Sabah State Museum

Malaysia for those who are not familiar with Southeast Asia, consists of a federation of states with two halves, Peninsula Malaysia or West Malaysia where the capital Kuala Lumpur is located and East Malaysia with the states of Sarawak and Sabah in the North of the island of Borneo. Sabah – perhaps the lesser known of the two provinces borders on the Sultanate of Brunei, across the Sulu Sea with the Philippines and the Indonesian province of Kalimantan which covers two thirds of the island of Borneo.

Map of Sabah
PHOTOGRAPH BY Cliff Perreira

Perhaps better known for its wildlife including the Orangutang and Asian Elephant, Sabah has also, somewhat ironically been in the world press for its unavoidable Oil Palm estates and dynamite fishing. However, Sabah has an incredible history of Southeast Asian trade, Aboriginal peoples some of which were head-hunters, British administration and company rule under the North Borneo Chartered Company. Not to mention the horrors of the Second World War.

The Museum which is perched on a hill overlooking the city of Kota Kinabalu and opened in 1965 consists of a central building in the style of traditional aboriginal longhouse. This building was opened in 1984. There are sections on Natural History, Archaeology, and ethnography. An annex houses the Science and Technology Centre which includes interesting pictures of the states’ oil and gas industry and on the North Borneo Railway with an actual carriage that children (and a few adults) loved.

There is a lovely Heritage Village featuring traditional houses of the various ethnic groups of the state. I suggest that you take some Mosquito repellent with you if your doing the walk. There is a small cafeteria for lunch, snacks and drinks and quite a good shop.

My personal opinion is that the museum is very well curated in English and Bahasa Malay. The archaeology section is fascinating and the photographs in the history section are particularly interesting. It was also very good to see local school children explore the collections. Very often in former British colonies around the globe, the first Europeans to have arrived or “discovered” the areas for Europe are barely mentioned. This museum was different as there was clear mention of the Portuguese and the entanglements with the Spanish in the Philippines and the Dutch in Indonesia, prior to British consolidation. Due regard was made to Chinese, Indian and even Somali presence in the state. I found the Second World War story sad as I knew little about the Australian “death march” though I would find out more during my trip to Sabah. This museum will keep you busy for a couple of hours and away from the throngs of tourists on the harbor front or shopping malls.

Museum Information:

Location: Jalan Muzium, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Admission: Malaysian Nationals – RM2.00. Non-Malaysians – RM15.00.

Seniors, Students, disabled and taxi drivers – Free.

Opening Hours: 09:00-17:00hrs daily.

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Clifford Pereira FRGS

Hailing from Mombasa, Kenya. Cliff's research interests began in 1982 when he first travelled Asia following the routes of the epic voyages of the Fifteenth century Chinese admiral Zheng He. He later graduated with a BA(Hons) in Geography with Asian Studies (Ulster University). After a career in tourism Cliff became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). He returned to historical research in 2001 on a variety of themes leading to an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society on the Bombay Africans (2007) and is regarded as the world specialist on the subject. Cliff was Honorary Research Assistant to Royal Holloway's Geography Department (2011-2014) and Visiting Research Assistant to Dalian Maritime University, China (2011-2015). Cliff was researcher-curator on the Bait-Jelmood Museum, Qatar (2013-2016) and research-curator for the National Museum of Qatar, specialising in the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean (2016-2018). Cliff was Visiting Research Assistant at the University of Hong Kong (2016-2023). He completed a MA(Res) on the History of Africa and the African Diaspora (University of Chichester) with distinction in 2021. He is presently distance-working on the African collection of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC Vancouver, Canada and continues to research and consult for a number of UK heritage institutions. He describes himself as a historical geographer and has been a speaker on various subjects in China, Malaysia, Canada, USA, South Africa, Italy, the UK and on the cruise liners Silversea and Swan Hellenic. He has numerous papers and chapters in publications around the world.