Sunday, June 12, 2016

From settlers to snorkelling, Hong Kong has long had links to Sabah

East Malaysian state of Sabah, in northern Borneo, has become a favoured holiday destination for outdoorsy Hongkongers.

Diving and snorkelling on pristine reefs, whitewater jungle rafting and strenuous hikes on Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, are popular recreational pursuits and only a short flight away.

Less well known are the earlier connections between northern Borneo and Hong Kong, which significantly changed the region’s ethnic composition and ultimately led to indirect – and then direct – British rule.

For centuries, northern Borneo had come under the Sultanate of Sulu (now absorbed into the southern Philippines) and the Sultanate of Brunei.

The western section, Sarawak, was eventually ceded by Brunei to the Brooke family, the legendary “White Rajahs” who ruled from 1841 until 1946, when the territory became a separate colony. In effect, the Brookes sold Sarawak to Britain.

From 1881 until 1946, North Borneo – the northern part of the island excluding Sarawak – was administered by the British North Borneo Company.

As well as generating a profit for their shareholders, chartered companies were responsible for infrastructure development and administration in the territories they controlled.

Other 19thcentury chartered companies included the British South Africa Company, which was largely responsible for investments and expansion into Central Africa, and the Royal Niger Company, which had extensive assets in West Africa.

All were modelled on the by-then defunct British East India Company.