Published on: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Kota Kinabalu: Sabah's demography changed drastically in 1991 when the Population Census showed out of the 1.7 million people in Sabah, about 423,000 of them were non-citizens, a historian said.
"This is not because of a natural population increase but due to non-citizens. Who they were the census didn't mention," said Prof. Emeritus Dr Ranjit Singh a/l Darshan Singh.
Testifying before the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Illegal Immigrants in Sabah chaired by Tan Sri Steve Shim on the first day of the public hearing here, Monday, he said in the 1970 Sabah Census the population was 651,000 and there was no category for non-citizens.
In 1970, the Dusun community was the majority with 183,000, Murut (30,000), Bajau (77,000), Brunei (28,000), Tausug/Suluk (10,000), other indigenous group (87,000) and Chinese (138,000).
Ranjit did not believe the 423,000 non-citizens in the 1991 census were transient people as suggested by a RCI panel member, Tan Sri Herman Luping.
"With due respect to my understanding transient people are those coming in and out using boats and ships. As far as I am concerned when a government takes a census, it is the people who are residing at the place.
"I think they were residing in Sabah but without citizenship," said Ranjit who led the successful Malaysian litigation team for the Sipadan and Ligitan islands claim at The Hague in 2002.
Based on his book "The Making of Sabah" (1865-1991) third edition, which was later tendered as an exhibit, the first official census in Sabah was conducted in 1891.
It showed that the total population in Sabah at that time was 67,000 with the Dusun making the bulk of it with 34,000, Bajau (11,000), Brunei (3,000), Suluk (3,700), Murut (not available), Orang Sungai (unknown), other indigenous people (6,000) and Chinese (7,000).
Based on his extensive research during the course of the Sipadan and Ligitan Islands litigation case, he said the most dominant Sultanate in Borneo was the Brunei Sultanate, which in 1521 was already a large empire.
Brunei was so powerful that it had established "jajahan" (dependence) in Sarawak and Sabah where it controlled 23 rivers such as in Pandasan, Inanam, Menggatal, Api-Api, Kimanis, Benoni and Tuaran among others.
The Brunei came as traders and administrators establishing settlements in Tuaran and Papar.
"In my research the Dusun, Kadazan (a term used in 1920 in Papar for the more urban Dusun), Brunei Malay and Bisaya lived along the West Coast in the 16th century," he said.
But later on the Sulu Sultanate began to emerge as another centre of power in the region because it was dealing with European independent traders doubling as gun smugglers who wanted to get supply of products that could be found in Borneo in exchange for weapons.
So as Sulu became an important market, they needed manpower, hence they began to settle in Sandakan, Marudu, Tempasuk and Pandasan, he said, adding that the Sulu Sultanate capital is where present day Jolo is in the southern Philippines.
He said the Sulu people comprising the Tausugs, Bajaus and Irranuns came in the late 18th century, hence changing the demography of Sabah.
He stated that they began to intermarry with the locals such as in Paitan River where, he said, while Sabah people might not agree, historical evidence showed that the Orang Sungai were a mix of Sulu-Bajau-Dusun people.
By the late 18th century there were at least six communities in Sabah, he said.
On another note, he said the whole of Sabah was only joined together in 1902 after the arrival of the British North Borneo Chartered Company who came and took over the rivers.
In 1881, he said the first Governor, W Hood Treacher, started a scheme to bring in Chinese labour to plant padi in Inanam and this also changed the demography of Sabah.
Ranjit who had written four books and 50 articles said the history of Sabah showed there had been settlements going back to 30,000 years ago and that there was no proof to show that the people of Sabah originally came from South China or vice versa, as the Wave Theory had suggested.