Borneo, next to Australia and New Guinea the largest island in the world, is situated in the Indian Archipelago, in 7° 3' N. - 4° 10' S. lat., and 108° 53' - 119° 22' E. long. It is bounded on the E. by the Sea of Celebes and the Macassar Strait, S. by the Sea of Java, W. and N. by the Gulf of Siam and the China Sea. Its length is about 800 miles, with a breadth of 700, and an area of about 284,000 sq. m. The population is estimated at 1,875,000. In the far north rises the magnificent mass of Kinabalu (13,698 feet high), the culminating peak of the Indian Archipelago. Throughout the narrow northern portion of the island there runs a kind of central ridge in a general south-west direction, with highest points ranging from 4000 to 8000 feet; and this can be traced far to the south-west. Of modern volcanic activity there is in Borneo no trace. Many of the rivers are navigable far inland for boats of considerable burden, but their value as waterways is lessened by the bars which usually prevent the entrance of sea-going vessels, and in their upper reaches by frequent rapids and occasional waterfalls. There are many lakes. The climate in the low grounds is humid, hot, and unhealthy for Europeans; but in the higher parts towards the north the temperature is generally moderate, the thermometer at noon varying from 81° to 91° F. Vegetation is extremely luxuriant. The forests produce ironwood, bilian, teak, ebony, sandalwood, gutta-percha, dye-woods, benzoin, wax, dragon's blood, sago, camphor, various resins, vegetable oils, and gums. Nutmegs, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, betel, ginger, rice, millet, sweet potatoes, yams, cotton, sugar, indigo, tobacco, coffee, pine-apples, coconuts, etc, are cultivated. The mountains and forests contain many monkeys, among them the orang-outang. Tapirs, a small kind of tiger, small Malay bears, swine, wild oxen or banteng, and various kinds of deer abound. The elephant is found in the north, and the rhinoceros in the north-west. The few domesticated animals are buffaloes, sheep, goats, dogs, and cats; horses are seen in Banjermassin. Among the birds are eagles, vultures, Argus-pheasants, peacocks, flamingos, pigeons, parrots, and the swallows which construct the edible nests prized by the Chinese for making soup. The rivers, lakes, and lagoons swarm with crocodiles, and many-kinds of snakes, frogs, lizards, and leeches. Fish are plentiful, and the coasts are rich in tortoises, pearl-mussels, oysters, and trepang. Brilliant butterflies and moths are in great variety. Among the mineral products are coal, gold, and copper; antimony, iron, tin, platina, nickel, diamonds and other precious stones, rock-crystals, porcelain-clay, petroleum, and sulphur.
The population consists of the aboriginal heathen Dayaks or Dyaks, who constitute the great bulk of the population; the Mohammedans or 'Malays;' and the Chinese. The Dyaks live chiefly in the interior. The Malays on the coasts are traders and bold sailors. The Chinese engage in trade and mining, and are unwearied in their efforts to make money and then return to their native country. They have always endeavoured to live as independent republics under chiefs chosen by themselves. The principal exports are gold, gold-dust, diamonds, coal, ratans, guttapercha, edible nests, cotton, wax, timber, dye-woods, mats, resins, sandalwood, camphor, etc.; the imports, earthenware, iron, steel, and copper work, piece-goods, yarns, woollen and silk fabrics, medicines, provisions, wines, spirits, rice, sugar, tea, tobacco, opium, gambir, gunpowder, etc.
Borneo has never formed a political unity, and there is no native designation for the island as a whole. The name Borneo (Burnei or Brunei) originally applied to nearly the whole of the north-west of the island, under a sultan with absolute authority. The capital, Brunei, 20 miles from the coast, on the river of the same name, has at most 20,000 inhabitants; the total population of Borneo proper or Brunei may now be stated at 125,000. Its area was reduced by the erection of Sarawak (q.v.) into a practically independent principality by Sir James Brooke (1841-68), and by the establishment of the British North Borneo Company under the charter of 1881. The company has been successful in appropriating and developing its territory, which, with an area of 31,000 sq. m., and a coast-line of 900 miles, is divided into nine provinces, and has its capital at Elopura or Sandakan (pop. 5000). The population of the territory is estimated at 200,000. Since 1888 both Brunei and Sarawak have been under British protection; and since 1891 Labuan is administered by the company. But by far the largest part of the island is ruled directly or indirectly by the Dutch, who have divided it into the Residency of the Western Division of Borneo, and that of the Southern and Eastern, the former having Pontianak (q.v.) as the seat of government, the latter Banjermassin (q.v.). The population of the Dutch portion of the island is about 1,200,000, of whom 800 are Europeans, and 32,000 Chinese. The chief towns in Borneo are Sambas (10,000), Pontianak (9000), Banjermassin (30,000), Brunei (20,000), and Kuching (12,000).
See Wallace, Malay Archipelago (1869); Bur-bidge, Garden of the Sun (1880); Bock, Head-hunters of Borneo (1881); Frank Hatton, North Borneo (1885); the Handbook of British North Borneo (periodical); and Posewitz, Borneo (1889; Eng. trans. 1892).