Sabah (säˈbä) [key], state (1991 pop. 1,736,902), 28,417 sq mi (73,600 sq km), Malaysia, N Borneo, on the South China and Sulu seas. It is bordered on the south by Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The capital is Kota Kinabalu; other significant towns are Sandakan and Victoria. The terrain is densely forested and mountainous; Mt. Kinabalu, Malaysia's highest peak, is 13,455 ft (4,101 m) high. Forest products, petroleum, rubber, and copra are exported. A majority of the indigenous tribes are Roman Catholic.
Formerly called North Borneo or British North Borneo, the region was ruled by Brunei but was ceded to the Sultanate of Sulu (see Sulu Archipelago) in the mid-17th cent. Leased by the British North Borneo Company in 1878, the area became a British protectorate in 1882. In 1963 it joined the Federation of Malaysia and assumed its present name. The Philippines have also claimed Sabah, based on Sulu's objection (as a breach of the lease) to the transfer of the territory to Malaysia. Filipino supporters of one of the sultan of Sulu claimants occupied locations in E Sabah beginning in Feb., 2013, leading to fighting with Malaysian security forces.