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Indonesia History - Borneo

The early history of Borneo is shrouded in mystery. The principal inhabitants are called Dayaks, as distinguished from the Malays who have settled along the coast and the larger rivers. It must not be thought, however, that these Dayaks were the aborigines of the island. They are presumed to have lived in Borneo before the other Malays, Chinese, and Hindu-Javanese took possession of some of the coast ranges and the hinterland. There are here also a great many different tribes, with various customs and languages.

Before the advent of the Portuguese, there was a Sultanate of Broenei, on the north coast of what is now British Borneo, and the whole island is supposed to have taken its name from that sultanate. There was also the state of Bandjermasin, which was sufficiently advanced in semi-civilization to be able to export gold dust, pepper, rattan, and forest products at the time of the first advent of the Hollanders in Borneo (1606), and this sultanate existed long prior to that date. The same can be said of the sultanates of Gunung, Tabur, Kutei, and Sambaleung. Kutei, situated on Borneo's east coast, is populated by Malays.

Islam in Borneo was mostly confined to the coast, although it had gained a footing in the island as early as the beginning of the sixteenth century. About this time, it was adopted by the people of Banjarmasin, a kingdom on the southern side, which had been tributary to the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, until its overthrow in 1478; they owed their conversion to one of the Muhammadan states that rose on the ruins of the latter. The story is that the people of Banjarmasin asked for assistance towards the suppression of a revolt, and that it was given on condition that they adopted the new religion ; whereupon a number of Muhammadans came over from Java, suppressed the revolt and effected the work of conversion.

On the N.-W. coast, the Spaniards found a Muhammadan king at Brunai, when they reached this place in 1521. A little later, 1550, it was introduced into the kingdom of Sukkadana, in the western part of the island, by Arabs coming from Palembang in Sumatra. The reigning king refused to abandon the faith of his fathers, but during the forty years that elapsed before his death (in 1590), the new religion appears to have made considerable progress. His successor became a Musalman and married the daughter of a prince of a neighbouring island, in which apparently Islam had been long established'; during his reign, a traveller, who visited the island in 1600, speaks of Muhammadanism as being a common religion along the coast. The inhabitants of the interior, however, he tells us, were all idolaters as indeed they remained for the most part.

The progress of Islam in the kingdom of Sukkadana seems now to have drawn the attention of the center of the Muhammadan world to this distant spot, and in the reign of the next prince, a certain Shayki Shamsu-d Din came from Mecca bringing with him a present of a copy of the Qur'an and a large hyacinth ring, together with a letter in which this defender of the faith received the honourable title of Sultan Muhammad Safiyu-d Din.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century one of the inland tribes, called the Idaans, dwelling in the interior of N. Borneo, is said to have looked upon the Muhammadans of the coast with very great respect, as having a religion which they themselves had not yet got. Dalrymple, who obtained his information on the Idaans of Borneo during his visit to Sulu from 1761 to 1764 tells us that they " entertain a just regret of their own ignorance, and a mean idea of themselves on that account; for, when they come into the houses, or vessels, of the Mahometans, they pay them the utmost veneration, as superior intelligences, who know their Creator ; they will not sit down where the Mahometans sleep, nor will they put their fingers into the same chunam, or betel box, but receive a portion with the utmost humility, and in every instance denote, with the most abject attitudes and gesture, the veneration they entertain for a God unknown, in the respect they pay to those who have a knowledge of Him."

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Page last modified: 18-04-2012 19:22:44 ZULU