It's thought that the name Sabah originates from visitors from Mindanao in the present day Philippines, naming the place after a strange type of banana tree they discovered here. Sabah's modern history had started similar to Sarawak, relying on external references to relate for example that trade with China had begun around the 10th century. By the 14th century the Chinese had established settlements on the major Kinabatangan River (named Kina for "China"), where they founded the present day town of Sukau "Chu Kau" meaning Tall Trees. Some settled permanently and gave up trade to establish themselves as farmers. Islam was also introduced around this time at Lahad Datu, with the reigns of its propagation being taken over by the Sultanate of Brunei after the demise of Malacca. By the 16th century Brunei had secured political control over most of present day Sabah, though the Sulu Sultanate based in the nearby Philippines still held influence over the east coast in the 17th century. Though Europeans had hitherto passed by, their first important mark in Sabah was the arrival of the English East India Company who established a factory in 1763 at Balmbangan Island off Borneo's northern tip, enduring local resistance and so eventually relocating to Labuan in 1846. The Americans had also tried to establish a trading post here with the American Trading Company also arriving at Kimanis on the east coast in 1865. They succumbed to local marauding and disease however and the settlement did not endure more than a few years, the only remaining remnant being the grave of a T.B. Harris dating from 1866, "chief secretary of the American colony of Ambongand Marudu". Sabah's modern era only really got going with the foundation of its first town Sandakan in 1875 with the arrival of the British North Borneo Chartered Company, initially exploiting the area as a timber port due to its deep anchorage, though they also
experienced early success with tobacco cultivation. Electing to then establish a new capital at Kudat in 1881, political control was soon moved to Sandakan and the territory advanced over piecemeal until all of present day Sabah was under their control by 1902, split into 10 "Residencies". Under a charter with Queen Victoria, they were authorised to issue their own currency and postage stamps under the exotic titling British North Borneo. This production also provoked the creation of the North Borneo Railway in 1896 by then Managing
Director William Clark Cowie, and there was an interesting photo here of a coal train on Labuan in 1899. Of course there was local resistance under the leadership of Sherif Usman and then most famously Datu Paduku Mat Salleh, the Mat Salleh War endured on and off 1894-1900 and was only finalised with his death to a sniper. On display was the national hero's "invlunerable jacket" which he plainly wasnt wearing at the time, a traditional warrior breastplate of bark and feathers. Another episode was recorded in the Rundun Uprising of 1915.
The success of the BNBCC came to a halt with the arrival of the Japanese in 1942, they attacked Borneo through Labuan on 1st January and by May had seized all of Sabah. It was related how the Kinabalu Guerrillas resistance movement was formed under a guy named Albert Kwok, they had some success before being decimated at Petagas just outside KK in January 1944 however. Australian forces attacked Labuan in turn in June 1945 and had subsequently taken all of Sabah back by the September, making it one of the final actions of the war, photos here revealed Sandakan and Victoria (LabuanTown) to have been completely destroyed by allied bombing. Reverting back to civil rule in July 1946, the BNBCC promptly realisedthat they did not have the unilateral means to rebuild and so it was agreed to wrap up the company and accede British North Borneo as a CrownColony. In the work up to independence it was related how Tunku Abdul Rahman, destined to become president of Malaysia, first mooted the federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore, they united as Malaysia with the exception of Brunei who pulled out at the last minute on 16th September 1963. It was upon this that British North Borneo became renamed Sabah.
Though I noted here that there are 7 distinct indiginous groups to be found in Sabah, I resisted documenting the minutae of their persuasion, I was palpably suffering from museum fatigue as I scooted round the predictable display detailing costumary, rice cultivation and weaponry. A normally boring ceramics collection was redeemed by an array of massive jarsprized for centuries as heirlooms, doubtless of Chinese origin, and an associated shipwreck dsicovered off Borneo's northern tip betrayed such Chinese trade since the 14th century. The habitual fauna display was better than average, and managed to muster a few firsts for me, most importantly the Sumatran Rhino of which there can only be a handful left it was mooted, also the Asiatic Elephant which is similarly endangered here. The main crux of the museum had been the history section however, on the surface broadly mirroring the fascinating history of Sarawak but with some important differences.
I moved on to the adjacent art gallery, singularly underwhelming though it was accompanied by a mildly distracting history of the North Borneo Railway, also a large but forgettable clutter of artifacts related to the story of broadcasting in Sabah. An advertised Petroleum Gallery was mercifully shut so the next traipse was out to a botanical interpretation centre which took all of 2 minutes to wonder at unusual plants and important cash crop samples. A heritage centre then proved to be essentially a timber village boasting very large and fine examples of the many varied construction styles employed by indiginous peoples in Sabah, using timber and bamboo according to tribal variation.