Between October and March, monsoons buffet the island.

Given the abundance of rainfall, it makes sense that Borneo's flora is among the most diverse in the world. Borneo has nearly 11,000 species of flowering plants, about a third of which are indigenous. How dense is the vegetation? In one 16 acre area of Borneo's lowland forest, over 700 species of trees have been recorded. In comparison, there are only 171 native tree species in all of eastern North America.

History and People

For most of the last millennium, Borneo remained isolated from the rest of the world. Located further from Indian trade routes than other parts of the Malay Peninsula, Borneo was less often the destination of traders and immigrants. But in the 16th century, emissaries of Spain and Portugal reached Borneo's shores. Soon after, the Dutch and British arrived, and it was these two latter nations that held power in Borneo from the 17th century into the modern era. In 1949, Indonesia became a foreign state, and in 1957, Malaysia gained its independence. Today, the population of Borneo consists of non-Muslim Dayaks and Islamic Malays, as well as Chinese and Europeans.

Inland, Borneo is comprised of a variety of different native tribes, each distinguishable from others by distinct language and culture. Before contact was made with the West, Borneo's tribes often engaged in wars with one another. Still, the tribes shared a host of similarities, including dwellings, diet, and culture. Today, the Ibans are the largest indigenous group in East Malaysia.

Closeup: Indonesia

Area: 736,000 sq. miles (roughly three times the size of Texas)
Capital: Jakarta, population approx. 8.8 million
Ethnic groups: Javanese, 45%, Sundanese 14%, Madurese 7.5%, coastal Malays 7.5%, others 26%
Religions: Islam, Protestanism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism
Life expectancy at birth: Men, 60 years, Women, 64 years.
Gained independence: August 17, 1945

Closeup: Malaysia

Area: 127,316 sq. miles (slightly larger than New Mexico)
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Ethnic groups: Malay 47%, Chinese 25%, Indigenous 11%, Indian 7%, non-Malaysian citizens 7%, others 3%
Religions: Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Baha'i
Life expectancy: Female, 74 years; Male, 69 years
Gained independence: August 31, 1957

(Note: Statistics for country closeups are from 1998.)

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