Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said because of its diversity, Borneo is an example for the world.
"For many of us here, it is home, either by birthright or by choice. I firmly believe that Borneo societies have much to teach the world about gender equality, the rights of children and above all, respect and peace among peoples," he said.
Musa said this during the opening of the 12th Borneo Research Conference held at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), here, Tuesday. His speech was read by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun.
Musa said in Borneo, the people respect each other's differences and one family often has members of different faiths mainly through marriage.
"Women are highly respected in traditional Borneo societies, and in Sabah, gifted women were often priestesses in traditional religions. Children regardless of gender are greatly loved and valued above all in all traditional Borneo societies," he said.
Other than that, Musa also pointed out that the forests on the island are home to many species of plants and animals while the seas surrounding it are rich in marine species, some of which are endemic to this part of the world.
"Researches conducted in Borneo have revealed so much, including in terms of genetic research. For example, we now know that people who carry genes that cause thalassaemia are resistant to malaria," he said.
He expressed hope that the conference will result in better understanding of Borneo and the problems and issues it faces in today's world.
More than 100 scholars and researchers will be participating in the three-day conference.
It is the fourth time that such biennial conference is being held in Sabah.
The conference provides opportunities for researchers, students, government servants, village leaders and the general public to update their knowledge and exchange experiences to enhance understanding of issues related to Borneo.
Earlier, Musa called for a minute of silence to remember the victims of the MH17 tragedy which also claimed the life of UMS lecturer, Ng Shi Ing, who was travelling with her baby and her sister.
"This tragedy has shocked us all beyond comprehension, and we strongly condemn the act of shooting down a civilian commercial plane and demand that the culprits be punished," he said.
Also present during the event were Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Pang Nyuk Ming and UMS Deputy Vice Chancellor Dr Shahril Yusof.
Meanwhile, Sabahans are advised not to fall into the trap of those who are bent on creating tension and hatred among the people by playing up racial and religious sentiments.
Masidi said those who posted provocative statements on social media and forums should not be entertained and Sabahans should be wise to avoid taking part in such discussions.
"We are Sabahans, we are different. We love our State. We are different from others because the relationship between race and religion here is tight.
"Do not make ourselves spokespersons to those who just want to plant the seed of hatred and disunity towards one another.
"Let's remain Sabahans while aspiring to be better Malaysians," he said during the press conference after officiating the Borneo Research Conference.
Masidi added that it is normal for a Sabahan to have relatives from both sides of the racial and religious divide and hating one group of people for their beliefs means hating their own relatives.
Branding the provocateurs 'lunatics', Masidi called for more wisdom from Sabahans to take all those highly inflamed racial and religious slurs with a pinch of salt.
"I myself personally have also been 'tagged' with a lot of provocative statements which I refused to get involved in. Why must I help make a lunatic famous by responding to his provocative statement?
"And why must I involve myself in a discussion which leads us nowhere except hatred?" he asked.
Some people, he said, asked him how to respond to the provocations, to which he told them to just let it go.
"These people thirst for attention. There are people like this, you know.
They did this because they are lonely. And when people replied to their provocation, they'll think they are great because they got 2,000 'likes' but did not see the 10,000 'dislikes' for their posts!" he said.
Engaging the lunatics is akin to lowering oneself to the lunatics' level and Masidi advised Sabahans not to participate in the game played by what he branded as mentally ill people.
The people, he added, should have the wisdom to differentiate between legitimate postings that communicate truth and those that were simply put there to create tension and hatred among the people.
"There are also a few organisations that have been spewing provocative statements, from both sides.
But I think Sabah must remain Sabahan because we are different," he said.
Meanwhile, Masidi also called for better cooperation between leaders regardless of their political affiliations since whatever leaders said or do, will determine the future of the country.
"I'm sure we will not allow ourselves to be used as spokespersons for hatred in our country.
Politics is just once in five years. We only haggle about politics when election comes.
"There is so much work to do in Sabah. I think we should spend more time making Sabah great rather than making ourselves great," he said.